Five new national anthems more awesome than “The Star Spangled Banner”

04Jul07

Even a Canadian must grudgingly admit that “The Star Spangled Banner” has a certain majesty. It’s not quite as awesome as, say, the surprisingly kick-ass French lyrics to “O Canada”, but it’s still pretty good.

That said, it’s kind of old, and it’s nearly impossible to sing. For every awe-inspiring performance by a Marvin Gaye, José Feliciano, or Whitney Houston, there’s an embarrassing rendition by a Stephen Stills, Carl Lewis, or Roseanne Barr. So why not replace “The Star Spangled Banner” with one of the following patriotic songs, all of which are easier to sing and, more importantly, even more awesome?

5. “America” – Neil Diamond

No one ever balanced being kinda cheesy with kinda awesome quite like Neil Diamond. While Diamond’s ill-fated film remake of Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer might have won him the dubious distinction of the first-ever Razzie award for Worst Actor and provided fodder for a Simpsons parody featuring Krusty the Clown and his estranged father, the soundtrack was a blockbuster hit. This is due in no small part to the schmaltzy bombast of “America”, a celebration of the history of immigration to the United States. But where U2 addressed similar themes in the dirgelike and frankly dull “The Hands That Built America”, the Jewish Elvis is theatrical and grandiloquent, punctuating the chorus with cannon blasts in concert performances in the manner of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Plus, “America” gets bonus points from traditionalists for Diamond’s recital of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” near the end.

However, “America” may lose points with Republican listeners because of its association with the failed 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis, not to mention its overt endorsement of immigration at a time when many regard immigrants mainly useful as a cheap means of labour to build a giant wall to keep other immigrants out of the country. (“Many”, in this case, may be construed to mainly mean “hack stand-up comics”.) Also, Diamond’s vision of America is one in which anyone can rise from humble beginnings to achieve superstardom that involves wearing spangled jumpsuits from which copious chest hair spills out; however, your mileage may vary.

4. “Living in America” – James Brown

Though the Godfather of Soul had earlier turned a critical eye on the criminal deficit of funk in the Nixonian Oval Office with 1974’s “Funky President (People It’s Bad)”, James Brown’s guest appearance performing the funktastic entrance theme music of heavyweight boxer, superpatriot, and self-proclaimed “Count of Monte Fisto” Apollo Creed in Rocky III is an unabashed celebration of America and living therein. Not only does “Living in America” allow Brown the opportunity to poke fun at Eddie Murphy (an activity that has since increasingly displaced baseball as the national pastime, given the continually declining quality of Murphy’s work), but it’s also largely a paean to the transcontinental interstate highway system established by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, without which Brown’s own PCP-fueled two-state car chase with police in 1988 would have been all but impossible.

Of course, as impressively as “Living in America” brings the funk, its original rendition was immediately followed by the utter demolition of the Stars-and-Stripes-clad Apollo Creed by a superhuman Soviet killing machine, so it might be hard to shake the notion that its performance prior to a sporting event may be a harbinger of defeat.

3. “Born in the U.S.A.” – Bruce Springsteen

The title track of Bruce Springsteen’s multi-platinum album Born in the U.S.A. quite simply rocks. With its clarion call synthesizer riff and bellowing chorus, it sounds for all the world like a fist-pumping, flag-waving, jingoistic affirmation of every natural-born American’s God-given right to wear sweaty headbands and denim vests over leather jackets. So taken was President Ronald Reagan with “Born in the U.S.A.” that he co-opted it during his 1984 re-election campaign until Springsteen put the kibosh on his use of the song, reminding everyone that while Reagan may have been the chief executive, Springsteen was still The Boss.

In fact, the bombastic musical arrangement is played for irony; even a cursory listen to the lyrics reveal it to be a bitter condemnation of the hardships suffered by Vietnam veterans, which is made clearer in solo acoustic renditions. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say it has more in common with Steve Earle’s Taliban-sympathizing “John Walker’s Blues” than with Toby Keith’s “Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)”. Plus, if you really look at it, it kind of looks like Springsteen might be taking a leak on Old Glory on the album cover.

2. “America, Fuck Yeah” – DVDA

Does the theme to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police drop F-bombs on terrorists and affirm the USA’s place as global policeman? Fuck yeah! Plus, it salutes a wide range of things that make America great, a diverse assortment not only explicitly embracing Wal-Mart, rodeos, and fake tits, but also including feature films involving realistic marionettes having hardcore sex by association. And while the original version is a pulse-pounding, action-packed hard rock arrangement reminiscent of the G.I. Joe or Rambo cartoon themes, the song is surprisingly versatile; much like “Born in the USA”, it comes in a “bummer version” fit for presidential funerals and other occasions of national mourning.

Of course, its 37 instances of the word “fuck” and invitation to terrorists to “lick my butt, and suck on my balls” may make it less suitable for children to learn and sing.

1. “Real American” – Rick Derringer

Not only are the Demandments of Hulkamania—train, say your prayers, eat your vitamins, believe in yourself, and be true to your country—a credo for all Americans to live by, but Hulk Hogan’s famous entrance theme is a rallying cry for the post-9/11 era. When the towers came crashing down and it hurt inside, Americans had to take a stand; it didn’t help to hide. The terrorists hurt America’s friends and America’s pride, so America had to man up and couldn’t let it slide. The refrain “I am a real American / fight for the rights of every man” is a motto for the real Americans who have sent their troops to occupy other nations to defend their liberty, whether they wanted their liberty or not. Likewise, Hogan was a staunch opponent to America’s enemies, such as the Iranian (and occasional Iraqi) Iron Sheik and the Russian Nikolai Volkoff, whose Soviet flag he grabs and punishes with a devastating headbutt to its flexible fabric in the video for “Real American”. (The flag is of course completely undamaged, but the symbolic show of force totally humilates the Russkies.)

Interestingly, “Real American” wasn’t actually written for Hogan. It was in fact written specifically for the US Express, a tag team consisting of Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda, who had previously been using “Born in the U.S.A.” as their entrance music. However, following the dissolution of the US Express, Hogan took a liking for the theme and stepped in and took it for himself. So the song is very much like the American nation itself, which was founded when white people took a liking to the land upon someone else was living and decided to step in and take it for themselves. That pretty much makes “Real American” the ultimate U.S. national anthem.



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