All the President’s Songs

Obama playlist

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

Here’s the playlist.

It starts strong, with The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” but I’m going to have to take off points for its unfortunate associations with “The Big Chill.” Sorry.

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…

13 thoughts on “All the President’s Songs

  1. Bryan Caskey

    I like that he’s got separate daytime and nighttime playlists. That’s a good call.

    Neither is a bad playlist for hanging out on vacation. I like his inclusion of The Lumineers on the nighttime playlist, but I have to deduct points for “Moondance”. It’s just so overplayed.

    On the plus side, at least he didn’t have that Kid Rock song you were talking about earlier that combined “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves of London”. Pretty sure that would be grounds for impeachment.

  2. Doug Ross

    A stab at a summer playlist.. a dozen tunes. Start fast and then chill.

    Sabotage – The Beastie Boys
    Bang Bang – Nicki Minaj, Jesse J, and Ariana Grande
    Rosalita – Springsteen
    Paradise By The Dashboard Light – Meatloaf
    The Dog Days Are Over – Florence & The Machine
    Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke
    Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ – Journey
    Marvin Gaye – Charlie Puth and Meagan Trainor (current hit)
    *** Give it a shot here:
    Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye
    Sitting On The Dock of The Bay – Otis Redding
    Come A Long Way – Michelle Shocked
    Into The Mystic – Van Morrison

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Now that’s a good playlist.

      Back in high school, we all made mix-tapes off the radio by using our cassette decks. The key was to be really fast when the song that you wanted to record came on the radio. If you were good, you would only miss the first second or two of the song. After mastering that, the real artistry was coming up with the order. You couldn’t really re-arrange the order once you started recording so you had to have a plan before you started.

      This mix is an great example of starting with high intensity and then mellowing towards the end. I award this an “A”, with special consideration for starting with Sabotage. That was the first song on our high school varsity soccer team’s mix that we used for warming up in games, back when schools would just let the kids play their own choice of music through the stadium loudspeakers. Actually, we had that as the first song my Freshman and Sophomore year. For my Junior and Senior year, the first son was this one.

      Awesome mix. You just made my Friday, Doug. 🙂

        1. Bryan Caskey

          “around the time you were in high school, I’m guessing…”

          Yeah. I finished high school in ’99.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            The book was published in ’95.

            Actually, I would have guessed a little earlier than that, because of all the talk about tapes rather than CDs. Although, come to think of it, computers didn’t yet come with CD burners in ’95. A burner was quite an investment before that.

            Over the years I learned two new (to me) senses of the term “comp” from my kids. The first refereed to a compilation tape or CD.

            The second was when my daughter was a bartender at Yesterday’s. She, and her fellow bartenders, would occasionally spot me a “comp” beer (for complimentary) when I came in to visit and chat.

            Good word…

            1. Bryan Caskey

              I never heard anyone call them a “compilation tape”. It was always “Hey man, check out my new mix-tape, it’s awesome!“. They had names like “Summer Mix ’97”, “Beach Mix” or “Warm-up Mix”.

              When CD burners first came out for computers, it was still really difficult to get current music onto the computer to burn. The easiest way (for everyone I ever knew) was still to tape it straight off the radio. For me, CD Burners really took off for everyone I knew in college, with the rise of Napster. That was the wild-west of music. It was amazing.

              I remember going to college, and there was a LAN plug right there in my dorm room! Before I had dial-up, and now, I had a LAN in my room!

              Everyone downloaded so many songs my freshman year of college it was obscene. You didn’t even really have to like the music, either. Do I want to download the whole catalog of every Three Dog Night song, ever, for free? Sure, don’t mind if I do. It was a fun time.

              Also, it exposed me to more music than I had ever been exposed to before. It was just an unlimited amount of music, for free, that I could almost immediately access. Nothing like that had ever happened before. In high school, you just kind of either listened to the radio, your CDs, or your mix-tapes.

              I’m sure the idea behind putting a LAN in everyone’s room as: “Hey, let’s put a LAN in every dorm room. The kids can use that to research their history papers on LEXIS-NEXIS.

              Yeah. No one did that. It was for downloading music and playing GoldenEye in massive groups in the dorms.

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