I like free music. Who doesn’t?

My unquenchable thirst for downloadable music — legal or questionably legal — took a strange turn when a friend turned me onto the archives of the United States military bands. The Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps bands all have their own websites and, because these bands are funded by the taxpayers, their recordings are free.

As far as I could find, our friends in the Coast Guard were left out. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve been looking for a copy of their theme song — nine times catchier than Anchors Aweigh — to no avail.

Seven years of marching band in high school and in college well-prepared me for the huge collection of marches and patriotic music. Three hours later, I finished importing the complete John Phillips Sousa into iTunes. I don’t know who Colonel Bogey is, but he makes me smile.

I imagined military sanctions for band members.

Twenty push-ups for each missed chord change. Play through a rest means half-rations for a week. Talk during rehearsal? Court-martial.

Then it got weird.

Google gave me a link to the old Air Force archives, filled with recordings of our fighting men and women playing and singing music of all genres. Dixieland. New Wave. R&B. There was even a rap song.

It’s hard not to crack a smile at the idea of stoic, serious-faced officers playing the blues in their full dress blues, chiseled jaw and all.

I found all of these songs for free online. Most of them are cheesy.

It almost sounds like a hillbilly cover of ‘Take Five’ before delving into the immediately-recognizable theme. Not too long after, it disintegrates into several Dawg-worthy solos.

Castle Walls
It starts out almost like Sympathy for the Devil — a song with an intro best described as a jungle samba — but this version is played down-tempo. And with bagpipes.

Amazing Grace
Featuring the thrift-store Enya knock-off.

Generation Drug-Free
Imagine government-funded rap about living your life drug-free. Imagine it worse.

The same thinking brought us a surprisingly credible version in ’80s rock form called High on Life. The more soulful Choices is almost as good.

Space Fanfare
You can steal something like eight consecutive melody notes before it’s legally plagiarism. Joseph Spaniola knew this, and wrote for us the Space Fanfare. It starts by almost quoting the Star Wars, Superman and Star Trek themes. It’s a downward spiral from there.

They Died for You, They Died for Me
Hey — did you hear? Vietnam was a fight for freedom, at least according to this Nashville-style Soft Rock. “They died for freedom, God and family/ They died for you/ They died for me,” attests the honkey-tonk crooner. Strangely enough, references to carpet bombing, conscription or the Gulf of Tonkin were cut from the final version.

‘Taint So, Honey ‘Taint So
A white man doing his best Louis Armstrong impression provides the lead vocals about halfway in — as you’d expect, it’s immediately singable. Everything in this album really isn’t that bad, though this is the only selection with such a gravely hoarseness to it.

Tax dollars well spent.


  1. tstahmer

    If you ever visit Washington DC in the summer, look up the schedule for the military bands. Practically any day you can find one or more of the different ensembles playing a variety of music, some of which, as you noted, are styles you might not expect.

    It get’s rather strange watching a man and a woman in full dress uniform singing a romantic duet from a Broadway show. Or one of the Navy bands doing a very credible job of a classic Motown tune.

    A friend is the pianist for the Army band (Pershing’s Own – required to add that 🙂 and I’m always amazed at the range of music he’s required to learn.

  2. If ever I wanted a job in the military, it would be in the band. It’s one of the few, regular, stable jobs in music. Plus, you learn to shoot things. Nothing not to like, if only during peacetime.

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