This World Cup has featured some amazing athletes, matches, goals, saves, fans, and banter. But, it’s also served up something else: anthems. Before each match, teams get charged up hearing their country’s anthem played over the loudspeakers. Fans and players alike passionately sing along. It’s a great moment.
But, who has the best anthem? Coming Home Newcastle is here to decide that. I’ve broken down each anthem like so…
1. Musically: Is the song exciting? Is it rousing? Or is it more subdued? The best anthem should have a good pace to it.
2. Lyrics: Does the anthem just say that this is the best country on Earth, or do the lyrics say it’s the best country on Earth with a sword drawn?
3. Random factoid: I like an anthem with some gritty backstory.
I would include a category of "fan enthusiasm" but that would probably be tilted towards the South American countries that have a lot easier travel schedule to get there.
Brazil: Musically, it is catchy. It’s not so much a "fight song" as much as it sounds like the song they might play in the background of a Disney movie before the prince sees Cinderella. This isn’t bad, per se, but Brazil gets docked there a bit. Lyrically, the first stanza does include the line, "Our chest defies death itself", which do with that what you will. The second stanza gets a little better: "But if thou raisest the strong cudgel of Justice/ Thou wilt see a son of thine that flees not in battle/ Nor do those who love thee fear death itself." Random factoid: There were no lyrics to the song until 1922, about 100 years after Brazil achieved independence, making Brazil the strong silent type.
Music: 3/5 Lyrics: 3.5/5 Random factoid: 3.5/5…Total: 10/15 An "eh" anthem, but it gets the job done.
Chile: The intro to this song reminds me of something LSU would play. It’s a bit more forceful in tone. In the beginning, it has a sort of rousing quality to it. It does go into a minor key for a bit, so bonus points to that. Lyrically, we see thanks to the Lord, which isn’t surprising, given the Catholic Church’s popularity in South America. It does include the line, "Either the tomb of the free you will be/ Or the refuge against oppression." That must have been kind of ironic during their dictatorship era (1973-90). Fun non-anthem fact: Chile’s current President exacted a pledge from the head of her military that the Chile military would never act against democracy again. In fact, the third verse of the anthem was added during the dictatorship to praise the military (subtle) stating that Chile’s soldiers "make tyrants tremble". That verse is now only played at military events.
Music: 4.5 Lyrics: 3.5/5 Random factoid: 4.5/5…Total: 12.5/15 A solid anthem.
Colombia: Musically, it isn’t as fierce sounding as some of its lyrics might suggest. It’s easy enough to sing along to (not true of some anthems…. looking at you, Star Spangled Banner). I don’t speak Spanish, and I could sing along to it. Lyrically, it does get a little repetitive, claiming Colombia to be a place where "the good now geminates". Jesus makes an appearance in the first verse: "All of mankind, moaning in his chains, understands the words of the one who dies on the cross." Things pick up in verse two on the war stand point with: "The land of Columbus/ Is bathed in hero’s blood/ But this great principle/ "The king is not sovereign"/ resounds and those who suffer/ bless their passion." The war gets really heavy in verse four: "On the shores of the Caribbean/ the famished people fight/ choosing the horrors/ over fickle health." Now, that is a great lyric. The people choosing the immortality of a country’s freedom over the unremembered peaceful life. Like, if Walt Whitman was into war, I think this is what he’d write. Random factoid: The lyrics come from a poem written by a former president of Colombia.
Music: 4/5 Lyrics: 5/5 Random Factoid: 4/5 Total: 13/15 The anthem, which goes on for eleven verses, has some powerful imagery. It’s a great anthem.
Uruguay: I have to admit that Uruguay’s fans have made this a favorite of mine during this World Cup. Their fans really get into it. You may notice that the fans shout one particular part. That is the line, "Sambremos cumplir" which means, "We will fulfill". This refers to the oath that they will die for the country. I was confused by the use of the word "Orientals", so I looked it up. It refers to the Thirty-three Orientals (easterners), a militant group that attacked the Empire of Brazil and helped create Uruguay. Other lyrics refer to tyrants that will tremble. It’s mostly a call to arms. Musically, I kind of like the repeated "Sambremos cumplir", as it gives it an added punch, but the intro is a tad long for my taste. The lyrics of Uruguay’s anthem were written by the same guy who wrote Paraguay’s anthem. Hard to say who got the better end of the deal. Paraguay’s gives a real simplistic overview of revolution, but does basically call itself the Garden of Eden. But, Paraguay didn’t even make the World Cup, so this is just a tangent in learning.
