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Anthem is hard, so don't blast Beyonce


Date published: 2/9/2013

SONGS HAVE occasionally been the source of controversy.

During the 1960s, when young Americans began to test that old constitutional right called freedom of speech (which, in truth, doesn't exist), there were a number of popular songs that pushed the envelope.

First there was "Louie Louie," with lyrics so unintelligible that the Kingsmen, who recorded the controversial version of the song, were called before a congressional subcommittee.

The words, in at least one version that was widely circulated, were said to be "dirty." That subcommittee would faint dead away if they heard many lyrics today.

Of course, the Kingsmen had a clean version of the lyrics and the record wasn't banned on radio stations, although there were many older people who claimed that the song was inspired and promoted by Communists who wanted to pollute the minds of young people.

Today "Louie Louie" is played by almost every high school band in America, so I suppose the Communists are still at work.

Then there was "Ode to Billie Joe," which was banned on many radio stations because of what the main character of the song and her boyfriend, Billie Joe McAllister, were throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

And when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones sang "I can't get no satisfaction," the older generation cringed and went wild, to no avail.

Those who grew up in the 1970s are still trying to figure out the real meaning of Don McLean's "American Pie."

Yes, the meaning and lyrics of some songs have been at issue over the years, but there is one tune with words and meaning that are beyond reproach that is still often at the center of controversy: "The Star-Spangled Banner."

We know the meaning and the words are so revered that the song became our national anthem in 1931. It is the performance of this sacred American hymn (whose tune goes back to an old British beer-drinking song) that gets us all worked up.

Take Beyonce's performance at last month's inauguration, for example. It was wonderful, about as perfect as any rendition I have ever heard.

The problem? It was prerecorded. The popular singer lip-synched the words out there in the cold Washington air.


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