#982: 1969, Jimi Hendrix, The Star Spangled Banner

by Jackie_South on January 24, 2015

If at first you don’t succeed, cheat.

We are song four into our National Anthems theme, and to be honest, all the national anthems I rate have already been used. I could have tried harder, I know: plough through those of every obscure nation until I came up with one I rated. But to be honest. why bother?

So, how to bend the rules? I toyed with picking Jerusalem, as the song that really ought to be the English national anthem rather than that awful dirge that currently serves. God Save the Queen manages to not mention England, Britain or the United Kingdom at all, and also excludes anyone who is either an atheist, polytheist, deist or republican. It is so anonymous that  it is used by 11 other countries and has previously been used one way or another by Germany, Russia, Switzerland, the USA, Sweden and Iceland. At least the Sex Pistols’ version makes it clear which country it is actually about.

Oh, and spoiler alert: it will be changed as the UK anthem in the next decade or so (to be replaced by the imaginatively titled “God Save the King“).

Having invoked the Pistols, I thought though I would pick the greatest re-visioning of a national anthem. Performed in the final minutes of Woodstock by a sleep-deprived Jimi Hendrix, it is a four minute guitar solo that, wordlessly,  takes a caustic look at Vietnam era America.

The USA’s national anthem was composed as a celebration of a new nation’s steadfast resistance to the imperial might of Britain – Francis Scott Key’s lyrics told the story of how Baltimore’s Fort McHenry withstood the bombardment of the British Navy in 1814. Even then, it was an overly romantic vision of a plucky nation withstanding a dominant aggressor (the Americans after all started that war before finding that they had bitten off more than they could chew).

But Hendrix’s version, with its cacophonic use of feedback and distortion pedals, contrasts that cherished idea of America with the screaming bombing runs of American planes over the jungles of South East Asia. For those hardy souls that made it to the 8am slot on the closing days of Woodstock, their national anthem would never be the same again.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray_North January 24, 2015 at 11:34 pm

It’s not a cheat – it’s just a particular working of an anthem. No one mentioned having to have an orchestral arrangement.
Well done JS!


Green Christian January 25, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Your dismissal of the UK national anthem is rather ironic when Nkosi Sikelel i Afrika makes your list of good ones. Whilst God Save the Queen doesn’t mention our country, Nkosi refers to an entire continent rather than the one country – and has been used as a national anthem by five different countries. And it also excludes atheists (and, possibly, polytheists and deists as well) – the title translates as “Lord bless Africa”. The only one of your criticisms that really applies to just God Save the Queen and not Nkosi Sikelel i Afrika is the musical one.


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