Music: 4/5 Lyrics: 4/5 Factoid: 3/5 Total: 11 A solid anthem, but the factoid wasn’t doing much for me.
France: So, South America has some pretty bloody anthems, but France has some truly gory imagery. "Let impure blood water our fields". Holy bejeezus, France. Later in La Marseillaise, it is said that tyrants will "get their reward", so crank up that guillotine. The lyrics do include a mention of those fighting in the war as "masters of our destinies", so it’s a pretty great call to arms. Also, I like how in the first verse the music is quiet and in a minor tone when referring to soldiers sneaking around and "to cut the throats of your sons and women". And then…"TO ARMS, CITIZENS! FORM YOUR BATTALIONS!" It’s pretty glorious, really. Interesting factoid: After the French Revolution, the other monarchies in Europe were a bit scared that this democracy thing might catch on, so they invaded France. The French military wasn’t all that great at stopping this, so a mayor called for a song to be written to rally the troops. The invasion depicted in the battle is that of Prussians, so this whole France hating Germany thing has been going on for a while. I also like how in the video below, there’s sort of this instrumental din that sounds random, until the beginning that you probably know starts. This fits in well with the time period, as the new, post-revolution France was probably a confusing time, but people needed to band together, lest they be right back in the chains of oppression (an image used in the lyrics).
Music: 5/5 Lyrics: 4.5/5 Factoid: 4/5 Total: 13.5/15. This is a great anthem; the music really helps out the lyrics, even if it does get somewhat xenophobic. No wonder France is so jacked up when they play this.
Nigeria: Musically, it’s not all that inspiring, which may have to do with its rather bland lyrics. It calls on its citizens to serve the country and that the nation is "bound by peace and unity". The second verse is a prayer asking God to guide the country. If you’re like me and listened to this right after the French anthem, you were let down big time. Come on, Super Eagles. Random factoid: It’s a relatively new anthem, having been adopted in 1978. It replaced the equally bland "Nigeria, We Hail Thee".
Music: 3/5 Lyrics: 2/5 Random factoid: 2/5 Total: 7/15. Ouch.
Netherlands: Let’s start with the factoid, because the Dutch anthem contains the strangest line. "A prince of Orange am I, free and fearless/ the king of Spain, I have always honored." At first glance, this seems really strange. This is the Netherlands national anthem. Shouldn’t the line be, "I throw oranges at the king of Spain."? Well, the anthem is written from a first person point of view. Prince William is narrating the anthem, telling you why he feels like he needs to get rid of King Phillip II. It basically boils down to taxes and the fact that the Netherlands was mostly Protestant and the king was Catholic. But, BONUS TWIST: the song is based off of one that Spanish soldiers would sing. Musically, it sounds like something the organist plays while people are getting into the church, so it’s not going to get you excited. The lyrics aren’t that great, it’s not so much "Spain sucks" as much as its "God told me to do this, and He is always right, so this is what we’re doing, alright?" William does compare himself to Saul (bonus points there) and William’s hope that he dies with honor and gains "an eternal realm as a faithful hero".
Music: 2.5/5 Lyrics 2.5/5 Random factoid: 5/5 Total: 10/15. I was fascinated by the backstory of this anthem. It’s a good history lesson. Also, given the context of the anthem, how awesome was that 5-1 game from a Dutch perspective?
Mexico: Mexico’s anthem is unique in that it contains more or less a contingency plan if Mexico doesn’t remain independent. The sixth stanza states, "Oh Fatherland, if ever your children, defenseless/ bend their neck beneath the yoke/ may your fields be watered with blood/ may their foot be printed in blood/ And may your temples, towers and palaces/ collapse with horrid clamor." Most anthems speak to the country being eternally great. Mexico’s says, "we think we’ll be around forever…. but JUST IN CASE!" The anthem says that the Earth will tremble at the roar of the canon, and that Mexico’s destiny is written by God (who, apparently, they aren’t sure has their backs for all time?). Musically, it’s solid, but not great. It is lively, much like some of the South American anthems. Random factoid: the author of the lyrics was a Mexican poet who did not want to enter the competition for the lyrics, saying that he wrote love poems and thus was not suited to write patriotic ones. His fiancée though thought he should, so she lured him into a room at her parent’s house, locked him in and wouldn’t let him out until he wrote the lyrics.
