Make America’s anthem great again!

The New York Times carried an article this weekend complaining that the Star-Spangled Banner being played at Rio 2016 sounds sad.

The article’s four years late, since it’s actually the anthem from London 2012, but if you want to read a more thoughtful, musicological comment about why the argument’s bunkum, head to New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross’s site.

The Times’ article also revealed a journalist is writing yet another history of the US anthem. Don’t wait for it; buy my book instead. It does the whole history in one chapter and with the occasional funny travelogue, which is clearly all you actually need!

In related news, American Twitter users have being going insane whenever one of their athletes has failed to put their hand on their heart during the anthem – gymnast Gabby Douglas even had to apologise for not doing so.

The outrage is incomprehensible for so many reasons, but just be thankful an American athlete has not yet stuck their tongue out during the Star-Spangled Banner, like Bradley Wiggins did for God Save the Queen.

Olympic anthem of the day #4 USA! USA!

Ryan Held crying

Yes, it’s an obvious choice.

And yes, there’s nothing worse than stoking American patriotism.

But the clips of Ryan Held crying as the Star-Spangled Banner plays after he’s just won gold in the 4 x 100m freestyle are too good. If anything shows the positive power that anthems can have, it’s the photo above.

“I didn’t think I was going to cry,” he told reporters afterwards. “I was too tired. I didn’t think I could.

“I’ve heard the national anthem hundreds of times, but as soon as that played it was just something different.”

If you want to know the story of that anthem – the bizarre, 100-plus year journey it took to becoming America’s anthem – read my book. There’s a whole chapter on it.

I am, genuinely, expecting a Black Lives Matter protest to occur during one of the US medal ceremonies this Games. Not for someone to start singing the “black national anthem” – Lift Every Voice and Sing – over the top of it, but maybe for someone to hold up a placard. If that occurs, the Star-Spangled Banner will appear here again. Apologies in advance.

Muhammad Ali singing the Star-Spangled Banner

After Muhammad Ali died, I tried desperately to find a clip of him singing the US anthem as an excuse to put him up here.

It’s taken me a long time, but – finally! – I’ve got one (see above). He starts singing at 3:07, but watch the whole clip as it shows him at his funniest, most charismatic and potent in combating racism.

It’s about the time he won the Olympic gold medal and then tried to get served in a diner afterwards. “The lady said to me, ‘We don’t serve negroes.’ I said: ‘I don’t eat them either; just give me a cup of coffee and a hamburger.'”

Forget Kanye’s Yeezus, the big release of the year’s this!

Or maybe not, but it is without doubt the MOST AMAZING YOUTUBE CLIP EVER (to feature 40 Americans singing the Star-Spangled Banner)!

I filmed this on a recent trip to the US where I was doing research into America’s national anthem. Whenever I got chatting to someone, I’d ask them to sing a line of the song. It was surprising how many said yes.

The clip features people in Washington, New York, Nashville and Baltimore, including an 11-year-old saxophone player in a judo kit, the man who wrote the song Day-O and the up-and-coming country singer Mary Sarah. Yes, literally amazing. Thanks to them all.

To anyone who was hoping to see me sing, I’ll leave posting that footage until I’ve lost all my dignity (give it about three days!).

To double the fun, here’s a similar film I made in France last year. All together now, ‘Allons enfants de la Patrie…”