Presidential Playlist: A Song for Every Commander-in-Chief

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Today, as the nation honors our fearless leaders (or, you know, hits the mall for some ridiculous deals), we at Paste pay tribute to the country’s highest office with a track for every president (before you ask: Grover Cleveland only gets one).

Grover Cleveland
“The Second Time Around” by Shalamar

After Cleveland failed to secure re-election in 1888, he vowed to return to the White House in four years—and he made good on his promise, becoming the first and only president to serve non-consecutive terms.

Benjamin Harrison
“Goin’ Back to Indiana” by the Jackson 5

Benjamin Harrison is the only president to date to hail from Indiana. After being defeated by Grover Cleveland in 1892, he did in fact “go back to Indiana,” where he retired and became a private citizen.

William McKinley
“White House Blues” by Charlie Poole

Recorded in 1926, this banjo-driven track tells the story of the McKinley assassination: “McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled/Doc said ‘McKinley, I can’t find the cause’/’You’re bound to die, you’re bound to die.’”

Theodore Roosevelt
“Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley

Teddy bears get their name from this former president, who refused to shoot a black bear while on a hunt and became the subject of a famous political cartoon. Inspired by the cartoon, toymaker Morris Mitchtom made a stuffed bear cub and dubbed it “Teddy’s bear,” and the rest is history.

William Howard Taft
“Fat Man in the Bathtub” by Little Feat

Because Taft was, well, a large gentleman who got stuck in the White House bathtub. After the incident, he had a special tub installed that was seven feet long and over three feet wide.

Woodrow Wilson
“And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” by The Pogues

The Pogues’ phenomenal cover of this World War I ballad by Eric Bogle illustrates the horrors of war by recounting the Battle of Gallipoli. It’s full of grim imagery as the protagonist loses his legs in the war and cries, “I never knew there were worse things than dying.”

Warren G. Harding
“Warren Harding” by Al Stewart

In which Stewart imagines Harding as a lonely president who “just wants someone to talk to.”

Calvin Coolidge
“Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman

“President Coolidge come down in a railroad train,” Newman sings. “With a little fat man with a notepad in his hand. The president say, ‘Little fat man, ain’t it a shame what the river has done to this poor cracker’s land?’”

Herbert Hoover
“We’d Like To Thank You, Herbert Hoover” by the cast of Annie

You know your approval rating is in trouble when even 11-year-old Depression-era orphans are taking you to task in song.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Dear Mrs. Roosevelt” by Bob Dylan

Dylan performed this Woody Guthrie song—written to console FDR’s loved ones after his death—at a Guthrie tribute concert in 1968, his first performance after his motorcycle accident. There’s also this lovely tribute to his first lady by Vigilantes of Love: Eleanor

Harry S. Truman
“Harry Truman” by Chicago

Another Nixon-era track that yearns for simpler times. “America’s wondering how we got here,” singer Robert Lamm laments, “Harry all we get is lies.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Eisenhower Blues” by JB Lenoir

This blues song gained a wider audience in 1986 when Elvis Costello covered it on King of America.

John F. Kennedy
“The Day John Kennedy Died” by Lou Reed

We could easily make an entire list of songs that reference JFK, and narrowing it down to one is tough, but you can’t go wrong with Lou Reed.

Lyndon B. Johnson
“Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation” by Tom Paxton

“Lyndon Johnson told the nation, ‘Have no fear of escalation, I am trying everyone to please,’” Paxton sings on this 1965 Vietnam War protest song. “Although it isn’t really war, we’re sending 70,000 more to help save Vietnam from Vietnamese.”

Richard Nixon
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” by Stevie Wonder

This 1974 kiss-off to Richard Nixon is Stevie Wonder at his angriest. “It’s not too cool to be ridiculed, but you brought this upon yourself,” he warns before tearing the disgraced president a new one with a little help from the Jackson 5.

Gerald Ford
“Funky President” by James Brown

“Funky” isn’t really the first adjective that comes to mind when we think of Gerald Ford, but James Brown penned this track about Ford shortly after he took office.

Jimmy Carter
“Whip It” by Devo

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the lyrics, but this Devo classic was written with Jimmy Carter in mind. “We had just done our second world tour when we started writing our third album,” Mark Mothersbaugh told Songfacts. “The one thing that we were impressed with that we noticed everywhere around the world was that everybody was totally freaked out by American politics and American foreign policy. At the time, Jimmy Carter was in charge. I thought of ‘Whip It’ as kind of a Dale Carnegie, ‘You Can Do It’ song for Jimmy Carter.”

Ronald Reagan
“Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” by The Ramones

The Ramones  wrote this song to protest Reagan’s controversial 1985 visit to a military cemetery in Bitburg, Germany. Despite outrage from many Americans, Reagan laid a wreath at the cemetery, where SS officers are buried. “You’re a politician,” Joey Ramone sneers. “Don’t become one of Hitler’s children.”

George H. W. Bush
“Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young

Like “Born in the USA,” this song commonly gets misinterpreted as a flag-waving anthem, but it’s actually a critique of the Bush administration and its foreign policy. Young even directly references Bush’s “thousand points of light” comment from his inaugural address.

Bill Clinton
“Devil With A Blue Dress On” by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels

We all know why.

George W. Bush
“When The President Talks to God” by Bright Eyes

Conor Oberst  sounds postively Dylan-esque on this 2005 protest song he penned about George W. Bush, posing questions like, “Does God suggest an oil hike when the president talks to God?” and “When the president talks to God, does he fake that drawl or merely nod?”

Barack Obama
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green

There are quite a few musical options for our current president. We could have gone with the star-studded Yes We Can video inspired by one of his speeches or Sam Cooke’s “”A Change is Gonna Come which Obama himself referenced in his victory speech after being elected in 2008. But after he showed off his pipes with a few bars of Al Green earlier this year, “Let’s Stay Together” seems like the obvious choice.

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