The Next President’s Playlist: An Analysis

Bush can get down, but what do Johnny Mac and Barry rock to?

Bush can get down, but what do Johnny Mac and Barry rock to?

Punditdad used to think he had cutting-edge taste in music and a strong ear for rock that tended towards the heavy side but never grew tired or flat.  Now, one 10 month year old daughter, quitting illegal downloads because of two infections through a BitTorrent client and the creation of Jack FM, Punditdad plays the same old music over and over and inflicts it on his daughter.  No doubt, he’ll be singing the lyrics to “Monkey Gone to Heaven” while driving the mini-van with no sense of irony or taste in a number of years.

Music, in our youths, define who we are and our world vision. Sinatra, Elvis, Beatles, The Cure, Daft Punk, Bob Marley, Jack Johnson, Metallica, or whatever you listened to in your formative years likely shaped what you are listening to now.  I remember a fascinating story on NPR about a professor who had a summer intern that bugged the sh*t out of him but he couldn’t place why. Then he realized; the kid listened to different music every day on his stereo in the office. One day it was Gregorian chants, the next day someone from the Grand Ol Opry and maybe the next day it was punk rock.  What the older professor couldn’t understand was the variety of music the kid liked. He himself had been listening to the same Bob Marley “Legends” tape in his car for 10 years.  He was so piqued in his interest he did an informal study on what age do people quit taking “risks”.  People who don’t have tattoos don’t tend to get them after 26. People who don’t have piercings, the same age. People tend to listen to the same music such as “classic rock” or the music of their generation don’t change after 28 or 29.  After those ages, our minds are essentially programmed to be attracted to the familiar rather than to the new or the unknown. We stay with what we know and feel secure by it.

What does this pre-programming say about the presidential candidates? In an earlier disclosure to Blender music magazine,  Johnny Mac and Barry let loose with the top 10 songs you might find on their Ipod (or Sony Walkman in Mac’s case).  If they are illustrative of where the next president’s head is at, we may not be off to such a bad start. The list:
Sen. John McCain
1. Dancing Queen ABBA
2. Blue Bayou -Roy Orbison
3. Take a Chance On Me -ABBA
4. If We Make It Through December -Merle Haggard
5. As Time Goes By -Dooley Wilson
6. Good Vibrations -The Beach Boys
7. What A Wonderful World -Louis Armstrong
8. I’ve Got You Under My Skin -Frank Sinatra
9. Sweet Caroline -Neil Diamond
10. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes -The Platters

Analysis: Johnny Mac’s top 3 songs include two ABBA songs? WTF? Dancing Queen, made popular most recently in the musical Mamma Mia is pretty catchy and a dance favorite. It was released in 1976, presumably at a time when the Mac had just been released from the Hanoi Hilton. I doubt he was able to shake his tail feathers.  Same with Take a Chance on Me. Most likely these two songs represent the “private collection” that he and Cindy used to shake to while lathering themselves in Budweiser and soaking in her 15 foot hot tub on those pretty Arizona nights during the early 80’s.  In short, a Cindy favorite rather than a Mac favorite. Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou makes the most sense here and is likely a song he’s been humming for many years. Released in 1963 while Mac was overseas, I’m sure he had plenty of time to play the record while on an aircraft carrier Enterprise touring the Caribbean or Mediterranean.  If We Make it Through December by Merle Haggard is a similar pick, talk of moving west, of hard luck relationships (read: Mac’s first marriage) and the time period of release suggest a theme and a quiet rhythm that has legitimately stuck with the Mac since ’62.

Here’s where we get to the filler. As Time Goes By (Casablanca Theme), Good Vibrations, What a Wonderful World are clearly the only songs Mac could think of.  Talk about some of the most popular songs of the 20th century. Sinatra too. Good songs, don’t get me wrong, but hardly a personal touch.  Would you ever say, “Hey Cindy, let’s crank up the Casablanca soundtrack that was released 66 years ago!” Doubtful.  By the time we get to friggin Neil Diamond and the Platters we’re safely back into genuine territory.  Clearly an anthem like Sweet Caroline, a song that’s been rockin’ folks since ’69 belongs on any president’s list. Did Mac know that Caroline is Caroline Kennedy, the inspiration for the song? Probably not. Overall, nothing inspired but not as bad as it could be.  I would have like to see Johnny Cash, Elvis or even Buddy Holly. They seem like appropriate choices for his generation.

Ok, here’s Barry’s list and we get the same mix of filler but a bit more intrigue:

Sen. Barack Obama
1. Ready or Not -Fugees
2. What’s Going On -Marvin Gaye
3. I’m On Fire Bruce -Springsteen
4. Gimme Shelter -Rolling Stones
5. Sinnerman -Nina Simone
6. Touch the Sky -Kanye West
7. You’d Be So Easy to Love -Frank Sinatra
8. Think -Aretha Franklin
9. City of Blinding Lights -U2
10. Yes We Can

Analysis: Boom! Right out of the gates with the Fugees. Good song, one of the most original non-gangster rap groups of the 90’s and a very influential group as well. Lauryn Hill went on to an illustrious career as did Wyclef Jean but the band basically was a one album wonder.  Marvin Gaye is a sensible choice and this anti-Vietnam war/peacenik anthem created during Gaye’s most purposeful time is a classic to many.  I wouldn’t want to take it to run on the treadmill at the gym, but it’s got a place in the record collection. I’m on Fire by the Boss seems pretty inexplicable.  A dry tune about staying up at night holds plenty of emotion but little purpose.  I can only imagine that the melody captured Obama after he graduated from Columbia in ’85. At that time, Bruce was friggin huge with the Born In the USA tour, but please, there’s better tunes on that album and this one is certainly no Nebraska or Streets of Philadelphia.

