"The Star Spangled Banner" is a difficult song. It has been criticized in this magazine for its aesthetic and symbolic deficiencies and its Jacksonian sentiment. As former TNR editor Michael Kinsley recently put it, the song is "notoriously unsingable" because it spans two octaves and most people can only sing one--so the results tend to be polarized: good performances, like the Jimi Hendrix one below, become iconic, while bad performances become infamous.
Here, Jimi Hendrix performs the national anthem at Woodstock in 1969.
Click through this video slideshow to see some of the best and worst performances of the national anthem.
Among the best:
Marvin Gaye put his own personal spin on "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the 1983 NBA All-Star game.
Jam band Phish performed an a capella version of the national anthem at game four of the 2003 NBA finals. Phish has also been known to break into the song at concerts.
Whitney Houston's performance at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 was recorded, turned into a commercial single, and peaked at number six on the pop charts.
Billy Joel played pared-down piano versions of the national anthem at two Superbowls, one in 1989 and, above, in 2007.
Some of the worst:
Roseanne Barr infamously mangled "The Star Spangled Banner" at a 1990 San Diego Padres game--on purpose. Her joke was booed by the crowd and made the front page of the local newspaper.
Michael Jordan laughed at Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis's rendition of the national anthem before a 1993 basketball game between the New York Nets and Chicago Bulls. After failing to hit the high notes, Lewis promised the audience: "It's ok--I'll make up for it."
Canadian singer Caroline Marcil forgot the lyrics of "The Star Spangled Banner" twice at a 2005 U.S.-Canada hockey game in Quebec, and had to leave the ice to get a copy of the words. Fans cheered after Marcil slipped and gave up, leaving the ice for good.
Steven Tyler also forgot the lyrics to the national anthem when he performed at the 2001 Indianapolis 500--so he made them up. Unable to remember "the home of the brave," Tyler replaced it with "the home of the Indianapolis 500."
Hillary Clinton forgot her microphone was active during an Iowa campaign event in 2008 and cameras caught audio of her singing the national anthem off-key.
By Elise Foley