Late last week, controversy erupted over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to remain seated during the national anthem, in protest against “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick’s protest not only ignited the usual debates over the appropriate exercise of freedom of speech, but it also prompted renewed scrutiny of the anthem itself: “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which set to music an 1814 poem by Francis Scott Key. Yesterday, Smithsonian magazine ran a widely-shared article detailing how Key “not only profited from slaves, he harbored racist conceptions of American citizenship and human potential.” Many have also drawn attention to a lesser-known line in Key’s original poem, which explicitly references the defeat of the “hireling[s] and slave[s]” who had been promised freedom by the invading British forces during the War of 1812. Many have revived the possibility, which comes up every now and then, that it might be time to scrap the “Banner” in favor of an anthem that’s more inclusive, more in keeping with the America of the 21st century.
We here at Dystopian Dance Party fully support Kaepernick’s exercise of his First Amendment rights, and also have a modest proposal for a new, less controversial national anthem. But we’re not talking about “America the Beautiful.” We’re talking, of course, about the 1973 classic rock radio staple “Rocky Mountain Way,” by Barnstorm featuring Joe Walsh.
Why “Rocky Mountain Way,” though? The short answer is, because it kicks ass. I think, however, that we can make a stronger case than that; so please, continue reading below for a list of six reasons why “Rocky Mountain Way” is a better anthem than the “Banner” will ever be.
- It fucking kicks ass. On second thought, this is where we’re going to start, because it’s an important point. Shouldn’t we have a national anthem we actually want to listen to at the beginning of every sporting event? By that criterion, “Rocky Mountain Way” wins hands down. Its crunching blues riff is one of the most iconic in rock and roll. There’s an ARP synthesizer breakdown. There’s a talkbox, for Christ’s sake. And then it all comes together with a shit-hot slide guitar solo. “The Star-Spangled Banner” has literally none of those things.
- It’s American as fuck. What exactly is so goddamn American about “The Star-Spangled Banner?” Is it the fruity, poetic lyrics? Is it the equally fruity orchestral arrangement? None of that shit says “America” to me. America is about three things: freedom, kicking ass, and slamming beers. We’ve already established that “Rocky Mountain Way” kicks ass, and Joe Walsh definitely knew how to slam a beer. I can’t even imagine Francis Scott Key drinking a beer, let alone slamming one; I feel like he probably extended his pinky when he drank. Seriously, though, adopting “Rocky Mountain Way” as the national anthem would embrace the uniquely American musical heritage that is Barnstorm’s boozy blues-rock. Did you know the dude who wrote the music for “The Star-Spangled Banner” was British? Bet you’re not so fucking keen on it now, are you?
- There’s a fucking guitar in it. I know I already mentioned the guitar solo, but it bears repeating. Let me put it this way: literally the only time in history “The Star-Spangled Banner” sounded cool was when Jimi Hendrix shredded it on his guitar at Woodstock. “Rocky Mountain Way” just allows us to cut out the middleman, so it’s already awesome and people don’t get their panties in a twist when somebody shreds it on the guitar. You know what would be an offense to the new national anthem? Playing it on a goddamn trumpet.
- It’s easy as fuck to sing. One of the less politicized complaints about “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the years is that it’s just too difficult for most people to sing, which leads to both embarrassing flubs and tacky attempts at showboating in lesser vocalists. “Rocky Mountain Way” would eliminate that problem, because Joe Walsh already is a lesser vocalist, which means anyone can sing it. And even if you can’t, no one will care, because they’ll be too busy playing air guitar and shotgunning cans of beer. The U.S.A. is a fucking democracy; it’s about time our anthem became democratic, too.
- It’s basically “America the Beautiful,” but fucking better. But there’s also a reason why we’re lobbying for “Rocky Mountain Way,” and not an equally kick-ass, easy-to-sing song like “Cat Scratch Fever” or “Slow Ride.” Like “America the Beautiful” lyricist Katharine Lee Bates, Walsh was inspired to write the song by an awe-inspiring view of America’s natural beauty: the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It’s just that unlike Bates, Walsh didn’t waste a bunch of time mincing words, and he could also bust out a sweet guitar solo after he made his point. In other words, “Rocky Mountain Way” is an objectively better song than “America the Beautiful.”
- It isn’t fucking racist. Given the current debate over the “Banner,” this may be the most important point of all. Francis Scott Key was a slave owner and anti-abolitionist who got positively giddy when he saw the titular star-spangled banner and realized he wasn’t going to have to give up owning human beings as property. Joe Walsh has, to my knowledge, never owned human beings as property, and seems like a pretty chill dude who doesn’t harbor any racist conceptions of Black people as an inferior race. That alone makes “Rocky Mountain Way” a superior choice. But Walsh is also a self-styled everyman; one of his best-known songs is called “Ordinary Average Guy.” I can think of no one better to represent our nation’s founding creed that “all men are created equal.”
I could go on like this for longer, but I think I’ll rest my case. The most important thing to remember is this: nations aren’t set in stone, and neither are national anthems. “The Star-Spangled Banner” itself didn’t become the anthem until 1931, over a century after its composition; and even then, it didn’t speak for all Americans. “Rocky Mountain Way” may not speak for all Americans either, but we think it comes close: how else could it have been covered by everyone from Michael Bolton to Godsmack?In short, Colin Kaepernick is right: America needs to do better. And while a better anthem won’t solve everything, it just might be a step in the right direction. So let’s make America great again, for real. Let’s make the national anthem something we can truly be proud of.
Please consider signing and sharing our White House petition, so the President can call on Congress to make our dream a reality: