When thrash titans Metallica took the field at San Francisco’s AT&T Park to play “The Star Spangled Banner” last week, they were but the latest in a long line of high energy decibel dealers putting their rough stamp on our hallowed National Anthem. Ever since Jimi Hendrix serenaded the Woodstock faithful that bleary August morning in 1969 with his electric-fried version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” rockers have been figuring out daring different ways to rock Francis Scott Key’s composition in instrumental form. We now present to you the 10 Most Rocking Versions of The National Anthem. Give us your feedback on vote on where you think they rank and remember to vote early and vote often.
Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, August 18, 1969
When rock’s most innovative picker plugged “The Star Spangled Banner” into a bevy of guitar effects pedals at ear-splitting volume he created a sonic firestorm tone poem that many thought was an allegory for the nation’s troubles in the Vietnam War. Jimi and his then backing band Gypsy Sun & Rainbows took the stage at 9am due to errant thunderstorms pushing the previous night’s performances back several hours. Not a bad way to wake up.
Being the band who took metal to new extremes in attitude and amplitude, it’s no wonder the Bay Area’s finest weren’t content to let just one guitarists take a stab at the iconic National Anthem. Before a home crowd game at a game between fierce division rivals, the San Francisco Giants and L.A. Dodgers, their crunchy dual guitar version set new standards in guitarmonic excellence.
Yngwie Malmsteen at Sun Life Stadium, August 6 2011
Swedish lord of scalloped fretboards Yngwie Malmsteen is known for his classical runs and fjord-sized ego but hey, you’d be a little full of yourself too if you could play that fast. In 2011 he played a multi-noted version of his adopted homeland’s National Anthem before a Florida Marlins game and even threw in a guitar flip for good measure.
Zakk Wylde solo
Bellicose and bearded Black Label Society and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde dedicated his version of “the greatest song ever written” to the troops in this solo performance. As if his heavily-Rotovibed version weren’t compelling enough he makes the sign of the cross halfway through just to let you he takes this thing serious.
Ted Nugent at The Alamo, April 15, 2009.
You may not agree with everything he says, hell, you might not agree with anything he says, but it’s beyond dispute that The Nuge is as skilled on the 6 strings as he is with a hunting crossbow. And what’s more patriotic, in a reactionary, kind of squirm-inducing way, than seeing him play the National Anthem on the Glenn Beck Show? And at The Alamo? None more patriotic (cringe).
Slash at The Staples Center, October 12, 2010
Since his days in Guns N’ Roses, this top-hatted Les Paul beater has been rock’s go-to guitar hero. In 2010 he took to the ice to deliver a surging, bluesy version of the National Anthem at the Los Angeles Kings 2010 home opener.
Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Houston Astrodome, April 18, 1985
Texas string twister Stevie Ray Vaughan is credited (or criticized depending on who you’re talking to) with taking blues out of the juke joints and into the arenas before his untimely death in 1990. Though a self-confessed Hendrix disciple, SRV put his own unique, almost Hawaiian-sounding spin on the “The Start Spangled Banner” when he played it before a Houston Astros game in 1985.
Jeff Beck at Comerica Park, June 20, 2010
Former Yardbirds living legend Jeff Beck has been known as a guitarists’ guitarist, with everyone from Jimmy Page to Eric Clapton acknowledging his superiority on the 6 string. Though knows as a flash player his version of the National Anthem is surprisingly tasteful and elegiac, showing it’s not how many notes you play but how you play them.
Ace Frehley at Arrowhead Stadium, October 4, 2009
Whether with makeup or without, former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley has always been one of rock’s most influential if underrated guitarists. The only thing missing from this version of “The Start Spangled Banner” is his patented smoking guitar however the Chiefs had their own pyrotechnics team on site to make up for the lack of explosives which seem to take the rocker by surprise.
Steve Vai at Madison Square Garden, November 29, 2009
Between his solo career and a resume that includes everyone from Frank Zappa to Public Image Ltd. to David Lee Roth cosmic shredder Steve Vai is known as one of the most accomplished guitarists in the galaxy so who better to play the National Anthem at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”?
Now that you’ve seen all the candidates, it’s time for you to decide…