It’s Time For a New National Anthem
In honor of Juneteenth, it’s time we got ourselves a new national anthem. Let’s retire The Star Spangled Banner and adopt We Shall Overcome instead. Why? Let’s cut to the chase: We Shall Overcome kicks The Star Spangled Banner’s ass.
You may have wondered why we don’t we hear more Francis Scott Key compositions at concerts halls across the country, considering how often The Star Spangled Banner gets played. That’s because there aren’t any. Reality check: Key was an amateur lyricist, and a horrible one. He stole the melody from a drinking song that was popular at the time. Would we hire somebody with those credentials to write the song that’s supposed to represent an entire nation? Of course not.
On a conceptual level, The Star Spangled Banner is an epic fail. First of all, it’s hard to sing. It sounds best when sung by a woman: the melody leaps all over the place, and most men don’t have the range to hit the high notes. Not everybody can be Rocco Scotti.
Secondly, it’s pompous and pretentious. The word “o’er” appears more than once. When Key wrote the song in 1812, “o’er” wasn’t even in use in the United States. Falling back on that particular archaism instead of using the more natural “over” or “above” is just Key taking a feeble stab at what passed for poetry at the time. If he’d really had any poetic talent, he either would have tweaked the tune to fit the word “over,” or he would have rewritten the lyric.
Thirdly, the song is about a battle that the United States LOST. Every time somebody sings The Star Spangled Banner, they commemorate an enemy victory. Is that something we want to celebrate?
Over the years, lots of people have championed Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land as a natural replacement. And it’s a good song – but it’s long. Way too long to work at sporting events and such.
But We Shall Overcome fits the bill perfectly. It’s inspiring. It celebrates triumph over adversity and tyranny – something that this country is actually pretty good at. It’s short – you can be done with it in less than a minute. It’s simple, easy to remember, and it’s unisex: anyone can sing it. And it has hallowed historical resonance going back to the earliest African-American resistance in the 18th century. You can interpret it as a folk song, a protest song or a hymn, choices all appropriate in a democracy.
If you think it’s time for a national anthem that genuinely reflects who we are, share this around and let’s start a movement!