The Protest Movement: The 10 Best Political Protest Songs About the President
Rock Against The President
In the rich history of the American protest movement, The President of the United States has long been a target of the protest song. Because of the leftist leanings of many musical artists, Republican presidents seem to be more of a target of protest music. That being said Democratic presidents have not been immune to these lyrical attacks either.
At times musical artists have courted controversy and have even got themselves into legal hot water for their musical protests. For example back in 1941, folk collective, The Almanac Singers (which included Pete Seeger & Woody Guthrie) became targets of the CIA for their album Songs For John Doe. The album not only was anti-war, but it also contained strong anti-Roosevelt (then president Franklin Roosevelt) sentiments. Interestingly enough, only a year later the album was out of print and The Almanac singers recorded a pro-war, pro-Roosevelt album, Dear Mr. President.
The following is a list of ten of the best political protest songs about the president. It contains a diverse group of genres including folk, soul, punk & rap. Feel free to include your favorite presidential protest songs in the comments.
10: Here's To The State of Richard Nixon -- Phil Ochs
Topical songwriter Phil Ochs was a key figure in the protest movement, writing many protest classics, such as 1965's "I Ain't Marching Anymore". Released as a 1974 single, "Here's To The State of Richard Nixon" was an update of his earlier protest tune "Here's to the State of Mississippi". The song definitely has strong anti-Nixon sentiments. Throughout the song, Ochs repeats the refrain "Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of/Richard Nixon find yourself another country to be part of".
Concerning Richard Nixon, him and his administration were prime targets during the 60's and 70's protest movement. There was definitely no shortage of Nixon inspired protest songs.
Here's to the State of Richard Nixon by Phil Ochs (Video)
9: Letter To The President -- 2Pac & The Outlawz
This angry tirade was from the 2Pac (Tupac Shakur) & The Outlawz 1999 album, Still I Rise. It was 2Pac's third posthumous album which was released.
This song is a no holds barred lyrical attack on then President Bill Clinton, attacking his ineffectiveness in helping poverty stricken black communities. As far as protest songs go, it is pure anger, and it points to the fact that if the situation goes unchecked things will just keep getting worse.
Just as a fair warning, the song lyrics are extremely explicit in nature.
Letter To The President by 2Pac & The Outlawz (Video)
8: Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation -- Tom Paxton
Folk singer, Tom Paxton is a very important socially conscious singer songwriter, who has made (and continues to make) many notable contributions to the cannon of protest songs. This 1965 anti-war song heavily criticized then President Lyndon Johnson for his involvement in the Vietnam War. In 2007 the song was updated and changed to "George W. Told the Nation". Instead of Vietnam, it was criticizing the war in Iraq.
Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation by Tom Paxton (Video)
7: Revolution Has Come -- Rebel Diaz
Compared to other presidents there has been relatively few protest songs against current President Barack Obama. This very recent protest song, by political hip hoppers Rebel Diaz was written in response to the 2012 presidential election takes a direct shot at Obama with the line "Swear to God on my mama, never supported Obama". That being said it has to be acknowledged that Rebel Diaz declares lyrical war on both sides of the party line with the lyrics "The Democrats and Republicans both up to no good/They both got in bed with the multi-nacionales".
The songs is more about forgetting who is in the White House, and instead it focuses on getting involved in the community. Concerning the message of the song, Rebel Diaz made the following statement:
"Our goal with this song is to convey the message that Revolution is Love. It’s what no one can take away from our communities- love for humanity. In the face of structural violence like racism, underfunded schools, and inadequate housing, our weapons of defense are education, sustainability, and community building. We don’t promote voting every 4 years, we say vote everyday with your actions and serve the community!"
Revolution Has Come by Rebel Diaz (Video)
6: The Ballad of Ronald Reagan -- The Austin Lounge Lizards
During the 80s, Ronald Reagan and his economic policies (Reaganomics) were popular targets of the protest song. This little ditty from The Austin Lounge Lizards 1988 album, The Highway Cafe of The Damned, is a humorous, but scathing attack on then president Ronald Reagan. The song even compared him to the much maligned Richard Nixon with the bold line "His polices are cursed/But at least he's not Nixon/He's even worse".
The Ballad of Ronald Reagan by The Austin Lounge Lizards (Video)
5: Mosh -- Eminem
George W. Bush may have the dubious distinction of inspiring more protest songs than any president in history. Bush also has the distinction of helping Eminem become socially conscious. In 2004, Eminem registered to vote for the first time just for he could vote against Bush. He also wrote the politically charged "Mosh" which appeared on his 2004 album Encore.
Strong anti-Bush sentiments are expressed with such lyrics as "F--- Bush, until they bring our troops home" and "To disarm this Weapon of Mass Destruction/That we call our President".
Also as a note, another one of Eminem's songs, "We As Americans" led to Eminem being investigated by the secret service for allegations that he threaten the president due to the lyric "I don't rap for dead presidents/I'd rather see the president dead/It's never been said, but I set precedents".
Mosh by Eminem (Video)
4: You Haven't Done Nothin -- Stevie Wonder
Socially conscious soul music of the 1970s made an important contribution to the historical development of the protest song. One of those key contributions was this funky Stevie Wonder classic from his 1974 album, Fulfillingness' First Finale. "You Haven't Done Nothin" is a direct attack on Richard Nixon. It also features background vocals from the Jackson Five. Who says that the protest movement cannot be funky?
Also because the song stops short of naming the president by name, it continues to remain relevant. The lyrics can easily apply to any number of presidents.
You Haven't Done Nothin' by Stevie Wonder (Video)
3: Dear Mr. President -- Pink
"Dear Mr. President" which also features background vocals from the Indigo Girls, is from Pink's 2006 Album, I'm Not Dead. The song was an open letter to then president George W. Bush.
As much as I am not generally into Mainstream Top 40 pop music, Pink is an artist I have always had a degree of respect for. Even though she still has her share of superficial pop tunes, she is also capable of writing genuine emotional songs which contain real depth. "Dear Mr, President" is a prime of example of this. It is a poignant socially conscious protest tune. It is hard not to get teary eye after listening to it.
Dear Mr. President (Live) by Pink (Video)
2: My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg) -- Ramones
The song was initially released as a UK single in June, 1985 with the title "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg". It was renamed "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)" when it appeared on their 1986 album, Animal Boy.
The song is one of the Ramones few directly political tunes. The song protests then President Ronald Reagan's visit to the Bitburg military cemetery in Germany, which included grave sites of Nazi soldiers. Joey Ramone, who was a Jew, was particularly appalled by this. Interestingly, Johnny Ramone was a devout Republican and Reagan supporter, and he didn't want to record the song. As a compromise the band added the "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down" to the title.
It is definitely more catchy than most protest tunes, but the sing along nature of the song does not take away any of the lyrical bite of the message.
1: When The President Talks To God -- Bright Eyes
Those that feel that the golden age of protest music is long gone and that they just don't write protest songs anymore, failed to realize that the 2000s was an actually rich decade of protest music. "When The President Talks To God " in particular is a throwback to the classic protest songs of old. It was released by Bright Eyes as a single in 2005.
Bright Eye's Conor Oberst, wrote the song as a direct response to George W. Bush's claims that he talks to God. The song is a pointed attack on Bush and his polices. It is definitely a modern day protest classic.
When The President Talks to God by Bright Eyes (Video)
© 2012 CJ Baker