Certain Songs #788: Jimi Hendrix – “The Star Spangled Banner (Live at Woodstock)”

Album: Woodstock Motion Picture Soundtrack
Year: 1969

Let’s face it: “The Star Spangled Banner” is not a great song.

Not only does it have musical roots in a British drinking song — let us never forget that our national anthem is basically stolen intellectual property — it’s also fucking impossible to sing if you don’t have the range of a Whitney Houston.

And honestly, I’d prefer a national anthem that was about how great America is when we are at peace, as opposed to when we are at war. But of course, I’m just a snowflake hippie.

In any event, the only performance of it I’ve ever really liked is Jimi Hendrix’s defiant, noisy, bombs bursting from the speakers deconstruction that ripped the stage apart at the end of Woodstock.

That was nearly 50 years ago, and time and repetition have dulled how radical it must have seemed to the people who first discovered it via the Woodstock film and album — though he had been playing it on his 1969 tour — or, indeed, how weird and radical it felt when I first heard it in the late 1970s. Surely, it’s become outdated, right?

After all, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” is the national anthem for an America turned upside down; an America where thugs and fixers are in charge, threatening their enemies with impunity; an America where irrational fears outweigh cold hard facts; an America where our worst traits as a people run roughshod over our best traits.

So yeah, totally outdated.

“The Star Spangled Banner (Live at Woodstock)”

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