“National Anthems”, some are great and deeply moving, some are alright, but not really interesting, and most are simply dreadful. Banal words set to lousy, dreary “music”.
I was listening to what may well be the best national anthem ever conceived the other day and fell to wondering why so many were so bad. I have listened to dozens, read loads of more or less learned verbiage on the topic, but am not really any the wiser, except to note that both the words and music of most national anthems are put together very much on the cheap by people who have no obvious skills either as composers or as writers. This may be the simple reason.
So I thought I would have a serious look at some of them here, and play them to you to see what your thoughts on them might be. I shall start with ones that I consider to fall into the category of Great National Anthems, then have a look at a few that could be described as Acceptable National Anthems, and then, taking my courage in my hands, have a look at a few that come under the heading of God-Awful National Anthems.
Should be fun.
Great National Anthems:
As far as I am concerned, the South African National Anthem has to be the best, most emotionally powerful and uniting one. Conceived during South Africa’s dark days of Apartheid it brings together all the main language groups of that country, in a song that is both powerful, emotional and of course, patriotic in an acceptable manner. I will give you two versions of it, one recorded in a nearby country before the end of apartheid and the second at a rugby match once it had become the official anthem for South Africa. I think that both versions, in their differing ways, show what a national anthem should be remarkably well. Musically enjoyable, and also I believe the words are reasonable too, so here goes….. N’Kosi Sikeleli.
Now that is what I call one hell of a powerful national anthem!!!
That was recorded in Zambia, when it was obviously not possible to sing that song publically in South Africa, and now for the current version, but note how it still is able to invoke true emotion…
A few changes have been made in it from the original versions, but it remains a powerful song, and a unifying one too I believe.
And next we have that splendid old work horse, the French anthem.. the good old Marseillaise, one of the most bloodthirsty and revolutionary songs ever. Love it.
Now that is seriously stirring stuff! Try and listen to that version of this song without leaping to your feet and joining in.
To show you what I mean about it being such a seriously revolutionary song, here are the words translated into English.
Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts
To arms citizens Form your battalions
Let impure blood
Water our furrows
What do they want this horde of slaves
Of traitors and conspiratorial kings?
For whom these vile chains
These long-prepared irons?
Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
What methods must be taken?
It is us they dare plan
To return to the old slavery!
What! These foreign cohorts!
They would make laws in our courts!
What! These mercenary phalanxes
Would cut down our warrior sons
Good Lord! By chained hands
Our brow would yield under the yoke
The vile despots would have themselves be
The masters of destiny
Tremble, tyrants and traitors
The shame of all good men
Tremble! Your parricidal schemes
Will receive their just reward
Against you we are all soldiers
If they fall, our young heros
France will bear new ones
Ready to join the fight against you
Frenchmen, as magnanimous warriors
Bear or hold back your blows
Spare these sad victims
That they regret taking up arms against us
But not these bloody despots
These accomplices of Bouillé
All these tigers who pitilessly
Ripped out their mothers’ wombs
We too shall enlist
When our elders’ time has come
To add to the list of deeds
Inscribed upon their tombs
We are much less jealous of surviving them
Than of sharing their coffins
We shall have the sublime pride
Of avenging or joining them
Drive on sacred patriotism
Support our avenging arms
Liberty, cherished liberty
Join the struggle with your defenders
Under our flags, let victory
Hurry to your manly tone
So that in death your enemies
See your triumph and our glory!
See what I mean? Makes the dreary staid British anthem seem remarkably tame I feel… Even the Chinese one which I like is also simply full of platitudes (the essential ingredient of most national anthems)
Speaking of the Chinese anthem, which glories in the name Yìyǒngjūn Jìnxíngqǔ (march of the volunteers), here it is.
Not one of the best anthems in the world, but it sort of moves along with a cheerful energy that I enjoy, so it is up here with the good anthems.
Next we have the current Russian one. This is in fact the same one they used while they were Communist, having changed to some other anthem after the fall of the USSR, but the good folk of Russia hated the new one, and loved the old one, so they simply gave it new words and reverted to the old tune. Which as you will hear is perhaps understandable. Sounding as it does like a Russian Folk Song rather than a pompous anthem, it is all rather jolly. See what you think.
See what I mean? Rather fun I feel.
Whilst I appreciate that there must be many more excellent national anthems out there – there are some 190 of the damn things after all – these few are my favourites.
So now on to the second tier of anthems.
Acceptable National Anthems:
Firstly we have this version of the Pakistani national anthem. Not sure why I like this one, as it is actually musically a mess, but it has a certain something that makes me gently enjoy it. See what you think.
See what I mean?
Next we have the anthem of the Philippines, a tune that should be played by a small brass ensemble in a village square somewhere in southern europe. Absolutely dreadful musically seen, but it has a fun feel to it nonetheless I found, so I include it in this tier of anthems..
As an extra goodie, this video includes a sort of potted history of the Philippines, which is fun too. See how much you can recognise.
And now a surprising one, the anthem of New Zealand. This is a simple folk song-like anthem, a bit like the country itself, unassuming, friendly, in several languages (Maori and English at least). I like it.
There are no end of other perfectly reasonable anthems in the world, but now it is time to have a look at some that have absolutely no redeeming features whatever
God -Awful National Anthems.
Sadly one of the worst has to be the current Australian anthem.
Appallingly banal words, with a sort of dreadful and lumpy rhyming couplet, and a tune that can hardly be honoured with the word music… a real shambles. This is a very typical example of the worst that a national anthem can offer us. Patriotism enough, but musically and verbally total rubbish.
Here is another one in the same style, but this one has several totally unconnected musical themes as well…
A rather pleasing version of this nonsense song I feel. Have a look at the words, they make no sort of sense as far as I can see… And those three totally disconnected themes. Ah well, at least it is actually about the country in question – America.
The next one, which has to be one of the weirdest and most depressing one of the lot. It is the British one. This dreary dirge doesn’t even praise the wonderful country, but is instead a paean of praise for the ruling family… All about the queen (or king when appropriate), as you will see. And so depressing. makes you want to nip out and either get drunk, or kill yourself… No use as a national anthem in my view…
Ah well, it is at least pompous enough. Weirdly enough, many other countries have used this dirge as their national anthems.. odd…
Sadly of the roughly 190 national anthems out there, most are musically rubbish, not good enough even to give one a frisson of national pride… Strange that this should be so. One would imagine that when creating a national anthem, one would wish it to be as good, both musically and verbally, as possible, but nope, most are total rubbish looked at from any angle. Cheap, banal, childish and lousy sums up most of these patriotic ditties.