One of the great enigmas of America's ethos is a national anthem that very few people can easily sing. When Congress voted in 1931 to officially make The Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem, I doubt very many of those senators or representatives could sing it on key. The fact that a lawyer named Francis Scott Key wrote the words to it can almost be considered an oxymoron. It is a dreadfully formidable tune to carry.
And the lyrics, despite their familiarity, do not fall---to use a phrase of Hamlet's ---trippingly off the tongue. Just ask Lauren Alaina or Christine Aguilera, the latest celebrated singers who couldn't quite negotiate them. Mercifully, we only have to sing the first stanza of the original poem.
The backstory of our national anthem is well-known. Mr. Key was an eyewitness--- during the War of 1812--- of the British bombing of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. Inspired by the sight of Old Glory still intact the following morning, he penned the immortal albeit tortuous words that his brother later suggested he set to the music of The Anacreonic Song, the signature song of a society of British musicians. Members of the so-called Anacreon Society often used the song as a sobriety test. According to the website Scrutiny Hooligans.us: "If you could sing a stanza of the notoriously difficult melody and stay on key you were sober enough for another round."
I'll drink to that!