Monday, February 19, 2007

Hail to the Chiefs

Today is Presidents' Day here in the U. S. of A., a federal holiday that Americans have traditionally observed by pausing for a moment to ask themselves a time-honored question: "Did the mail not come today?"

Actually, as we all know, Americans do have a hallowed tradition on Presidents' Day -- the low, low prices at the Presidents' Day White Sale at your friendly neighborhood Bed, Bath and Conformity. I'm not entirely sure how this tradition got started. Perhaps there's a revisionist historian who insists that young George Washington chopped down not a cherry tree, but rather a cherry-finished armoire, or has been busily peddling the idea that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by strangulation, with John Wilkes Booth using a pillowcase to do the job. Sic Sealy Posturepedic!

Whatever the reason, it's clear we need new traditions for Presidents' Day. Seeing how this blog is all about politics, music and snark, it only seems right to try and think of the best musical tributes to chief executives throughout the ages. Here's a start:

1. Brad Neely, "Washington" -- "Washington, Washington. Six foot eight, weighs a fucking ton!" I think our third-grade civics classes would be a little livelier if we taught them this song. I mean, what eight-year-old wouldn't love to know he had "two on the vine"? Truly, George was the Original Gangsta in chief.

2. The Moldy Figs, "Ballad of Andy Jackson" -- A rollickingly bit of alt-country here, though technically it's not really about the president as it is about the currency that bears his name. "Well, I've got one more Jackson! I might just get me a lap dance, or get too drunk to see!" I'm not sure, but I think a hardscrabble, rough-and-tumble country guy like Jackson would like nothing better.

3. The Simpsons, "The Mediocre Presidents" -- A nice little catchall tune for the caretaker presidents of the U.S.A. "There's Taylor, there's Tyler, there's Fillmore and Hayes! I'm William Henry Harrison -- I died in thirty days!"

4. Icebox Video, "Hard Drinkin' Lincoln" -- I was fairly surprised at how few decent tunes there are about Lincoln. A passable Leadbelly tune here, a painful Judy Collins one there ... eh. Since there's no good song here, I'll just direct you to the knee-jerk humor of the "Hard Drinkin' Lincoln" cartoons at iTunes. They're free, and worth every penny.

5. Johnny Cash, "Mister Garfield" -- This is a terrificly perverse tune by Cash, one that starts off as a straight-faced tune about the assassination of James Garfield. But when the chorus kicks in, it all goes to hell, as Johnny and the backup singers start shouting, a little too happily: "Mister Garfield's been shot down, shot down, shot down! Mister Garfield's been shot down low!" It's the catchiest, toe-tappingest tune about a presidential assassination I've ever heard.

6. Ghostface Killah, "Woodrow the Base Head" -- Apparently, Woodrow Wilson liked the pipe. Who knew?

7. Willie Eason, "Franklin D. Roosevelt, A Poor Man's Friend" -- Unlike that loser Lincoln, there are lots of nice tunes about FDR, but this one stands out. It's a nice little bit of steel-guitar blues, though it tends to go way, way too much into the details of FDR's passing. (Seriously, he sings about the time-of-death pronouncements of his doctor.) I guess if you're going to sum up the life of a four-term president, it only makes sense to do it in a six-minute song.

8. Ratatat, "Truman" -- This is a nice little bit of electronica. The song doesn't have any lyrics, so it might well be about Truman Capote for all I know. But it's nowhere nearly as bad as the sucky bunch of suckiness that the suckass band Chicago put out called "Harry Truman," so this one wins by default. (And, seriously, if you like that Chicago song, punch yourself in the nuts. President Truman would do it himself, but he's dead.)

9. J.B. Lenoir, "Eisenhower Blues" -- Pretty standard Chicago blues here. Nothing too exciting, but I suppose Ike should be glad to get any attention at all from Americans who lived outside Leave It to Beaverland.

10. Professor Brothers, "JFK" -- Another loving tribute from Brad Neely. "He smelt like the future, his words felt like flowers, and if he shook your hand, you'd make love to it for hours." All so true.

11. The Dirty Fucking Hippies, "Hey, Hey, LBJ! How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?" -- I'm not sure if it was ever recorded, but this is always my favorite tribute to Lyndon.

12. Pete Seeger, "Here's to the State of Richard Nixon" -- During the heyday of the Watergate scandal, Seeger rewrote the lyrics to his classic civil rights era anthem, "Here's to the State of Mississippi," into a nice ballad about Tricky Dick. Sadly, I can't find the audio for this anymore -- if you know where I can find it, please let me know -- but I do have a terrific recent version that Eddie Vedder did, changing the lyrics once again to honor the current administration.

13. Gene Marshall, "Jimmy Carter Says Yes" -- This is a somewhat downbeat and unenthusiastic soul song written for the '76 campaign. "Can our government ... be competent? Jimmy Carter says 'Yes,' Jimmy Carter says 'Yes.' / Can our government ... be honest? Jimmy Carter says 'Yes,' Jimmy Carter says 'Yes'!! / Can our government ... be decent and open?" Yeah, you get the drift. I wonder if this got a disco remix.

14. Reagan Youth, "Reagan Youth" -- Ah, hardcore punk. These bands always had so much energy they could never make it past the minute-and-a-half mark.

15. The Legendary K.O., "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People" -- I'm sure we'll have more and more music dedicated to the Decider as time goes by. We already have terrific songs recorded as George W. Bush, and as the level of his insanity and depravity becomes clearer in the next few years, we'll see more and more tunes about George W. Bush. Hell, the Rolling Stones were singing about Satan in the 1960s. Bush is going to seem waaaaay worse than him.

Alright, that's enough to start the conversation. Please feel free to offer your own favorite presidential songs in the comments. Lord knows, if you're carrying around a ditty about William Howard Taft, it's only right to share it with the world. (And safe, too. A song about that lardass would probably kill you if you kept it in your heart.)


norbizness said...

James K POlk by They Might be Giants; Coolidge by The Descendents; President Kennedy by Son House.

TravisG said...

You should check out "Queen Babylon" by Reagan Youth. It's like what those coke-snorting poseurs Queens of the Stone Age are shooting for, but with crappier equipment. Read the lead singer's bio, too, which is out there somewhere on the Web. Sad story, with an odd Seinfeld tie-in at the end.

Also, what I wouldn't give for a caretaker president right about now...

Mike said...

"Washington" is just great. forgot how funny that is. It eminds me of Pod-era Ween.

Otto Man said...

I can't believe I forgot that Descendents song. And the Son House tune is great -- I'd just locked down the JFK spot from the beginning for the Professor Brothers tune.

I'm intrigued by the Seinfeldian story... Hmm.

Otto Man said...

Ah, Joel Rifkin. I think I heard him paged at a Giants game once.

Yossarian said...

Does "Movin' On Up" count? If I recall it was the theme for Jeffereson.

(please don't kick me off this blog for that last joke - I have not left my house in seven days (damn snow) and have terrible cabin fever))

TravisG said...

Pod-era Ween, eh? Now I'm intrigued...

Tom Hilton said...

I would add in Hard Times by Boiled in Lead, which is about the assassination of McKinley. Because after all, assassination is an important part of our presidential tradition.