Presidential campaigns are an exciting time for Americans, and it’s no surprise that some of the country’s top musicians have written songs about presidents.
Some of these songs are lighthearted, while others take a more serious tone. It is always intriguing to see what songwriters come up with next. Here we will discuss 21 of the best presidential songs in American history.
Top Songs About Presidents
“Young Abe Lincoln (Make a Tall, Tall Man)” – Johnny Horton
This song chronicles President Abraham Lincoln’s life from his humble beginnings as a lawyer to the height of his political career.
A powerful and moving piece of patriotic music, this song is noteworthy for its biographical accuracy and historical information about this president.
Johnny Horton was known as ”The Singing Ranger,” releasing over 100 songs during his influential career. He was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
“Abe Lincoln” – Bishop Allen
Bishop Allen’s song “Abe Lincoln” chronicles this president’s career from his early legal work to his role in the Civil War.
The song is one long narrative describing how Honest Abe could persist through hard times and become a great man.
Bishop Allen is an indie rock band formed in 2003, but their music has been featured in many movies and television shows. They are currently on their second album.
“Abraham Lincoln” – Clutch
Clutch needs no introduction as one of the greatest rock bands to come out of Maryland.
Clutch is a politically-minded band, and their music often reflects that. They have been featured in the Guitar Hero franchise and many video games.
“James K. Polk” – They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants are known for their quirky style and song topics, but “James K. Polk” is no joke. It’s a serious analysis of the 11th president’s journey to the White House and how he worked hard to achieve his goal.
The lyrics are full of historical information, including all 12 of Polk’s campaign slogans. They Might Be Giants was formed in 1982 and is still making music today. You can listen to their song while reading the lyrics on this website.
“Eisenhower Blues” – J.B. Lenoir
This blues classic is all about the unfair treatment of Americans during the early years of President Eisenhower’s administration.
J.B. Lenoir wrote it in the ’50s, and its lyrics are still applicable to modern times regarding civil rights issues in America. J.B. Lenoir was a hugely influential blues artist during his time who helped popularize the electric guitar.
“Funky President (People It’s Bad)” – James Brown
This song is a funky tribute to President Bill Clinton, and it celebrates his various achievements in the White House. However, James Brown was not a big fan of Clinton because he felt that too many people were exploiting him for political purposes.
In this song, Brown praises the president’s achievements and reminds listeners about all the bad things going on behind the scenes. This catchy tune is always a crowd-pleaser, and was the first hip-hop song to reach number one on the Billboard chart.
“Re-Ron” – Gil Scott-Heron
This song is a tribute to Ronald Reagan and his lasting legacy. It also points out how he rose above the racial prejudices in American society during his time in office, inspiring millions of black people to get involved with the Republican Party.
The lyrics for this funk tune were originally taken from Gil Scott-Heron’s poem ”B-Movie.” He was an influential African-American author, musician, and activist best known for his poem ”The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
“Ronnie Talk to Russia” – Prince
Prince is another musician who’s not afraid to share his political opinion, and he also supports the Republican Party.
This song was inspired by President Reagan’s famous speech in which he called for world peace during the Cold War. It was initially released on Prince’s 1992 album ”Love Symbol,” but it was later re-released on his 2006 compilation ”Ultimate” as a tribute to Reagan.
“Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” – the Ramones
This punk song directly responds to President Reagan’s 1985 visit to the Bitburg cemetery in Germany, where Nazi soldiers were buried.
He was criticized for this decision because those soldiers fought against the U.S. during World War II and participated in the holocaust.
The Ramones came out with this anti-Reagan tune as a protest, and it also reminds listeners about other issues like AIDS.
“Old Mother Reagan” – the Violent Femmes
This songs about presidents by the Violent Femmes was inspired by Ronald Reagan’s famous slogan, ”Let’s make America great again.” It presents a humorous look at some of his social policies, including his decision to launch Star Wars.
The band has always been politically-minded, and this song is one example of their work on that topic. They have also recorded other political songs like ”To Stop the War” and ”American Music.”
