This coming week brings the 200th birthday of The Star-Spangled Banner. It is, in addition to being notoriously hard to sing, the National Anthem of the United States of America. While the song is used for many different occasions—baseball games and elections and fireworks and War of 1812-themed frat parties—most of the time what happens during its performances is pretty consistent. Those who are sitting stand, those who wear hats remove them, and everyone sort of uncomfortably half sings along while looking for the nearest American flag. It’s that universal ritual that makes unusual uses of The Star-Spangled Banner all the more memorable. Like these, for instance:
Equal parts unique take and grunge freakout, Nirvana’s 1992 performance in Reading, Pennsylvania featured Kurt Cobain messily riffing on the Anthem’s chord progression over Dave Grohl’s off-tempo drums. It’s not something you want to listen to over and over, but it is vintage Cobain—disaffected, disheveled, and with thousands of screaming fans clamoring for more.
Sufjan Stevens’ truly surprising rendition of one of the most familiar melodies in America pulls off a trick that all covers strive for but few actually achieve: taking something commonplace and making it new again.
Because you don’t get much more memorable than Leslie Nielsen completely flubbing the National Anthem in a Tuxedo.
Or a car exploding and sending Santa and his reindeer flaming through the sky.
The Dark Knight Rises
For the most part, the choir boy scene in The Dark Knight Rises adheres to a very particular kind of trope: the one where horrible things happen while lovely music plays. But the fact that the song is The Star-Spangled Banner, and the setting is a football game—during which Bane actually stops and comments on the boy’s singing voice—elevates it to a new level of goofy. The scene also comes at a strange point when the movie completely pivots in tone and focus, going from a straightforward story of vigilante derring-do to this strange, snowy, post-apocalyptic tale. It also signals one of the few special effects in a Christopher Nolan movie that will not age well.
House of Cards
Featuring Rachel Price of Lake Street Dive, this scene isn notable not for the performance—although it’s great—but the staging. Price is behind home plate, not the pitcher’s mound, and when the camera moves in to show Kevin Spacey taking the mic, it looks very green-screened. Love or hate House of Cards, the show hewed very closely to a slick visual asthetic, and this weird bit of cinematography comes across as unintentionally hilarious.
And while it is the anthem’s 200th anniversary, remember that “The Star-Spangled Banner” has only been the nation’s theme song for the past 83 years. Before that, it was probably “Take On Me” by A-Ha.