Boomer Opinion: Time for a new song?

Is it time to rethink our tune? The national anthem, that is. In this Boomer Opinion piece, writer Bill Cushing in Glendale, California, thinks so.

Since we seem to be in a retro-Sixties movement… not to mention a divisive political moment… it seems natural that our national anthem would come up as a topic of discussion.

On July 25th, Britain’s Daily Mail ran this headline: “Activists say Star-Spangled Banner shouldn’t be national anthem.”

The story delved into the relationship between slavery and the tune currently employed, one that has already caused conflict in recent memory, starting with the 1968 Olympic track stars’s black power salute and moving up to the National Football League’s last five years. The story examines the biography of Francis Scott Key as well as the multiple interpretations of some of its more questionable lyrics.

The newspaper story’s opening proposed using John Lennon’s “Imagine” as the replacement.

John Lennon in 1971.

Since the whole idea of replacing the anthem has come up again, I am more than open to the debate, having long been in favor getting rid of the current song for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that it is so hard to sing.

Most any singer can attest to its sudden key change in the middle that for anyone trying to sing the thing becomes an almost painful task. The problem is, Key used a British drinking song for its melody. Makes sense; you almost need to be drunk to sing the thing.

Lennon’s album cover for “Imagine.”

Besides, do we really want to use a British number to honor the nation that began by breaking away from England in the first place? Hardly seems fitting. With apologies to Lennon fans (and I am one), this eliminates “Imagine” because, well, it was also written by a Brit. Besides, its running time is over three minutes— far too long.

An Oklahoma soccer team opted to go with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” which isn’t a bad choice. It’s written by an American, it’s easy to sing, and certainly it celebrates an egalitarian aspect of the country’s founding premise.

For years, Ray Charles pushed “America the Beautiful” as a national anthem. That’s another fine choice for many reasons. Like “This Land is Your Land,” it doesn’t smack of militarism and celebrates the environmental diversity of the country. It also was co-written by a man and a woman, which helps foster gender equality.

And who can argue with Ray Charles? However, with both songs, there is still a problem of timing. Guthrie’s song runs over four minutes. “America the Beautiful” tops three-and-a-half.

Bill Cushing

So here’s my take.

Dear America: Consider Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

First of all, it was written by an American composer who celebrated the American landscape in his work. It’s a great melody displaying grand pageantry without sounding like a march. Then there is the title itself. What could be more celebratory of our founding principles than a “fanfare” for the “common” citizens of the land?

Finally, no one has to sing. Since the United States was meant to be a new type of nation, why do we have to have a national anthem that has lyrics?

Give it a listen.

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Bill’s book of poems is, “A Former Life.”

1 Comment

  1. Why does everyone want to throw away our history? You can’t learn from something you deleted! All you’ll learn is regret. Any progress made will have been lost as you regress to the Middle Ages. Ask any historian what we have to learn from history.

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