Another pop culture post to get us through the Dog Days…
At first, when I heard President Obama had a personal Summer Playlist on Spotify, I was concerned: Surely they don’t mean this summer — because even if you apply no standards at all, it would seem impossible to glean from current releases enough songs for a playlist that a grown man could stand to listen to. (Unless that grown man is Doug, who claims to have the tastes of a teenage girl — not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
But 2015? I mean, if the summer were 1965, or 1969, or 1971, or 1985, maybe, but not a European swallow (oops, got my pop culture wires crossed there).
That would constitute a painfully obvious, and unconvincing, stab at pandering to the youth vote. And hey, young people today listen to old stuff in a way that would have been inconceivable when I was young. So it would be doubly stupid.
But as it turns out, it’s more of an All Time list (which to us chauvinistic moderns means “last few decades), like the Top Five lists in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Now that’s more like…
No. 3, “Memories Live” by Reflection Eternal is a fine, non-obvious, more recent track that helps restore some of the cred lost to the Big Chill faux pas.
Then we are rewarded by Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues.” Can’t beat that. Perhaps the clincher for POTUS was this passage:
The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, “Death to all those who would whimper and cry”
And dropping a barbell he points to the sky
Saying, “The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken”…
… which of course is a thinly veiled reference to the president’s drone program, exactly 50 years ahead of time. Dylan, the prophet…
That’s followed by some Marley, for those of you who like that sort of thing — and the president, who used to regularly get more than one toke over the line, does — followed by Coldplay, which means little to me beyond its association with a politically incorrect joke in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Some of the songs are too obvious, such as the Temptations tune. But POTUS redeems himself by choosing “Another Star” to represent Stevie Wonder, instead of, you know, something like “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Although I would have preferred “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” (admittedly, because of its association with the film version of “High Fidelity.”
The Stones are represented, and not, say, The Beatles. Which is cool. But “Gimme Shelter?” No (although I confess that as I hear the guitar intro I feel elevated far above what has preceded it on the list). Completely off-base for a summer playlist. That was on the “Let it Bleed” album, which was released in December 1969, which is why everybody was listening to it that Christmas. Duh. The proper Stones song for a summer list is “Honky-Tonk Women,” which was released in July of the same year, and which I distinctly remember listening to while driving on Hwy 17 between Myrtle Beach and Surfside that summer and thinking, “This is the perfect driving song.” (Since I wasn’t yet 16 and just learning to drive, anything that could be associated with operating a motor vehicle was cool.)
But overall, not a bad effort. If there’s a flaw, it may be that there is too little from recent summers. He could have thrown in a “Call Me Maybe” or “Rolling in the Deep” or “Party Rock Anthem.” But he may have stayed away from them because of their prominent inclusion in another well-promoted summer playlist.
I don’t know. But it’s worth a listen, if only as an alternative way to get into the president’s head. Or, if you want to be cynical, the head of whoever put this together for him…