- Music can move mountains*
- Music can create life**
- Music can start wars***
So isn’t it ironic – not in the “rainy wedding day” way either – that when it comes to establishing the mood and sonic imprint of a nation, most countries fail horribly. By which I mean, in a very real sense, that most national anthems are completely shit. They represent the chance to be the roaring sigil of pride for a nation, but most just seem to be some meandering horn-based muddle. It is no coincidence that I write this in the middle of Euro 2012 ****, where before every game, said sorrowful offerings can be heard struggling to make themself heard over the P.A. system, while overpaid professional fallers-down/shinkickers exhibit varying levels of being able to read/sing/giving a shit. It was this display of bumbling patriotism that has inspired me to pick out the few examples of when a national anthem rises above it’s inherent limitations (written in a time before good instruments – e.g. guitars – existed; hamstrung by inevitably shit lyrics that can’t use swears and/or the phrase “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”; has a likelihood that David Cameron might be seen singing along, etc).
But first, just so we understand what is good about the good, here’s what’s bad about the bad….
This is awesome. It gets extra points for achieving the difficulty level of managing to go off-key several times completely unaccompanied, whatever the opposite of perfect pitch is, this lady has it in spades. It gains even more bonus points from more or less overshadowing one of the darkest moments in recent Scottish National Football history (of which there have sadly been many).
On the other side of the coin, we return to the Star Spangled Banner again – this time done right. The obvious choice here is something like Hendrix, from Woodstock, because it was great and he was pure tripping out of his nut a dillion and by God it was anarchic, but that would be a bit too easy, right? Assuming you’re not the bird from earlier on, it’s pretty easy not not horrifically mess up performing a national anthem unaccompanied. When you’re singing alongside an overblown brass section on steroids, and with tens of thousands of people looking to sing along with you, with the imminent threat of a flyover and the biggest sporting spectacle in the world impatiently druming its fingers and pacing behind you, well, it’s enough to turn you to crack. But oh boy did she sing this one a pure beauty. She should stay that way forever and sing every national anthem, ever, from now on. Oh wait damn.
The Brazilians get it half right, they get a mention in the “win” pile purely because one of the lines in their national anthem is “we risk our chests challenging death itself”. It is also ridiculously jaunty, and perhaps the closest to a pirate-approved national anthem that we’ve got so far.
Speaking of jaunty, the French national anthem is quite the spirited little ditty, the kind of tune that you would quite happily belt out after a couple of glasses of red wine just before surrendering to whoever threatened you this time around. Also important to note that the French team were, at the time of this video, in the midst of inter-squad bickerings that Facebook would probably define as “it’s complicated”.
…and so on. Trust me when I say I literally went round the world and there are very little differences in the levels of po-facery, from Japan (dignified, but so sincere you want to cry sad tears at the end) to various Middle Eastern ones (which are all fantastic and I dont want to get shot) to around Africa, which are variously represented by lots of joyful females dressed in the robes of His Excellency, or by Beyonce making the Nigerian national anthem sound like everything else she sings in recent times, overcooked, overstrained and murdered through melisma.*****
We must finish though, by looking closer to home. Sure I might be biased, but if you ask me, THIS is what a national anthem should be. It should get you ready to fight, it should sound better the drunker you are, and ideally, it should be the type of song that can be performed accompanied by something that isn’t technically a musical instrument, and “sung” by 70,000 people who define pitch as a series of yells ranging from “stubbed my toe on the bed” to “THAT BASTARD SHAGGED MY WIFE******, BROKE MY X-BOX and DRANK MY BEER!!!!”. Of course to the untrained ear (by which I mean anyone with any kind of musical knowledge) or to a non-patriot, this will probably sound like a scary, screamy, unintelligible mess, but the point is; don’t those fuckers look proud at the end of it? Don’t they look ready to kill for their country? Don’t they seem like they’ve forgotten for a few seconds just how bad their team is, how crap the weather always is in their country, and everything else for that matter? Now that’s an effective anthem.
(and, of course, it’s not even the official Scottish national anthem. don’t start me.)
- * – If you played it at a level of volume that most Michael Bay films would find unrealistic and dangerous.
- ** – because if you played, any old shit, even something by Pato Banton, for long enough, eventually some life form would decide to start fucking. Maybe not humans, but definitely some fruitflies or similar. They’re randy little bastards who act like they’ve only got a day to live.
- *** – I don’t think we have to remind you what happened when someone tried to stop Steven Gerrard from getting his groove on to some Phil Collins: http://www.liverpoolcultureblog.co.uk/2009/07/gerrard-totally-lost-it-over-alleged-phil-collins-dancefloor-rejection/
- **** – This kind of contemporary referencing almost makes you think that the timing was on purpose, eh? And you thought the long pause in between sins was because I was dead/lazy/dead lazy.
- ***** – It’s an excellent word. Look it up. There will be a picture of Mariah Carey beside the definition.
- ****** – It was probably John Terry. If it wasn’t, he’ll want to take credit for it anyway.