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This request's easy to meet: Sing anthem as it's written


IT WAS SURE NICE of Cher to get all dressed up to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.

Let's see if we can follow her thinking as she peeked into her closet before the big game for something to wear:

It's the most celebrated sporting event of the year.

A national TV audience of 127 million is tuning in.

She's singing "The Star Spangled Banner," this country's most revered song.

So what does she do?

She shows up looking like it's fifth-period algebra.

She takes the microphone at Pro Player Stadium wearing blue denim boots, faded jeans and a pink mesh top that looked like something from the Gap.

Oh, that was a nice touch. (I know the top was a Versace. But still ...)

Well, at least she took the inline skates off before making her way onto the field.

I wonder what she wears to a big White House function these days: cut-offs and a Beastie Boys T-shirt?

The fact is, there's something about singing the National Anthem at sports events that makes the singers do goofy things.

Some years ago, you'll recall, Roseanne Barr decided it would be a neat idea to laugh and screech her way through the anthem before a San Diego Padres baseball game.

It was, without doubt, the single most horrible rendition of the National Anthem ever performed. And when the crowd booed her -- go figure, right? -- she responded by grabbing her crotch.

It was a classy move, all right. Made you proud to be an American. Yep, if I'm ever teaching a class on good citizenship, I'm bringing in Roseanne as a guest lecturer.

The other thing about people who sing the pre-game National Anthem is, they all feel compelled to add some kind of personal flair to the song -- usually a disastrous move.

Like hundreds before her, Cher couldn't resist the primordial urge to jazz it up a little. So after belting out the anthem cabaret-style, she ended by inexplicably warbling: "And the home ... of the ... brave ... the brave ... the brave!"

By my count, that was three "the braves."

Which, if you're scoring along at home, is two more than Francis Scott Key penned when he stood in Baltimore harbor in 1812 watching artillery fire light up the night sky.

I bet if Key were up in heaven watching Cher at the Super Bowl, he slammed down his Bud Light and snorted: "Wait a minute -- she's wearing Levis and she throws in three 'the braves'?

"What's going on down there?"

Actually, in the pantheon of celebrity pre-game anthem singers, Cher's version was relatively subdued.

For pure over-the-top theatrics, there is no one on earth who can touch the great Diana Ross.

If you're ever at an event where Diana Ross sings the National Anthem, do what the commercial says: Get yourself a Snickers bar. Because you're gonna be there for a while.

Ross is one of those superstars who labors under the delusion that 127 million football fans have tuned in to the Super Bowl just to hear her sing.

So she gives the anthem everything she has -- which is a lot more than anyone wants to hear.

Her voice soars, then drops dramatically to a whisper. She extends each note interminably. She throws in a lot of goofy improvisational asides, like "Oooooh, yeah!"

She does everything but break into "Stop, In the Name of Love."

And she drags it out.

And drags it out.

And drags it out.

Until finally, after about three minutes, you're praying for a fire to break out in the stands so they'll evacuate the place.

Diana Ross isn't the only big-name mangler of the anthem, of course. Kenny G., Whitney Houston, Kathie Lee Gifford -- all of them have made the anthem drag on forever. Listening to Kathie Lee sing it is like repeatedly banging your toe with a hammer for two and a half minutes.

That's why, for years, I've advocated a simple plan to keep the pre-game anthem moving along at a brisk pace.

Under this plan, whoever sings the anthem is accompanied onto the field by a large mobster-type goon carrying a huge hook. As soon as the anthem begins, the guy with the hook looks at his watch.

And if the anthem goes over two minutes, the guy with the hook yokes the singer around the neck and drags him or her off the field.

And the next voice you hear is the PA announcer intoning: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and here are the starting lineups ... "

Now that's real music to my ears.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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