by John Ellis
One of the things that should prompt a thankful pride in all Americans is how our country’s presidents so often and so willingly reach for the hot handle of responsibility. In fact, a famous president once said, “The buck stops here.” This series, “The Pop Presidents,” seeks to honor an aspect of the last eleven president’s responsibilities that is often overlooked – presiding over the growth of pop music, specifically the genre known as Rock and Roll. Over the course of the first eleven articles, the ten best albums released under each of the eleven administrations’ oversight will be briefly discussed. In the final article of the series, the eleven presidents will be ranked based on the music released during their time in the Oval Office.
The presidential election of 2000 was as hotly contested and fraught with controversy as the ranking of Bush’s best albums will undoubtedly be. President Bush, himself, still generates controversy; his fans declaring him one of the greatest presidents of all time; his detractors declaring W as one of the worst presidents of all time, if not the worst. Likewise, fans of the music from the new millennium’s first decade are quick to declare that bands like The Strokes deserve to be seated at the musical table with the greats from yesteryear. And, others turn their nose up at the offerings from the musical acts of the 2000s. Of course, superlatives actually need distance. Perspective is hard to have while still so close.
That being said, there were excellent albums released under Bush’s squinting eyes. How those albums rank amongst the best of past Presidents is yet to be seen. Seen shortly, though, for there is only one President left in this series after President W. Bush, and then I’ll complete the final rankings of the past eleven presidents based on the music released during their administration. Will his supporters be justified in their claims that President W. Bush deserves a spot on Mount Rushmore? Or, do his detractors have a point? Will number forty three find himself looking up at the likes of Nixon and Carter? Regardless, and for the moment, Democrats and Republicans alike can unite over the following albums that were gifted to the world by one of the most polarizing presidents of all time.
Honorable Mentions: White Blood Cells, The White Stripes; The Blueprint, Jay Z; Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; The Flaming Lips; Elephant, The White Stripes; Absolution, Muse; Illinois, Sufjan Stevens; Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem; A Grand Don’t Come for Free, The Streets; Wincing the Night Away, The Shins; For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver; Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective; ( ), Sigur Rós; Frances the Mute, The Mars Volta; Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol; Back to Black, Amy Winehouse; Gold, Ryan Adams; I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, Bright Eyes; Ys, Joanna Newsom; Kill the Moonlight, Spoon.
- Songs for the Deaf – Queens of the Stone Age, August, 2002.
Borrowing senior staffers from his daddy’s administration, President George W. Bush put together a dream team for his cabinet. Likewise, for the recording of Songs for the Deaf, one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time, band founder Josh Homme brought in rock luminaries Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan, who had contributed to previous Queens of the Stone Age recordings.
- Original Pirate Material – The Streets, March, 2002.
Is it an accident that five of the bands on this list hail from President Bush’s biggest ally in the war against terror? We’ll never know. Accident or not, The Streets proved with Original Pirate Material that England could produce an authentic hip-hop voice that wasn’t, in the words of Mike Skinner, “someone from Reading pretending to be Biggie or Q-Tip.”
- Up the Bracket – The Libertines, October, 2002.
Loud, brash, and thoroughly British, The Libertines, at least one of The Libertines, embraced the band’s name in a full-throttle assault on life. Up the Bracket was produced by Mick Jones, and the sound is a wonderful reflection of that.
- American IV (The Man Comes Around) – Johnny Cash, November, 2002.
Although it’s not possible to sum up the music of Johnny Cash with one genre label, it is appropriate that at least one country music artist made President George W. Bush’s list. Has any president since Andrew Jackson styled himself as a home-spun, awe-shucks kind of guy more than W.? Regardless, the Man in Black’s 2002 offering contains what many refer to as his own musical epitaph – the cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “One.”
- Fever to Tell – Yeah Yeah Yeahs, April, 2003.
With their debut LP, Karen O and company set the bar really high. Whether you think the follow up albums from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reached that bar or not, it’s hard to deny that Fever to Tell changed music, for the better, in the new millennium.
- Whatever People Say That I Am, That’s What I’m Not – Arctic Monkeys, January, 2006.
Only one of two albums on this list released during President Bush’s second term (whatever that means), Whatever People Say That I Am, That’s What I’m Not catapulted the Arctic Monkeys into super-stardom.
- Origin of Symmetry – Muse, July, 2001.
Their over-preening and self-consciously douchy name aside, very few bands have dominated the new millennium like Muse. It took three tries to enter the American public consciousness, though. And since Origin of Symmetry was their second studio album, the vast majority of Americans were clueless in the summer of 2001, including the President. Of course, if asked now, many of those same clueless Americans will claim that they’ve been Muse fans since the beginning. As for the President, well, the year 2001 speaks for itself.
- In Rainbows – Radiohead, October, 2007.
Not content with their domination of President Clinton’s list, almost fifteen years after the release of their debut album Radiohead released another critically acclaimed album among a critically acclaimed canon. The band also caused a stir in the music industry by allowing fans to pay what they wanted for In Rainbows.
- Funeral – Arcade Fire, September, 2004.
International relations were one of the predominant issues facing the Bush administration after the 2001 inauguration. President Bush faced the unfortunate reality of the presence of friction between the United States and even those countries that had historically been friends and allies with America. Proving that even close proximity didn’t protect allies from foreign relation missteps, Canada sent Nickleback across the border in 2000. Thankfully, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien quickly recognized the mistake, and, while not being able to put the spilled milk back into the carton, gifted President Bush with Arcade Fire.
- Is This It – The Strokes, July, 2001.
Like President Bush, the lack of the perspective of time was not a deterrent for people claiming to know the legacy of The Strokes within just a few years of the band’s debut. Unlike President Bush, The Strokes have been widely praised and hailed as one of the greatest bands of all time; Is This It ranks high on most publication’s “best albums of all time” list.