Tunesday: A historical soundtrack to the presidential elections

As the presidential elections quickly approach, Americans from coast to coast have been polishing up on their politics and party views, attempting to determine the best candidates to lead the nation. Wielding a large influence within American culture, musicians across all genres and decades have taken it upon themselves to critique or praise various presidents, uniting the American people under ideals regarding their perhaps not-so-favorite leaders. In honor of the 2016 elections, let’s visit the ghosts of presidents past in an attempt to understand the politics of today.

“He Was a Friend of Mine” by The Byrds

 

The only track on this Tunesday in which the president is painted in a positive light, this traditional folk song is mournfully rendered by the Byrds in 1965 to speak on the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy. Altering the traditional lyrics to grieve the loss of the president, the song takes on a strikingly personal lament upon the death of one of the nation’s most beloved leaders. With the twists and turns of the folksy guitars embedded with the softly somber dueting vocals, the Byrds convey the immense sense of individual loss that Americans felt as their leader was taken far too soon from their arms.

“(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go” by Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield’s 1970 funk and soul track was issued as a warning about the growing unrest of America’s inner city, addressing pre-Watergate President Richard Nixon’s inability to quell this storm. Beginning with a woman declaring the importance of the Bible and Revelations, a book describing the end of times (an allegory created in order to speak on the state of America), groovy guitars and conga drums encapsulate the listener in a world of confusion and concern. Bathed in swelling violins and a lush horn section, Mayfield sings “Polluted water in the pool / And Nixon talking about don’t worry / He says, ‘Don’t worry,’ ” addressing the lack of Nixon’s ability to calm the roiling tension of American race relations.

“Young Americans” by David Bowie

A breakthrough track that helped skyrocket David Bowie to fame in the United States, “Young Americans” — released in 1975 — has the Englishman take a jab at American culture and Nixon. “Do you remember, your President Nixon? / Do you remember, the bills you have to pay?” croons Bowie backed by soulful, gently humming singers. Bowie’s vocal-bending take on soul covers all the stops, referencing McCarthyism, Barbies and even Chrysler with warbled guitars and a strutting saxophone. Here, Bowie creates an understated criticism about race relations and consumerism in American culture.

“California Uber Alles” by Dead Kennedys

A track not entirely about any president, this song paints a dystopian picture of the world if the governor of California, Jerry Brown, were to take hold of the Oval Office. Released in 1979, the punk band alludes to the lyrics of the former national anthem of Germany, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (“Germany, Germany above everything”), which was removed after the dismantling of the Third Reich due to its association with Nazism (equating Brown with Hitler). Aggressive, militaristic drums claw against the sinister, gritty guitar riffs as Jello Biafra violently references “1984”’s Big Brother and Holocaust-esque torture creating a politically charged and livid track.

“California Uber Alles” by Dead Kennedys

A track not entirely about any president, this song paints a dystopian picture of the world if the governor of California, Jerry Brown, were to take hold of the Oval Office. Released in 1979, the punk band alludes to the lyrics of the former national anthem of Germany, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (“Germany, Germany above everything”), which was removed after the dismantling of the Third Reich due to its association with Nazism (equating Brown with Hitler). Aggressive, militaristic drums claw against the sinister, gritty guitar riffs as Jello Biafra violently references “1984”’s Big Brother and Holocaust-esque torture creating a politically charged and livid track.

“Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” by Ramones

Written about Ronald Reagan in reaction to a visit to Bitburg, West Germany, in 1985 in order to pay homage at a cemetery, the Ramones scathingly critique Reagan’s political actions abroad. “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” a phrase originally used by protesters against Reagan’s trip to Germany, references a chimpanzee character in a film he starred in, “Bedtime for Bonzo.” Pummeling drums drive aggression and frustration as spitfire guitars peel and skitter across the steadily thudding bass. With explicitly political lyrics and vocals charged with aggression and anger, Joey Ramone’s pleading voice yells and snarls at Reagan, “Bonzo goes to Bitburg / Then goes out for a cup of tea,” painting a picture of the president as the way they see him: a true moron.

You can listen to this week’s Tunesday above. Follow Daily Cal A&E on Spotify!

Contact Kayla Oldenburg at [email protected].