Music: 3/5 Lyrics: 4/5 Random factoid: 5/5 Total: 12/15 A pretty decent anthem, and you have to appreciate that the author of the lyrics wrote them because he was blue balled by his fiancée.
Costa Rica: The lyrics here are kind of bland, though do offer up a pleasant nugget: "When anyone should attempt to besmirch your glory/ You will see your people valiant and virile/ Transform the rustic tool into a weapon". Solid use of the word "besmirch" there. This anthem is a change of pace. Referring to Costa Rica’s sons as "farmhands" and talking about the natural beauty of the country, you get the feeling that anthem of Costa Rica is saying, "we really don’t want to get involved in anything, so keep your wars away." It’s not really inspiring, but I can respect it. Musically, it’s kind of slow, but it has a decent melody. Random factoid: The anthem was composed to welcome diplomatic missions after the United States and United Kingdom acknowledged Costa Rica’s independence.
Music: 2.5/5 Lyrics: 3.5/5 Random factoid: 3/5 Total: 9/15. This anthem won’t get your blood pumping, but that was kind of the point.
Greece: Musically, it is kind of slow, but has some drama to it. It’s easy to sing along to. It does have a nice opening line; "I shall always recognize you/ By the dreadful sword you hold." Get in, Greece. The lyrics refer to Greece’s role in the founding of democracy. After all, the official title of the anthem is "Hymn to Liberty". It’s short, but that’s not a bad thing. It is also the national anthem of Cyprus. It is also played at the closing ceremony of each Olympics.
Music: 3/5 Lyrics 3/5 Random factoid: 3/5 Total: 9/15. No one part was overly bad, but this is a fairly unassuming anthem.
Argentina: This anthem seems to change pace, and doesn’t quite seem to settle into anything. It came off as a bit disjointed to me. The more modern version cuts out the revolution bits and cuts to the part where the free people of the world salute Argentina. But, boy do the parts about the revolution get into gear. "Mars himself seems to encourage" Argentina. That’s right Spain…the god of war is on our side! The anthem goes onto say that "the dead Inca are shaken", so yeah, about that whole colony business. "Mountain ranges and walls are felt/ to resound with horrible din/ The whole country is disturbed by cries/ of revenge, of war, of furor" The entire country is so worked up, that their shouts echo off mountains. The lyrics also point to revolutions in Mexico and Peru as proof that this can be done. Random factoid: So, why did they cut out all of the parts of the revolution? Because once thing settled down, Spanish immigrants started coming over and that made of some awkwardness. "Welcome to Argentina, our national song says that you ‘spit the pestipherous vile’!" So, officially only the first and last verses are sung.
Music: 3/5 Lyrics 4/5 Random factoid: 5/5 Total: 12/15…Argentina get bonus points for thinking of immigrants when updating their anthem.
Switzerland: The Swiss Psalm has an interesting history. It was written in 1841 and has been used at patriotic events since then. However, for a long time, the Federal Council (a group that acts, collectively, as Switzerland’s head of state) did not want to make it the official anthem, wanting the people to decide that. They did in 1981. But, in 2013, the government said that they would change the anthem. The problem is that the song is (as you might gather from the title) a prayer. A federal leader told the BBC that since Switzerland has people of many faiths and non-believers, that it isn’t really an anthem for everybody. Hence the change. Musically: it sounds like a church song, maybe one the organist plays to pad out time while the collection plate is passed around.
Music: 3/5 Lyrics: 3/5 Random factoid: 4/5 Total: 10/15. It’s not really an inspiring anthem. It’s slow, and the lyrics leave something to be desired.
