Our national anthem is an awful song

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Every time I hear “The Star Spangled Banner” in person or on television, I’m reminded of my lifelong argument that America needs a better national anthem.

Oh, I know, I know. I’m inviting the wrath of the pseudo-patriots to whom dissing the anthem  is tantamount to burning the American flag. But don’t misunderstand me. I’m all in favor of showing proper respect whenever the anthem is played or sung at a public event. I’m just as quick as the next guy to stand up, take off my hat and put my hand over my heart on such occasions. My problem is not so much with the rituals of decorum as with the song itself. It’s a bad song, and we could do much better with something else as our anthem.

I mean, think about it. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a poem written by a lawyer and set to the tune of an old British drinking song. Its range of one and a half octaves makes it especially difficult to sing with any sense of decorum. And its violent imagery is not what this country is really all about.

Moreover, it’s not as if the Founding Fathers made the song our national anthem. It’s iconic status is not the equal of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. In fact, it officially became our anthem only 11 years before I was born. During much of the 19th century, certain other hymns were informally accorded anthem status  – “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “Hail, Columbia,” to name just two.

Personally, I think we’d be better off with “God Bless America” as our anthem. It’s eminently more easy to sing. Its lyrics aren’t so violent. And it mentions the deity, which the first stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner” does not.

Indeed, many is the time in debates on this matter that I’ve check-mated some right-wing acquaintance with the argument that a song that celebrates America as home and invites God’s blessings is far preferable to some lawyer’s poem about glaring rockets and bursting bombs.

Come on. Sing it with me:

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.


  1. c u n d gulag

    With t-RUMPLE-THIN-sKKKin & the GOP in charge for the next X years, may I suggest “The Ramones” “I Want to be Sedated?”

    After that – if we survive – forget “God Bless America (FUCK, RELIGION! – Check the 1st Amendment for the Founder’s intentions)” – may I suggest the great Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”?

  2. David Pidcock

    This country was born out of conflict. Some years later, it was defended and saved by conflict. Most countries (if not all) were born out of conflict. It’s a sad and unfortunate truth but there it is. I agree that the anthem is difficult for many people to sing. Some people will point out the mention of slaves in the third verse. It merely mentions it and does NOT promote it. Slavery was the norm at the time. An anthem is meant to be sung by the masses and not sung to try to get a grammy. To my mind, “God Bless America” goes against the separation of church and state and it has always sounded better when sung by Ethel Merman.

  3. Steverino

    God bless Kate Smith.

  4. Robert Hazz Geaunads

    I’ll always remember Whitney Houston’s 1991 rendition as the best in my memory. Miss you Whitney. You were part of my youth and many others. Thanks for the memories.

  5. Shawn Robinson

    There’s always people who like “America the Beautiful”. I think I’ve heard it suggested a few times that it’s easier to sing that the current anthem. I remember the Ray Charles version the best. I think he played it at both party’s conventions at one point or another.

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