Something for the weekend. The Star Spangled Banner. Often assailed by critics as unsingable, too war-like and on other grounds, I love it and I am proud that it is our National Anthem. It is an interesting song for a national anthem in that the first stanza, the one we all attempt to sing, has an important question at the end of it: Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? That particular question has to be asked by each generation of Americans, ours no less than the generations who came before us.
Here is a superb video giving the historical back ground behind the writing of The Star Spangled Banner:
Something for the weekend. Heart of Oak. Written by actor David Garrick in 1759, with music by Dr. William Boyce, the song is a rousing tribute to the Royal Navy. Garrick penned the song during the Annus Mirabilis of 1759 when Church bells in Great Britain and America were constantly ringing in celebration of British victories, including the taking of Quebec, on land and sea. The song was an immediate hit both in Great Britain and its colonies.
The video clip above is taken from That Hamilton Woman (1941) starring Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier. In many ways simply a historical pot boiler common for films during the period, the film also celebrates British resistance to the tyranny of Napoleon which of course strongly resonated with British audiences in 1941. It was Churchill’s favorite movie and he would frequently show it to guests during the War.
The playing of Heart of Oak at the beginning of the clip is not a conceit of the film. When British ships of the line were sailing into battle the bands of the ship would strike up Heart of Oak, always a favorite of the sailors on board. Serving in miserable conditions, sometimes pressed (“compulsorily volunteered” was the phrase), the song did reflect how the sailors perceived themselves. They were almost all ardent patriots, as they demonstrated during the fleet mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797, when the mutineers turned over to the government French agents who attempted to make common cause with them. The leaders of the mutineers told the authorities that they were entirely loyal to England, and they simply wanted redress for their grievances, which the Admiralty eventually granted. Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar, where he smashed the combined French and Spanish fleets and established British naval supremacy for a century, understood the patriotism of the common seaman, which is why he sent the fleet the message, “England expects every man to do his duty” prior to sailing into the fight.
Nelson in the film is shown as saying of the decorations that he wore in the engagement, “I won them in battle? Then I’ll wear them in battle.” although he of course realized that this made him a prime target for French snipers. Nelson had previously lost a right arm and a right eye in prior engagements. At Trafalgar his luck ran out and he was killed by a French sharpshooter. However, his stance was not foolhardy. To direct a fleet action in the early Nineteenth Century an admiral needed to be on deck, and Nelson understood that the attribute prized above all others by the men he led was physical courage. Nelson was a complete cad in his personal life, but he had in abundance that quality. The men would fight much harder if they saw their officers coolly displaying complete contempt for death in action, and therefore it was necessary for Nelson to do so. Additionally, throughout his career he had struggled for better conditions for the men under his command, and they fought their hardest when led by him. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The theme song to my favorite television western of the Sixties, The High Chapparal. Broadcast on NBC from 1967-1971. Set in the Arizona territory in the 1870′s the series was well acted by regulars Leif Erickson, Cameron Mitchell, Mark Slade, Linda Cristal and Henry Darrow. The scripts were literate with a more realistic feel than was common at the time. Here is a longer rendition of the theme song:
Something for the weekend. The song Captain Buffalo from the 1960 movie Sergeant Rutledge (1960), John Ford’s salute to the regular army black soldiers who fought in the West in post Civil War America. Called Buffalo Soldiers, the black troops made up the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments. While confronting the extreme prejudice of that time, the troops earned accolades for their courage and professionalism. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Although I have almost as little sympathy for the tsars as I did for their communist successors, I have always thought that the instrumental version of God Save the Tsar is one of the most stirring of national anthems. Below is a fine rendition sung by a choir: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day a video honoring a few of the Saints who have ennobled the history of the Emerald Isle. At their head stands Saint Patrick who brought the Cross to Ireland: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Written in 1821 by Samuel Woodworth, the song proved immensely popular and Jackson used it as a theme song in his 1828 campaign for the presidency. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Witchita Lineman, the signature song of Glen Campbell, written by Jimmy Webb. If you were alive in 1968 in the United States it was impossible not to have heard this song played endlessly. I would not say that I like or dislike the song, but rather that it became imprinted upon my 11 year old unconscious that year and has stayed with me ever since. However, the real reason that I am posting it is due to the classic filksong parody, which I have always been very fond of: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. I have featured this song before in one of my Saturday posts, but the superb video above that melds the song with information about the sinking of SS Edmund Fitzgerald compelled me to post it again. Besides we can never have too much Gordon Lightfoot, one of the few musical brightspots in that vast musical wasteland of the last century known as the Seventies.
Something for the weekend. A very powerful rendition of I’m On My Way to Canaan Land from the film Elmer Gantry (1961).
A rendition in a completely different style from Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Stubby Kaye gives a show stopping performance of Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat from the film adaptation of the play Guys and Dolls (1955). My daughter’s high school is putting on the Guys and Dolls play this semester and my daughter has the role of the Salvation Army General Matilda B. Cartwright. My wife and I viewed the film a few weeks ago. It had been decades since I last watched it and I had forgotten just how much fun it is. A better time in America’s cultural life. Continue reading