Germany: Germany’s anthem becomes a little tricky, because it, much like Argentina, changed their anthem. Of course, Germany changed their anthem because its first stanza says "Germany above everything in the world" and they took that way to literally once. Though, your random factoid is that the original meaning of this was for the Germanic states to come together, the author meaning that a unified Germany is more important and better than anything the German states could be by themselves. The second verse isn’t terrible, but still says German women, wine, loyalty and music are better then everyone’s. Admittedly, not every national anthem is going to brag about its women. Still, that verse was scrapped as well, and now we have the third verse. "Unity and justice and freedom/ For the German Fatherland/For these let us strive/ Brotherly hand in hand". Given the need for rebuilding and eventual reunification of Germany, this verse speaks well to the ideas of a post-war Germany.
Music: 4/5 Lyrics: 3/5 Random Fact: 3/5 Total: 10/15. A decent effort with a good message.
United States of America: I would assume this is the anthem that our readership is most familiar with. And also its backstory. Francis Scott Key, on a ship, sees the flag during War of 1812, sets it to tune of drinking song. So let’s delve deeper. The second verse (oh yes, there are multiple verses to this) continues to talk about the flag. Things really pick up in the fourth verse where the anthem becomes all about Manifest Destiny. This verse refers to the United States as a "Heaven rescued land" and praises God. And then…"Then conquer we must/ when our cause it is just/ And this be out motto, "In God is our trust". Manifest Destiny was becoming a thing then, and it wasn’t to long after the War of 1812 that America really began its expansion westward (the Lewis and Clark Expedition took place about a decade prior to the song’s composition. Organized wagon trains on the Oregon Trail began in 1836.) Added Civil War bonus: An added verse during the Civil War supports the Union. That verse states, "By the millions unchained/ Who their birthrights have gained/ We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained" Here, Transcendentalism creeps in a bit with the call for the slaves to be freed and take part in the nation. Random factoid: This was not made America’s official anthem until 1931, though it had been in use before then. Baseball first started playing it at the World Series during the seventh inning stretch in 1918.
Music: 4/5 Lyrics: 4/5 Random factoid: 4/5 Total: 12/15 It’s a good anthem, but it’s slower pace knocks it a bit. The lyrics are ok, but I think a better description of the battle, or maybe what the young country meant to Key might have punched it up a bit. I gave the US an extra point on random factoid, since if I didn't know about the anthem already, I may have found it more interesting. So, an extra point to cover the bases, if you will.
Belgium: Belgium’s anthem kind of sounds generic, to be honest. Its melody doesn’t grab your attention like, say France’s does, and its words aren’t exactly inspiring. Kind of ironically, it’s current lyrics, updated in 1921, basically are pro-monarch. "The King, the law, and liberty/ Shall have for device immortal". This is possibly because seven years prior to the publication of these lyrics, Albert I took over control of the Belgian army and held off the Germans until support could come from France and Britain. King Albert spent time during the way with the troops and the queen worked as a nurse on the front lines. So, ok, you get to like your king, Belgium.
Music: 3/5 Lyrics: 3/5 Random factoid: 5/5 Hey, their king held of the Germans. Total: 11/15.
Algeria: This one comes out right out of the gate, saying "We swear by the lightning bolt that destroys". Algeria simply does't like France, and it becomes very apparent in the anthem. The verses go that they tried to talk, but no one would listen, "So we have taken up the drum of gunpowder as our rhythm/ And the sounds of machine guns as our melody". I don't know how many anthems include "machine guns" but there you go. In case you weren't sure that it was indeed France that this is all directed towards..."O France, the time of reproach has passed/ And we have closed it like a book/ O France, the day of reckoning is at hand/ So prepare to receive from us our answer". I'd just like to point out, we COULD get a France/Algeria match in the quarterfinals. Musically, it isn't great. It's very repetitive and the notes don't change much (perhaps attempting to echo a machine gun), but it does lend itself to a good rousing sing-along. Random factoid: The lyrics to this song were written by an Algerian imprisoned by the French. He wrote the words on the wall of his cell, using his blood.
Music: 3/5 Lyrics: 4/5 Random Factoid: 5/5 Total: 12/15 A solid anthem. That backstory really puts it over the top. And the fact that it calls out another nation state....awesome.
By my (totally subjective) scoring, France has the best anthem of the final sixteen, with score of 13.5, just edging out Colombia's 13. Some solid anthems in the lot though. And now you'll know a little bit more about the songs played before the matches resume tomorrow.