Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"Oh Say Can You..." Use UK Music For a USA Anthem

The most popular song on the Fourth of July? "Billie Jean," "Thriller" or "Bad." But this was an atypical year.
Usually, it's "The Star Spangled Banner."
The melody for that anti-British from England.
It's a bit embarrassing that the two most famous American anthems...were swiped from the British! "My Country Tis Of Thee" uses the melody for "God Save the Queen." Perhaps this was intentional mockery; the Americans who broke away to form a new nation, conceived in liberty, and named after an Italian, would deliberately turn "God Save the Queen" into an anthem for the rebellion.
A bit more odd was grafting Francis Scott Key's poem onto a well-known British drinking song. Wasn't there a Rodd Keith around back then, who could "put your poem to original music" for a price?
"The Star Spangled Banner," which makes Americans so teary and proud, has the melody of "The Anacreontic Song," which was intended to help make the British more beery and loud.
What is an Anacreontic?
It's a person fond of Anacreon, a horny Greek poet who lived six centuries before Jesus began turning water into wine. Anacreon extolled drinking, as well as screwing, and his "songs" were honored by the affluent drunken doctors, lawyers and politicians who formed "The Anacreontic Society" ostensibly to perform and appreciate music on a boys' night out.
The song concocted by John Stafford (music) and Ralph Tomlinson (lyric) was published in 1778. In 1814 (the night of September 13th to be exact) the British attacked Fort McHenry, leading Francis Scott Key to write that despite "bombs bursting in air," the star-spangled American flag still waved. Over a 100 years later (1931 to be precise) the song was officially declared the American National Anthem, and a subsequent law was evidently passed demanding that it be played before every baseball game.
"The Anacreontic Song" is about music and booze (with some sex thrown in) and goes on and on for many stanzas. Fortunately most versions of the tune, including the one below, cut it to under 3 minutes.
The opening lines fancifully tell how members of the society went to heaven just to get old Anacreon's blessing on their drinking and music club:

"To Anacreon in Heav'n, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition
That he their Inspirer and Patron would be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian:
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute, no longer be mute,
I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot.
And besides I'll instruct you, like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."

Venus and Bacchus...that says sex and drink, doesn't it?
It's almost as good as Albert Brooks' re-write: "As we stand here wait-ing for the ball game to start..."
The illfolks version is sung by John Gower. Like so many British patriots, he wasn't born in the U.K. He was born in Dar es Salaam (October 13 1931) and was schooled initially in Nairobi. Once he learned the initials U.K. he was sent home, and like most good British patriots, he did die in England (August 1, 2005.)
In between, Gower was a singer and actor. First billed as "The Boy Wonder from Wapping," he grew into the man with the burly bass voice. In 1955 he made his serious acting debut at the Arts Theater in "Listen to the Wind." A decade later, he achieved star billing in "The Wayward Way" and "Dearest Dracula." For the next 30 years, he was on many British TV shows, and appeared in a few films as well (he was Prince Fuspoli in "Evita.")
And now, get set for the Anacreontic song...ana one, ana two.
John Gower - ANACREONTIC SONG Instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads or peculiarities.

1 comment:

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