Playlist of the Month: National Anthems

Obscure individual sports aren’t the only thing we care about once every four years during the Olympics. We’re also temporarily interested in a musical category that we don’t bother with otherwise: national anthems. National anthems always sound kind of like church music and kind of like an easy classical piece you’d play in a 4th grade band concert. The lyrics – even when you speak the language – are all run-on sentences and jingoism. Yet when gold-medal athletes tear up during their national anthems, we can’t help but get a little emotional. As residents of a country with a hard-to-sing, hard-to-remember national anthem, we also have some anthem envy. We still love the Star- Spangled Banner for sentimental reasons, but these non-US anthems have become the soundtrack to our Olympic games:

Great Britain

Heard at medal ceremonies for: Cycling, Rowing, Gymnastics, Swimming, Track

You know why Americans co-opted this song and changed the lyrics to a crazy run-on sentence in My Country ‘Tis Of Thee? Because it is a 17th century plainchant melody for which various lyrics were used to accommodate numerous secular or religious purposes. Because the melody sounds so much better than The Star-Spangled Banner. Thanks, Great Britain. You’re the greatest. The lyrics are still kind of dopey – rhyming victorious, glorious and over us? – so it loses points there.


Heard at medal ceremonies for: Cycling, Rowing

Switzerland: so peaceful, their national anthem sounds like a nice lullaby. Have I made up lyrics that begin “Go to sleep, my Switzerland?” Yes. And you know what? I hope gentle, sleepy Switzerland rests well.


Heard at medal ceremonies for: Shooting, Fencing, Judo, Swimming, Cycling

Are you positive we’re not on a carousel? I don’t know about you, but I like my national anthems to make me feel like I’m enjoying a nice summer day at an amusement park by the seashore.

Oh Canada


Heard at medal ceremonies for: Swimming, Trampoline, Track and Field

Being from the part of NY that’s near Canada, you can count on a few things. Tim Hortons outnumber Starbucks in my city, I struggle at least weekly to get machines to accept Canadian coins, and I know Oh Canada about as well as I know the Star-Spangled Banner. A few of my nephews even sing Oh Canada (and the Star-Spangled Banner) before their living room hockey games. Anyway, if you’re from the north or watch a lot of hockey, you probably have some anthem envy for Oh Canada, especially the True North strong and free part.


Heard at medal ceremonies for: Fencing, Judo, Gymnastics

Is this the score played over the opening credits of an animated movie about Russia? I’ve never seen Anastasia (I know), but I’m assuming their national anthem is was the soundtrack sounds like.


Heard at medal ceremonies for: Weightlifting, Diving, Table Tennis

China’s bouncy and uplifting national anthem sounds like the theme song from Bonanza. Just imagine country hero Jackie Chan riding a horse through the country and galloping on the Great Wall. I think I was watching the live stream for a swimming medal ceremony, and the Australian commentator said, “It’s kind of a smart anthem, isn’t it?”, and the other Aussie replied, “Yeah it’s punchy.” Fair.


Heard at medal ceremonies for: Swimming and Fencing

My initial thought was that this song could easily be used for a pairs figure skating routine, then started thinking that Hungary could be really good at ice skating? My thought process makes no sense, because I know barely anything about Hungary besides… goulash? Ugh ignorant American, so sorry. Anyways, they’ve only won 6 medals at the Winter Olympics, and all have been for figure skating. What I’m saying is that Hungarians love figure skating so much they incorporated it into their national anthem. But also they could have been inspired by their love of 1950s Disney films.


Heard at medal ceremonies for: Weightlifting

Thailand’s anthem is so patriotic sounding that it’s one of those songs that makes me think I know the lyrics. I don’t.


Heard at medal ceremonies for: Swimming, Gymnastics

If I said John Williams composed this would you believe me? Yes, because this is exactly the type of track he’d make for a Steven Spielberg movie set during Japanese war times. For the record, he didn’t compose this.



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