Britain's national rock anthem: Neil Young to record his take on God Save the Queen
Rob Hastings is Deputy News Editor at The Independent. He has served on the news desk since 2010, and also writes travel articles, music reviews and features. In 2015 he shortlisted for the Washington Post’s Laurence Stern Fellowship for a series on reportage features from Iran.
Thursday 22 March 2012
Provoking the indignation of patriotic Americans and traditionalist Brits alike is something perhaps only a Canadian would so gladly risk, but then Neil Young has never been afraid of ruffling a few feathers with his music.
The 66-year-old rock star has apparently recruited a children's choir to sing above the raucous, growling rock of his backing band, Crazy Horse, to record a cover version of "God Save The Queen". And as if causing consternation with monarchists in the Home Counties wasn't enough, Tea Party nationalists across the Atlantic are also likely to be shaking their heads at Young's cheeky decision to include it on an album otherwise made up entirely of traditional US folk songs, entitled Americana.
Rock stars have frequently courted outrage with their use of national anthems. Serge Gainsbourg received death threats on the release of "Aux Armes et cætera", his 1979 reggae interpretation of French anthem "La Marseillaise", and Nico dedicated her 1974 version of the German state song "Das Lied Der Deutshcen" to the terrorist Andreas Baader.
Shortly after perhaps the most famous example, Jimi Hendrix's performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock in 1969, the guitarist appeared on a chat show in which the host, Dick Cavett, commented that whenever an "unorthodox" version of the song was played, those involved "immediately get a guaranteed percentage of hate mail". Hendrix replied: "I didn't think it was unorthodox. I thought it was beautiful."
Young's record company, Warner Bros, said his version of "God Save The Queen" featured on the new album because, like the other tracks, it was "very much part of the fabric of our American heritage". Much as US citizens who celebrate achieving independence from Britain on 4 July might not like to acknowledge it, the company added that the song served as the "de facto national anthem of sorts before the establishment of The Union as we know it, until we came to adopt 'The Star Spangled Banner'".
Indeed, the tune to the royalist hymn was adopted for the song "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", otherwise known simply as "America", which effectively served as the US national anthem for more than a century after Washington achieved independence from London. "The Star Spangled Banner" was recognised for official use as late as 1889, and only became the national anthem in 1931.
As the first song in history to be recognised as a national anthem, "God Save The Queen" has been revised more times than most – from Beethoven's use of it in "Wellington's Victory" to celebrate Britain winning the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, to the 1993 kazoo version by Madness.
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