When the National Anthem, well, sucked: Gimme Five

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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.

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-fireworks 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 …


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.


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.

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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.


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.


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.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, 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 U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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