Friday, February 15, 2013
It's been two years since we first collected songs that feature U.S. presidents in honor of Presidents Day. Here is the list again, updated for Presidents Day 2013.
We're sure there are other songs we've missed that name check a past or current Commander in Chief. If you know of one, please feel free to suggest it using the Submit a Song feature on the left side of this page. Like the great experiment in democracy that is America, this list is a work in progress.
Abraham, Martin and John by Dion. The Abraham is Lincoln, the John is Kennedy (and the Martin is MLK).
Apollo by the Alan Parsons Project, an instrumental that includes a snippet of JFK's 1961 "Man on the Moon" speech.
Ballad of Ronald Reagan by the Austin Lounge Lizards. "They called him Ronald--Ronald Reagan..."
California (Rutherford Hayes in the Morning) by Darryl Purpose. In addition to Hayes, the song also mentions Chester A. Arthur.
Campaigner by Neil Young. "Even Richard Nixon has got soul..."
(A Child's View Of) The Eisenhower Years by Al Stewart. "Elvis on the television, G.I.s in Korea/It's a child's view of the Eisenhower years..."
Dear Mr. President by Pink. The President in question is not identified by name, but this is clearly addressed to George W. Bush.
Diary by Andrew McKnight, about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. "Jefferson writes, 'Dear Diary, what have I done...?'"
Do The Clinton by the Foremen, a dance based on Bill Clinton's moves ("Hustle free trade and stage a bombing raid/Everybody do the Clinton...")
Eisenhower Blues by Elvis Costello. "Oh oh oh I got the Eisenhower Blues/Thinking about me and you and what on earth are we gonna do?"
The End Of The Innocence by Don Henley. "They're beating plowshares into swords/For this tired old man that we elected king." The video for the song makes it clear that this is a reference to Ronald Reagan.
Franklin Pierce by the Two Man Gentlemen Band. "There ain't nothing funny 'bout the death of Franklin Pierce..."
George Washington by Andrew McKnight. "The sign says George Washington slept here/Now there's a guy who had a couple of good ideas..."
Gimme Some Truth by John Lennon. Features perhaps the most popular epithet for Richard Nixon: "No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of Tricky Dicky/Is gonna Mother Hubbard soft soap me." *
Grandpa Was A Carpenter by John Prine. "...And voted for Eisenhower/'cause Lincoln won the war..."
Gush or Bore by David Roth. "I won't say who I voted for, or even if 'twas Gush or Bore..."
Hard to Find by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. "Johnny F and Jackie looked like they had it all..."
Here. In My Head by Tori Amos. "So maybe Thomas Jefferson/Wasn't born in your backyard."
Johnny Can't Read by Don Henley. A generic presidential reference: "Well, is it Teacher's fault? Oh no/Is it Mommie's fault? Oh no/Is it the President's fault? Oh no/Well, is it Johnny's fault? Oh No!"
I Do the Rock by Tim Curry. "Carter, Begin and Sadat/Brezhnev, Deng and Castro..."
Inaugural Blues by Loudon Wainwright III features Bill Clinton: "Bill and Hill are our first couple..."
I Saw It On T.V. by John Fogerty. You'll find two presidents in this song, only one of them mentioned by name:
1. "A man named Ike was in the White House/Big black limousine..."
2. "A young man from Boston set sail the new frontier/And we watched the dream dead-end in Dallas/We buried innocence that year..."
It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan. "Even the President of the United States has to stand naked..." Another generic reference, but we'll take it.
James K. Polk by They Might Be Giants. "And when the votes were cast the winner was/Mr. James K. Polk, Napoleon of the stump..."
League of Notions by Al Stewart."Woodrow Wilson waves his fourteen points around..."
Like William McKinley by Al Stewart. "I'll sit on my porch like William McKinley/And I'll let the world come to me..."
Lincoln's Man by Ben Bedford. "A lover's note, a mother's prayer, and a father's curse/But I'm Lincoln's man, I'm Lincoln's man for better or for worse."
Lindy Comes to Town by Al Stewart. "Mr. Coolidge he will say, it's a public holiday..."
Line 'Em Up by James Taylor. "I remember Richard Nixon back in '74 and the final scene at the White House door..."
Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation by Tom Paxton. "I got a letter from LBJ/It said 'This is your lucky day'..."
Mexico by Jefferson Airplane.Features an oblique reference to Richard Nixon: "But Mexico is under the thumb/Of a man we call Richard/And he's come to call himself king." *
Obama by Ridi. Because, you know, it's about Obama.
Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming..."
On To Victory Mr. Roosevelt by Loudon Wainwright III. Mostly about FDR, but the last couple of stanzas are about Obama.
Presidents Day by Loudon Wainwright III. "George was the first one--Abe was the best," Loudon sings, but he expresses some regret that "there's been more than one George, I'm sorry to say."
Postcards From Richard Nixon by Elton John. "We heard Richard Nixon say, welcome to the USA..."
Post World War Two Blues by Al Stewart. "Uncle Ike was our American pal/Nobody talked about the Suez Canal..."
Ray & Ron by Rod MacDonald. Compares the lives of Ray Charles and Ronald Reagan ("Ray was a musician/Ron was a president"), who died the same week.
Russians by Sting. "Mr. Reagan says we will protect you/I don't subscribe to this point of view..."
Semper Fi by John Gorka, which tells how Gorka's father met Eleanor Roosevelt. "Her husband was the President/Til he ran out of time/Her Franklin D. was history/And they'd put him on the dime..."
Summerfling by k.d. lang. "We ran on the beach with Kennedy flair."
Superbird by Country Joe and the Fish. "It's a bird it's a plane, it's a man insane, it's my President LBJ..."
Sympathy For The Devil by the Rolling Stones. "I shouted out/Who killed the Kennedys..."
Teddy Roosevelt's Guns by Silver Mt. Zion. "Shop and save/Beneath the western sun/Bought and paid for with Teddy Roosevelt's guns..."
Ten Cents A Coup by Phil Ochs. "Here's to Nixon and Agnew/They are the stars of the stage and screen..." (Lyndon Johnson appears too: "I thought that Johnson was the devil...")
Tricky Dicky by Country Joe and the Fish. Richard Nixon appears as "Tricky Dicky from Yorba Linda/The genuine plastic man..."
Two Men In The Building by Steve Gillette, describes learning of the John F. Kennedy assassination while in Paris in 1963 ("Came a knock on the door, said the word was on the wire/They wounded your president when he drove into the crossfire...").
Warren Harding by Al Stewart. "Warren Gamaliel Harding alone in the White House watching the sun come up on the morning of 1921..."
We Didn't Start The Fire by Billy Joel. Mentions Harry Truman, Richard Nixon (twice!), Eisenhower, Reagan, and "JFK blown away."
William Howard Taft by the Two Man Gentlemen Band. "William Howard Taft got himself stuck in a bath..."
Young Americans by David Bowie. "Do you remember your President Nixon...?"
Honorable Mention to the band The Presidents of the United States.
*Submitted by Bill Gregg
With thanks to Greg Hughes.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
We're back--and so is Odysseus, a regular visitor to these pages.
Homer's epic hero--featured in Cream's Tales of Brave Ulysses, Steely Dan's Home at Last, Suzanne Vega's Calypso, and many other contemporary songs--has inspired still more modern music, this time a new album by saxophonist Chris Potter, released late last month. “The Sirens draws inspiration from The Odyssey, the ancient Greek epic poem of exile, homecoming and the treacherous path in between," writes the New York Times's Nate Chinen in an interview with Potter.
The album features such tracks as Wine Dark Sea, a title drawn from Homer's poetic description of the Mediterranean; Penelope, Kalypso, and Nausikaa, each inspired by specific characters in the tale; and of course, the title track, about the mythical women whose irresistible song lures sailors to shipwreck on the rocks.
In the Times interview, Potter talks about what drew him to The Odyssey:
I read it in high school and thought it was cool but didn’t go much further than that. When I reread it, I was really taken with the beauty of it and how many of the themes in the book resonate. It’s good and evil, these big decisions — and a lot of stuff about interpersonal relationships, which is rare for an ancient text, I think. It’s very psychological, in a way....A lot of what’s interesting to me is how Odysseus actually interacts with people. He’s in these situations where he has to represent himself. That to me is a big reason why it feels so contemporary. A couple of the tunes that are about women—'Penelope' and 'Nausikaa'—are played on soprano saxophone. In a way that’s them speaking in their voice. It works also because most of the album is on tenor, which is a lower, more male voice: Odysseus.
He also suggests that a working musician can particularly identify with Homer's peripatetic hero: "As universal as the themes in The Odyssey are, there might be some that personally resonate more with me: leaving, and not knowing exactly how it’s going to go, or who you’re going to run into, or what problems are going to arise. Just that being-away-from-home thing, and returning home."
For an additional musical reference to Homer, visit our companion blog Classics Rock! The Sequel.