T-minus four days and counting...
By sometime Tuesday night, we will (hopefully) have finally arrived at the end of a presidential campaign season that was grueling even for its most ardent partisans. Whether Obama wins another four years, or we inaugurate a President Romney in January, the one thing that's certain is the winner of Tuesday's election will be the subject of popular song before his term is up. How can we be so sure? Because every president of the last half-century has been the subject of at least one pop hit -- and more often, many.
Of course, we could go back further if we wanted. Many, many songs exist about "Lincoln, Washington and that Jefferson Guy," as They Might Be Giants phrased it in their brief ditty by that title. (Heck, TMBG even did a song about James K. Polk, a one-term president many folks nowadays might not be able to name at gunpoint!) But without doubt, the late 20th and early 21st century commanders-in-chief are more frequently name-dropped in pop songs than their predecessors in the Oval Office.
John F. Kennedy has had literally dozens of songs written about him, including the Byrds' "He Was a Friend of Mine" and Lou Reed's "The Day John Kennedy Died." LBJ's Vietnam policies were what led him to be excoriated in songs like folk singer Tom Paxton's 1965 track, "Lyndon Johnson Told Me," and more than 40 years later in British band Enjoy Destroy's "LBJ."
Richard Nixon may have had the most songs written about him of all modern presidents. From Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothin'" to the Honey Drippers' "Impeach the President," Nixon was the subject of many singers' scorn. Even decades after his presidency had ended with his resignation, bands like Christmas and the Manic Street Preachers were penning songs about "Tricky Dick."
In 1974, James Brown wrote "Funky President" for Gerald Ford, who, despite this credential, may well have been the least funky of all presidents. The 39th president had to wait until 2006 to have Electric Six record their "Jimmy Carter," which also references Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan in its lyrics.
Speaking of Reagan, he nearly rivals Nixon in the sheer number of pop songs written about him. The Minutemen pondered the consequences "If Reagan Played Disco," while in "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," the Ramones angrily denounced him for appearing at a German cemetery where Nazi officers were interred on the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Singer-songwriter Tori Amos wrote "Sweet Dreams" for President George H.W. Bush, and Lady Gaga adapted her "Bad Romance" into "Bill Romance" when she serenaded Bill Clinton at his 65th birthday celebration last year. George W. Bush's controversial presidency generated many songs, perhaps most notoriously, Neil Young's "Let's Impeach the President." And current president Barack Obama has already been the subject of songs like Nas' "Black President" and Afrobeat band Extra Golden's "Obama." Who will elicit the next batch of presidential pop? On Tuesday night, we should know.
Notes is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Fund, committed to enriching life in Colorado by supporting the arts.
Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, kafmradio.org. You can visit cravenlovelace.com for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.