The Stones are presumably on many peoples’ favorites list so Gimme Shelter is no surprise. A band that has influenced many could arguably have many songs here.  Let it Bleed, their ’69 album which includes Gimme Shelter is a classic.  Shelter talks about many of the same things that Gaye talks about; unrest, war, love and violence. Gawd is this guy a peacenick or what? Punditdad prefers Monkey Man on the same album though. Sinnerman, a huge Punditdad favorite is a long time spiritual done best by Nina Simone, the high priestess of soul and a must have song. It talks about sin, salvation, the devil and prayer with a huge build up in the ten minute version that Simone made famous.  I like this pick a lot because he could have picked a typical Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, Gladys Knight or Supremes but he didn’t.  Maybe he missed a big chunk of Motown? Possibly he made up for not having his African American father around by investigating some of the roots spiritual music he wasn’t exposed too? Wait! We have the obligatory Aretha Franklin song Think.  I think that if Obama wasn’t a Chicago inhabitant, this song might not be here.  It’s a stand up and shout type anthem that the South Side loves but offends no one.

Touch the Sky is the most recent of all the songs despite being several years old (2005). It’s a catchy and telling song by Kanye West off his Late Registration album but not to explicit or naughty. Whaddya expect? Straight out of Compton?  F*ck tha Police? Hardly. You’d Be Easy to Love is a bit inexplicable. I’d never heard the song until today and it’s not a classic Sinatra song. With lyrics by Cole Porter, I’m thinking it’s a “marriage song” like ABBA with Mac, meaning it’s a song both Michelle and he like to dance together with (maybe wedding song of some kind). Altogether though, Frank Sinatra ain’t going out on a limb. Especially for a guy who grew up in Hawaii.

Finally, I would say the two most disappointing songs of Barry’s list are City of Blinding Light and Yes We Can. Both are great songs to play at political rallies after the speeches are over and the confetti are coming down and everyone’s heading to the bars, but are they songs you have on you shelf or your Ipod? U2 are masters at the positive anthem (see Joshua Tree) but after 150 years they’re not doing anything you wouldn’t expect from U2. That album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, from which this song comes from, is a yawner.  A more inspired choice would have been Pride (in the name of love), Where the Streets have No Name or One.  All are a bit more powerful in terms of imagery and substance. Finally, Yes We Can was written for the Obama campaign as part of’s support of Barry. Good song, positive message but does this have the same presence as the Stones or Marvin Gaye? I don’t think Obama was obligated to thank the artist by putting it on the list but maybe he wanted more airplay…who knows? Admittedly it’s better than the the piece of shit, Raisin’ McCain that is altogether embarrassing, shameful and jingoistic written by John Rich and performed at the Convention in St. Paul. Punditdad hates country (and western).

So what does the list say about the candidates? Mostly that there is a solid mix of pandering, waffling and a tiny bit of genuine soul in each of them.  They don’t have anything new, they don’t pander to the point of disgust and they don’t cross the line to offense.  Each appeals to some aspect of the population, but I would venture to guess the grey-haired crowd would be solid on Mac while the mid-30, early 40 crowd would be comfortable with Barry’s list.  I give both lists a sold thumbs up for originality and taste. I would guess that Mac and Obama’s list is FAR SUPERIOR to Mitt Romney’s list which undoubtedly includes such non-offensive artists as Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gayle, and Air Supply. To Romney getting down is putting on a Huey Lewis album and rocking out. Deliver me.

Now, if Sarah Palin will put out a list we can have some real fun! Do you have comments on what Sarah might listen to? Leave a comment.

5 Responses

  1. The only thing interesting about this playlist piece that Blender published last month was that John McCain has the biggest gay anthem of all time at #1. I think that’s going to pull in a lot of undecided Evangelicals.

    The rest of this “story” isn’t very interesting.

    PS: Lauryn Hill only had one album as well, then she went crazy.

  2. How dare you put Sweet Caroline in the McCain list… Red Sox nation boos Punditdad

  3. Have to admit to listening to the Pixies in the minivan with the kids also. Hey, if the devil is six, right?

  4. Top 10 Songs on My iPod That Could Be on Sarah Palin’s iPod Too

    1. Knocked Up – Kings of Leon
    2. See the World – Gomez
    3. My Friend John – The Fratellis
    4. Banking on a Myth – Andrew Bird
    5. Six Barrel Shotgun – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
    6. All Systems Red – Calexico
    7. You Can Do Better Than Me – Death Cab For Cutie
    8. Shut Me Up – Joe Henry
    9. Off the Record – My Morning Jacket
    10. The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room – Flight of the Conchords

  5. who is this Matt? He is genius…

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