We at New Times, like Bill Clinton himself, feel your pain. Every four years, election day rolls around and you're struggling to plant that cherry tree and buy all the stovepipe hats you can, all so that you can have the best damn party possible. (C'mon, we can't be the only ones.)
So to ease some of your worries, we hereby remove all stress with regards to your soundtrack, presenting the 15 best songs about U.S. presidents (and one bonus song about the day itself). We thought about trying to dig up four score and seven tunes, but, uh... had other work to do.
Not surprisingly, the executives with the most songs written about 'em were the ones inspiring either pride (Lincoln) or negativity (Reagan). Enjoy! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
1. "Young Abe Lincoln (Make a Tall, Tall Man)" by Johnny Horton
The son of migrant fruit pickers, country singer Johnny Horton surely understood what it meant to achieve success despite hardscrabble upbringing. It's no surprise that the barefooted origins of the country's sixteenth president resonated with him, making their way into this 1960 number.
2. "Abe Lincoln" by Bishop Allen
Tuneful Brooklyn boys Bishop Allen take a factual, wistful look at Mr. Lincoln, going on to pull in presidential hopeful Robert Francis Kennedy. Martin Luther King puts in an appearance, and a last line lets you know their stance on Reagan.
3. "Abraham Lincoln" by Clutch
Roky Erickson recorded "Song to Abe Lincoln" a few decades back. Heavyweights in the '90s proto-stoner-rock scene, Clutch take a different tack with "Abraham Lincoln," directing their tune straight of the forces pitted against him and his policies, calling them snickering, treacherous drunkards.
4. "James K. Polk" by They Might Be Giants
Didn't pay attention in history class? No worries. Just listen to this They Might Be Giants number a few times and there'll be no way you'll forget the accomplishments of our eleventh president.
5. "Eisenhower Blues" by J.B. Lenoir
Recorded in the '50s during an economic downturn, bluesman Lenoir had to retitle this track "Tax Paying Blues" in order for his record label to release it. It's not all happiness when it comes to singing about The Man, and this tune faded a little bit from the public consciousness until Elvis Costello shone a light on it with a cover on his '86 Americana album King of America.
6. "Funky President (People It's Bad)" by James Brown
Perhaps the only time anyone's referred to Gerald Ford as "funky," James Brown recorded this number right after Nixon's resignation. Brown performed at Nixon's '69 inauguration and was happy to see him reelected in '72, and in a fitting timing of fate, he and President Ford passed away within 24 hours of each other at Christmastime back in '06.
7. "Re-Ron" by Gil Scott-Heron
A companion piece to "B Movie," his spoken-word takedown of the Great Communicator, Gil Scott-Heron's "Re-Ron" is a particularly scathing critique of Ronald Reagan and his re-election. That, and a pretty funky jam, too.
8. "Ronnie Talk to Russia" by Prince
Though he's usually been more concerned with getting you into bed than he has with getting out the vote, Prince turned political on his 1981 album Controversy. The album also featured the track "Annie Christian," another of the Purple One's political dabblings.
9. "Ronnie - Talk to Russia!" by Sheree
Though sporting a similar title, this 1988 workout jam features less political analysis and more synths than Prince's song. It was the only single released by Sheree, better known as the actress Anna Fantastic - a name given to her by no other than Prince. Circles within circles, friends.
10. "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" by The Ramones
First released as a 12" in Britain in 1985, this tune finally made its way to the States a year later on the Ramones album Animal Boy. The song's a criticism of Reagan's visit to the Bitburg military cemetery, where members of the SS are buried. Its name was changed to "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)" for its Stateside release to placate guitarist Johnny Ramone, a conservative through-and-through.
11. "Old Mother Reagan" by the Violent Femmes
Who needs more than 30 seconds for a poppy punk protest song?
12. "The President" by Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians
You don't have to be an American to be critical of the American president, and an outside perspective can sometimes cut through the quirky reverence for authority we sometimes have in this country, and anyway, the English have always been fascinated by our intermingling of pop culture and leadership. Like the Ramones, Brit Robyn Hitchcock responded viscerally to Reagan's '85 Bitburg visit, singing "He's the president of Europe and he's talking to the dead / They're the only ones who'll listen or believe a word he said."
13. "George Bush Don't Like Black People" by the Legendary K.O.
Reworking Kanye West's "Golddigger" and recorded over one fretful weekend, the Legendary K.O. - an offshoot of the K-Otix crew - pulls no punches in this emotional tune, with its criticism of George W. Bush's policies, actions and inaction alike in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Ouch.
14. "Abraham, Martin and John" by Marvin Gaye
Sure, this song was originally written and recorded by Dion, but when you've got a chance to listen to Marvin Gaye, dammit, you take that chance! Icons of social change deserve the sweetest voice possible. (To that point, track down Emmylou Harris' version as well.) Gaye's 1968 version features a mention of John's brother Bobby, too.
15. "Presidents Song" by the Animaniacs
Speaks for itself, really.
This article originally published on February 21, 2011, and weas updated for publication on November 8, 2016.
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