Gimme Five: When the National Anthem, well, sucked

In its best moments, the National Anthem is a heady combination of patriotism and emotional resonance, conveyed by force of dizzying talent. Think Whitney Houston’s career-defining 1991 take; Jimi Hendrix’s mind-blowing version at Woodstock in 1969; or Marvin Gaye soulful rethinking in 1983.

Then, there are the other times.

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At its worst, the complex compositional nature of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (which began its life, after all, not as a song but as a poem called “Defence of Fort McHenry” by Francis Scott Key), and, perhaps, the pressure to perform on what are usually very big stages combine to make a multi-car pile-up kind of musical disaster.

For a little pre-grilling fun on this Independence Day, we gathered together our least favorite for a new edition of Gimme Five that we call: When the National Anthem, like, sucked …



KAT DELUNA, 2008

This then-up-and-coming Dominican singer not only wrecks the National Anthem during a pre-game performance at a Cowboys football game, she does so — dare we say it — with pride. The disconnect is remarkable as Deluna, despite taking a Cuisinart to one of America’s most treasured songs (we’re talking misplaced lyrics, wrong notes, over-the-top vocal whiffs), couldn’t look more confident — all the way up until the utterly horrid end, when Deluna is showered (we’re sure to her complete amazement) by boos.



CHRISTINA AGUILERA, 2011

There was no reason this should have been so bad. You can question Aguilera’s choice of material across an up-and-down career as a pop diva, but never her powerful pipes. Yet her Super Bowl performance had already become a dud, even before she hit a bum note to close things out, as Aguilera inexplicably went blank during the song’s fourth line — jumbling it up with some words from two lines earlier.



STEVEN TYLER, 2012

The raw meat-vocalled Steven Tyler, on the other hand, is a waste spill waiting to happen on a song that’s profoundly difficult to sing anyway. The hard part is not picking Steven Tyler for this list, but picking the worst of them. We finally settled on the AFC Championship Game from 2012, as Tyler’s ear-splitting mishandling of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (“the land of the free-YAH!”) is combined with another botched lyric.



MICHAEL BOLTON, 2003

Invited to perform before a baseball game between the Red Sox and Yankees, excruciating crooner Michael Bolton decided to be sure he didn’t make that kind of error — actually scribbling the words to the National Anthem down on his hand like a unprepared high schooler on exam day. In retrospect, getting it wrong may have been less embarrassing than being caught peeking at your cheat sheet. The crowd goes wild! In a bad way.



ROSEANNE BARR, 1990

The gold standard — or what’s the opposite of that? the turd standard? — for botched National Anthems. Actually, that’s being too kind. It’s a stunningly wrong-headed joke and a career-defining misstep all rolled into one … with a frothy topping of national insult to make things complete. Appearing at a Padres baseball game, Barr caterwauls, completely off-key. She spits. She grabs her crotch. She makes a complete ass of herself. If there’s a worse version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” out there, please, for the love of all that is red, white and blue, don’t tell us.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    It’s always fun to see if and when Michael Bolton’s head is finally going to explode. Then there is the head-scratching case of Thelonious Monster, who also did a particularly painful version at a L.A. Clippers game in 1993. Maybe someone thought that “critically acclaimed” somehow equates with “safe-choice household name,” but the results were not pretty. For sheer entertainment value, its worth reading this account from SF Weekly, replete with pissed off Marines and persecuting pooches:

    “…That’s exactly what Bob Forrest did in January 1993. As he told the Los Angeles Times back then, Forrest wanted to perform the song “sad and Civil War-ish” — that is, as an anti-war commentary. The results were devastating: Forrest delivered a jittery, twice-flubbed, forgotten-word mess in front of thousands of Clippers fans at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Fans booed, and then-Clipper Ron Harper — who only minutes earlier had praised the lead singer of the indie-rocking Thelonious Monster with a slap on the ass for being what the ballplayer assumed to be the first punk rocker to earn the honor of singing the anthem — shook his head in disgust. Outside, a couple of Marines reportedly later kicked Forrest’s ass as his buddy, Eric Benson (Iggy Pop’s son), ran away in fear. Later, Clippers coach Larry Brown blamed the loss of the game on Forrest’s painful rendition of the anthem. The local TV sports anchors made fun of it all night long, and talk radio spit out Forrest’s soundbite for what seemed like an eternity.

    “The next morning, Forrest rose and headed to the corner liquor store, as he did most mornings. He came upon a neighbor’s dog that he frequently petted during his morning travel in order to “try to feel like a human being for five minutes before the day got rolling,” he says. “I was petting the dog, and his owner came running out of his house, yelling, ‘Get away from my dog! I’m a Vietnam vet, you cocksucker!'”
    http://www.sfweekly.com/1999-12-15/music/still-a-beautiful-mess/

  • Fred Phillips

    That Steven Tyler version was truly painful. I remember when they brought him out, being the Aerosmith fanboy I am, I said, “Oh, cool.” By the end, I just wanted it to stop.

    I’ve never seen the one with Bolton peeking at his hand before. Hilarious and sad at the same time.