Let’s start this ranking of the worst performances of the Super Bowl national anthem by stating that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a difficult song to sing. It goes from low to high, and if you can keep that ending “free” for as long as it requires, you’re a better singer than most. Plus, you’re performing in front of 100 million people, which can make even the best of troubadours cringe. So let’s admire the courage it takes to even attempt the song.
That said…if we’re to judge football players for making big mistakes on the biggest stage, well, we can judge anthem singers by the same standard as well. Thankfully, no singer (yet) has plumbed the depths of Carl Lewis’ atonal rendition before an NBA game or Roseanne Barr’s atrocity before a baseball game. Yet while anyone who can sing the anthem in front of the world is phenomenally talented, these brilliant singers picked a bad day to have a bad day…
6. N/A, Super Bowl XI: No hymn is a bad hymn. For some reason, the NFL decided in 1977 not to have a national anthem, instead opting for singer Vikki Carr to perform “America the Beautiful.” To this day — and probably forever — it’s the only Super Bowl that doesn’t feature a pre-game national anthem.
5. Alicia Keys, Super Bowl XLVII: Again, bearing in mind the talent and the courage to not only sing the anthem in front of millions of people, but to accompany yourself on the piano…this one was not a bad anthem, in self, that was just…so. .. slowly. Clocking in at 2:32 – and much longer if you include the piano flourishes at the start and end – this one made Anthem “over” bettors happy, but everyone was ready to start the game. .
4. Aretha Franklin, Aaron Neville, Dr. John, Super Bowl XL: Again: this is not a review of the Queen, or Neville, or the Good Doctor. This hymn is a failure not of the performers, but of the arrangement. Aaron Neville could sing your tax return and make it sexy and romantic; Aretha Franklin could sing your grocery list and make it transcendent and inspiring. But taping the two together back-to-back, adding a curiously restrained Dr. John to the mix, and then slathering a gospel choir on top just didn’t work. Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing.
3. Cheryl Ladd, Super Bowl XIV: The NFL had mixed politics and sports since 1980, when Ladd, one of the most well-known TV stars of the era, dedicated the anthem to the hostages then being held in Iran. Maybe the “Charlie’s Angels” star lip-synced, or maybe it’s just the old video from the day, but this rendition screams “cruise ship lounge.” (Aside: Pat Summerall expressed disbelief at the size of the flag – which was only about 25 yards wide, a toy compared to today’s 100-yard-wide behemoths. That was the era.)
2. Charley Pride, Super Bowl VIII: In the very first play of Super Bowl XLVIII, an errant snap detached from Peyton Manning’s helmet and ended up in the end zone, resulting in a safety and eventual blowout in Seattle. It was the equivalent of the national anthem, with country legend Charley Pride literally missing the opening words of the song. He’s recovered fairly well, but “remembering all the words” is the basis of an anthem performance.
1. Christina Aguilera, Super Bowl XLV: Christina Aguilera is a national treasure, possessing all the skills and presence you could want in a singer of her magnitude. And yet, even the best can make mistakes, as she did when she somehow turned “O’er the ramparts we gazed upon” into “What we so proudly washed.” It wasn’t a bad save in the moment, given the stakes and the circumstances, but the trial and error cascaded – she rushed through the rest of the song and stumbled on the big “free” finish and ” courageous”. It’s all right, Xtina; each of us would spoil it far more than you did.
Chris Stapleton is set to sing this year’s national anthem. Here’s hoping he does absolutely nothing to warrant an addition to this list.
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