For One Songstress, Old Drinking Song is New Again

CLEVELAND, Ohio.  Tomorrow night singer Marci Edelman is booked for a three-hour gig (with two fifteen-minute breaks) at the Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport lounge.  “I’ve been working like a beaver on my set list,” she says breathlessly as her backup band tunes up.  “There’s always a chance a talent scout will be stuck here for a few hours on the way from New York to LA because of busted landing gear.”


“Whoa-whoa say . . . can you-uh see-ee?”

 

Among the additions to Marci’s repertoire this year are not only standards such as “When Sunny Gets Blue” and crowd-pleasing novelty numbers such as “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” but also an old chestnut that’s experiencing a curious revival–The Star-Spangled Banner, America’s national anthem.


“You made my bombs burst in air, baby!”

 

“I don’t know exactly when the tipping point came,” says Police Records A&R man Mylo Thousen, “but ‘SSB’”–as it is known among entertainment pros–“is as essential to your lounge act these days as ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Feelings.’”


Francis Scott Key: “Let’s take it from the top–this time with feeling.”

 

The Star-Spangled Banner is derived from a drinking song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a London men’s social club.  New lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key for the out-of-town opening of the American Revolution, and an up-tempo arrangement by Burt Bacharach was commissioned for the Broadway premiere.


Bacharach: “Do you know the way to Chesapeake Bay, I’ve got a date with a British ad-mir-ral.”

 

In recent years the anthem has turned into a career stepping stone for young female singers, with performances before sporting events a vehicle to introduce fans to an artist’s style and test their pipes.

“You’ve got to give it that sultry, sensuous torch song feel,” says Bonnie McPhail, a winsome chanteuse who will perform tomorrow night in the food court at the Dunkin’ Donuts/Pizza Hut/McDonalds plaza on Route 128 outside of Boston.  “If you really nail it, some steroid-bloated millionaire ballplayer might ask you to be his regular girlfriend whenever he comes to town.”


“This song is for all the lovers . . . of their country . . . in the audience tonight.”

 

But Edelman says she prefers the intimate setting of a nightclub to a cavernous stadium so she can “put the song over” to fans on a one-to-one basis.  “I need to work on the lyrics,” she says, her forehead furrowed with lines that evidence her commitment to her art.  “Somebody told me the last two words are ‘Play ball.’”

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