Friday, November 2, 2012

National Disasters

Fat Bob Taylor is still the best National Anthem singer I have ever heard. And he's been gone for 17 years now.

I will tip my cap to the late Whitney Houston, whose stirring rendition at a Super Bowl is, without question, the best one-time effort on record. It beats out Marvin Gaye's version at the 1984 NBA All-Star Game, not long before he was tragically killed by his own father.

But Fat Bob was the best anthem singer, pound-for-pound, and I'm not making weight jokes here.

Taylor would show up at Tiger Stadium, but not every night. Just on the big nights, like the old Shrine Night or Polish-American Night. Or playoff games. Or whenever there was likely to be a big crowd and the Tigers invited Fat Bob to Michigan and Trumbull.

Taylor would stand in front of home plate, with stiff posture, a mike stand before him. His arms at his sides, the bearded man with the jet black hair would then boom out the National Anthem and you'd get chills.

Even as a youngster, I could appreciate Taylor's anthem singing. My adolescence couldn't muddy the fact that Taylor's anthems were stirring.

There always seemed to be a collective "Wow" after Taylor belted another one out, as the crowd whooped it up and Fat Bob turned from the mike, nodding to the denizens.

Moments later, the first pitch was thrown and there was still a buzz in the air.


On WJR radio and elsewhere, Fat Bob was aka "The Singing Plumber"


I bring up Taylor because we saw two more butcherings of the National Anthem at Comerica Park before Games 3 and 4 of the World Series last weekend.

Zooey Deschanel, star of Fox's "New Girl," and Demi Lovato sang the Anthem for Games 3 and 4, respectively. Both tried, let's leave it at that.

I'm not even talking about legendary butcherings like Roseanne Arnold's scream fest in 1990. I'm talking about so-called legitimate artists, who in an effort to put their own "spin" on the anthem, end up wrecking it, or at the very least making it unrecognizable.

Which brings me back to Fat Bob Taylor, who sang the anthem the way it was meant to be sung: in a rich baritone---forceful but elegant. His anthems were perfect, simply put.

It's been said that the National Anthem is a "hard" song to sing. I'm not so sure about that. I think many artists have made it unnecessarily hard on themselves (and on our ears) by straying from proper form and using it as a sort of vocal canvas on which they paint. Sadly, too often those efforts become the Salvador Dali of singing.

A proper anthem should be sung within two minutes, really. The basic rule of thumb seems to be that the longer it goes on, the worse it probably is.

Ironically, Aretha Franklin was scheduled to sing the anthem before Game 5, which of course was never played. I have no doubt that Franklin would have done the anthem justice. She might have injected some personal style, but it probably wouldn't have been to the point of bastardization.

Fat Bob Taylor has been gone since 1995. And I haven't heard consistently good National Anthems since.






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