The music: According to every history book going, the music for The Star-Spangled Banner was written by an Englishman, John Stafford-Smith. He was a gentle, religious organist who died choking on an apple pit.
But can that really be true? Would a gentle, religious organist really be capable of writing a song so difficult to sing?
You need a one-and-a-half octave range to nail it. The only person who’s ever made it sound good is Whitney Houston (see clip, above). My money’s on John Stafford-Smith actually being a sadist. And an atheist too while we’re at it.
The lyrics: The Star-Spangled Banner is sung from the perspective of a US solider trapped on a British boat. He stands there watching gunships blowing Baltimore to smithereens, but when the smoke clears, he sees an American flag waving defiantly on the coast.
It’s a beautiful story, although it doesn’t really alter the fact that the song has the most anachronistic lyrics of any national anthem. Who, even in 1814, used words like ‘o’er’, ‘haughty’ and ‘reposes’? Obama, get Kanye West to update it while you still have a few months in charge!
What does it say about the country? That its singers like a challenge.
Will you hear it at the Olympics? Obviously. Head to the basketball if you want a sure thing. Unfortunately none of the times you hear it are likely to involve any events as important as this: