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All the Presidents' Jams

Listen to these 44 songs about our 44 presidents—and today's otherwise ho-hum holiday might just blow your mind.

| Mon Feb. 21, 2011 4:00 AM PST
President Nixon jamming at the Grand Ole Opry in 1974.

Happy Presidents Day! We admit, it's not the most thrilling of holidays: Too chilly for barbecues, too cheap for presents—we didn't even get a tree this year. So to spice things up, here's a treat: 44 songs about the 44 presidents. It's 43 songs, technically, but you're expected to listen to the song "Grover Cleveland's Mustache" twice. Or just ignore Grover Cleveland altogether; everyone else does.

We mixed it up as best we could: some campaign songs, some diss tracks, some campaign songs that today would be mistaken for diss tracks ("Get on a Raft With Taft!" No, really, we dare you!). There are good songs and bad songs and a few songs you won't so much listen to as survive—kind of like our presidents. Anyways, enjoy. And if we missed your favorite, drop us a line in the comments; if we get enough enough suggestions, maybe we'll release the B-sides.

1) George Washington: Pavement, "No More Kings." Schoolhouse indie rock: It's what the Framers intended.

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2) John Adams: "Go John Adams!" Like the real John Adams, this one will probably go unappreciated by its contemporaries.

 

3) Thomas Jefferson: T.J. and the Revo, "Too Late to Apologize." The Founding Fathers, reimagined by Spinal Tap.

4) James Madison: Milton Babbitt, "Round." My editor: "The Madison one's a little weird, but I guess it works."

5) James Monroe: "Monroe, yes, Monroe." It may not sound like much now, but this campaign jingle helped Monroe win all but one electoral vote in 1820.

6) John Quincy Adams: "Little Know Ye Who's Coming." We quote: "Fears are coming, tears are coming, plague and pestilence are coming! Pagans coming, Satan's coming, if John Quincy not be coming!" Glenn Beck approves.

7) Andrew Jackson: Johnny Horton, "The Battle of New Orleans". Improbably, the original 1959 music video is less realistic than the one that's made with Legos. Editor's Note: The Legos version of the video has been removed from YouTube, so here's the original music video.

8) Martin Van Buren: "The True Martin Van Buren Song." Historians tend to fixate on the mutton chops, but as this cartoon makes clear, the "Red Fox of Kinderhook" was also short.

9) William Henry Harrison: Spindrift, "Tecumseh's Curse." Our lone spoken-word entrant, in honor of a man whose inaugural address had 8,442 of them.

10) John Tyler: They Might Be Giants, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." The lyrics for this one come from the original 1840 campaign jingle. It's a testament to the general insobriety of the 1830s that Harrison's "I drink tons of hard cider" argument resonated so powerfully with the electorate.

11) James K. Polk: They Might be Giants, "James K. Polk." As the song carefully explains, Polk accomplished everything he set out to do in one term, and then, with absolutely no sense of drama, died almost immediately.

12) Zachary Taylor: "General Taylor's March." Taylor also died, shortly after eating a meal of milk and cherries. This song commemorates his nagging insubordination leadership during the Mexican War.

13) Millard Fillmore: Breakfast, "Song for Millard Fillmore." As this song attests, Fillmore has developed a cult following due to his relative obscurity. Every year on January 7th, revelers gather at Fillmore's grave to sing "Happy Birthday."

14) Franklin Pierce: Christine Lavin, "Attractive Stupid People." With an assist from the Washington Post's Gene Weingarten.

15) James Buchanan: "The White House Chair." Please hold.

16) Abraham Lincoln: Marvin Gaye, "Abraham, Martin, John." Because this list needs more Marvin Gaye. Special bonus: Sufjan Stevens, "Decatur." Extra special bonus: Titus Andronicus, "A More Perfect Union."

17) Andrew Johnson: "Who Shall Rule the American Nation." When Johnson made it clear he intended to basically end Reconstruction, Republicans wrote this song to make the case that Johnson would negate everything they'd fought for. Which was mostly true.

18) Ulysses S. Grant: "Grant! Grant! Grant!" Grant! Grant! Grant! Sorry, we can't stop.

19) Rutherford B. Hayes: Ron House, "Ballad of Rutherford B. Hayes." Unrelated fact: Rutherford B. Hayes is huge in Paraguay (another nation in which he was never democratically elected.)

20) James Garfield: Johnny Cash, "Mr. Garfield." Like most things Garfield, this song's about his death. In life, his greatest accomplishment may have been the discovery of a trapezoidal proof for the Pythagorean Theorem.

21) Chester A. Arthur: Letter Seventeen, "Chester Arthur." Kinda catchy, right? Maybe even a little poignant. Arthur experienced a rare fit of posthumous relevance in 2009, owing to his distinction as the only other president to have to deal with birthers; Arthur's opponents contended that he was a British subject.

22, 24) Grover Cleveland: "Grover Cleveland's Mustache." We sincerely apologize for this.

23) Benjamin Harrison: Steve Ross, "Proud to be a Harrison." Someone has to be.

25) William McKinley: Stephen Sondheim, "Ballad of Czolgosz." McKinley broke the curse of inept post-war presidents, but he's most famous for his early exit. In Sondheim's musical, "Assassins," anarchist Leon Czolgosz murdered McKinley to impress Emma Goldman.

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