Replacing the anode rod or removing it for cleaning is a normal part of water heater maintenance. If, however, you've never done it before and your tank is several years old, there's a very good chance that the anode rod is so stuck that your tank will spin when trying to remove it. Once the tank spins, you won't be able to remove it.
I dealt with this headache for hours until I found this solution!
[For a full video on how to flush out and vacuum out your tank to stop the "popping" sounds, check this video out here: https://youtu.be/hB1F_T7ZmxM]
1/2" Ratchet with 1 1/16" socket
1 Ratchet Strap
2-3 Foam stadium cushions or 2-3 rubber car mats
Scrap Lumber and Boards
1.) Run the ratchet strap around your water heater (and under the pressure relief valve piping that runs vertically down to the floor)
2.) Make sure there are cushions or mats under the ratchet locking assembly and on the opposite site (as well as under anything metal to prevent denting the tank)
3.) Place some boards along the wall to the right side of the ratchet strap locking assembly and run a scrap 2x4 or 2x2 from the board on the wall to friction fit against the locking assembly
4.) Using the ratchet, socket, and cheater pipe, slowly start to unscrew the anode rod until the bond is broken