The Sunday Football-Related Music Post: Finishing the National Anthem

imageThere are a lot of possible ways to end this mini-series. One could go for a catalogue of the worst performances, although for really truly bad performances you need to move outside of the Super Bowl itself. (Roseanne Barr’s performance at a Padres game, complete with, IIRC, crotch grab, comes to mind, or Steven Tyler’s mauling [or do I mean caterwauling] at the 2011 AFC Championship Game.)

But I prefer to end on a positive note, so here are some performances I think are notable for musical interest.

This rendition of the anthem stands out for two reason, which  are very possibly related. First is its simplicity. No extra notes, no vocal hysterics, er, histrionics. Just beautiful singing. The second is, with the encouragement of the singer herself, it seemed almost everyone was singing along. Here’s Diana Ross at Super Bowl XVI (1982):

A close second in these regards (simplicity of rendition and a lot of audience participation) would be, surprisingly, Billy Joel, who sang the anthem at Super Bowl XXIII in 1989.

Joel is one of only two people who have sung the anthem more than once at the Super Bowl. He also sang it in 2007, this time accompanying himself on the piano. I suppose it isn’t too surprising that he felt the need to distinguish the second performance from the first, but from my standpoint at least it was much less pleasing. He threw in lots of extra notes, some of them not quite right, and the performance had neither the beauty nor the power of his first simple rendering.

The only other person to sing the anthem twice was Aaron Neville. His first performance was in 1990, and I’m afraid I didn’t care for it. In the second, in 2006, he joined Aretha Franklin for a sort of New Orleans/Detroit fusion. I didn’t like Neville any better than the first time, but I hung in there, as I love Aretha Franklin, and the sight of a large gospel choir in the back gave me hope. And of course I was rewarded with multiple shots of some of my favorite Steelers, including an impossibly young-looking Troy Polamalu and a baby-faced Ben Roethlisberger.

While the performance didn’t win a top place in my heart, once Franklin started singing it was pretty fun. Here it is:

One of the best “stylized” versions, in my opinion at least, was the 1997 anthem sung by Luther Vandross. He has a beautiful voice, he and the band were in sync, and it was a pleasure to listen to. I shouldn’t have wanted to try to sing along, admittedly:

Speaking of stylized, the 2002 version by Mariah Carey might be called the “value for money” version. Not only did she add more notes than possibly anyone else, as you might suspect, she also sang higher than anyone else. Way higher. At the high point, where most everyone adds an extra high note, she actually uses a bizarre vocal technique to sing an octave above where most humans ever have. I imagine any nearby dogs going absolutely nuts. It’s a really strange effect. At first you think she’s just quit singing, but then you notice sounds you aren’t sure are human. It was different, for sure:

And finally, I can’t omit this version, sung at Super Bowl XLIII by Jennifer Hudson. It has Hudson’s powerful and beautiful voice, nice orchestration, and multiple shots of Steelers, including Mike Tomlin. Who could ask for anything more?





One comment

  • I’d love to see the crowd reaction if someone sang the powerful fourth verse instead of the first….

    Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
    Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land
    Praise the power that has made and preserved us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto, in God is our trust.
    And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave,
    O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

    For my money, it’s better and more understandable than the first verse, but, then again, I prefer God Bless America.
    You don’t have to be a vocal gymnast to sing it, everyone understands it, and everybody knows the words.


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