“Abraham, Martin, and John” – Dion
In a list of songs about presidents, those songs usually fall into two camps: tribute songs and critical/ protest songs.
Dick Holler wrote “Abraham, Martin, and John” and Dion released it. It became a hit quickly and artists such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Marvin Gaye have covered it.
Holler wrote the song in response to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, but it also includes those of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. The lyrics pay tribute to these men’s work for civil rights and are a lament to their passing.
“Murder Most Foul” – Bob Dylan
In March 2020, seemingly out of nowhere, Bob Dylan released the first single off his upcoming album Rough and Ready Ways. Coming in nearly seventeen minutes long, “Murder Most Foul” quickly earned its place among Dylan’s classic epics storytelling songs.
“Murder Most Foul” is about the assassination of JFK. It seems to suggest a theory of the assassination with political and societal implications. This song references bands and musicians of the time and is about the power of art and music to express pain and loss and eventually help us move on.
“He Was a Friend of Mine” – The Byrds
Some of the songs on this list were not originally president songs. They are either re-envisioned covers or reworked hits. “He Was a Friend of Mine” is a traditional folk song that many different artists have recorded over the years.
In 1963, Jim McGuinn, lead guitarist of the Byrds, began re-working the lyrics of “He was a Friend of Mine” as a memorial to John F. Kennedy. It appeared on their 1965 album, Turn! Turn! Turn!
“The Love of Richard Nixon” – Manic Street Preachers
The Welsh band Manic Street Preachers did something unusual with “The Love of Richard Nixon” from their 2004 album Lifeblood.
Most rock songs that mention presidents do it out of anger and criticism, not empathy. “The Love of Richard Nixon” aims to remind the listener of all the good things that Nixon did for the country. It tells the American people to acknowledge those things, despite Watergate.
“Solid (As Barack)” – Ashford & Simpson
In 2009 husband and wife duo re-made their 1984 hit song, “Solid,” in tribute to new president Barack Obama. If “Solid (As Barack)” sounds like something that would have been on a Saturday Night Live sketch, that’s because it was, three months before Ashford & Simpson re-wrote and recorded it!
This song spoke to the hope and excitement many people felt when Barack Obama was elected. It also shows the fact that many Obama supporters trusted him.
“When the President Talks to God” – Bright Eyes
While it can be hard to remember, even for those who lived through it, George W. Bush was once as divisive and harshly criticized as Donald Trump.
Originally released as a free download, Conor Oberst performed “When the President Talks to God” in 2005 on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. With a voice shaking with anger and rage, Oberst criticizes the president for his role in the war, racism, and misogyny and implies that the former president was using religion as an excuse for reprehensible actions.
“American Idiot” – Green Day
As leaders of the country, presidents both set the tone for the country and participate in it. Many songs about presidents are not only about the president themselves but the culture they are leading.
The song “American Idiot” comes from pop-punk rockers Green Day’s 2004 album, also entitled American Idiot.
While many listeners thought the song and album were about George W. Bush, Green Day frontman Billie Jo Armstrong said in interviews that it wasn’t about him specifically. Instead, it was about fear, xenophobia, idiocy, and how mass media can whip emotions into a frenzy. “American Idiot” isn’t a song about the president, but a song about America.
The album won Best Rock Album at the 2005 Grammys and went on to inspire a documentary and a Broadway musical.
“Reagan Sucks” – NOFX
From California punk band NOFX, “Reagan Sucks” is a raucous, fast song with sparse lyrics.
The song was released in 2002 and is nostalgic for a time in the music and counter-culture scene, when no matter who someone was or where they came from, everyone hated Ronald Reagan. The song seems to imply that even if people don’t like each other, they can at least come together by hating Reagan.
“Let’s Impeach the President” – Neil Young
Recorded in 2006, on his album, Living with War, Neil Young’s “Let Impeach the President” is pretty self-explanatory.
Neil Young, never one to shy away from making a political statement through his songs and actions, uses the lyrics in “Let’s Impeach the President” to call on votes to impeach George W. Bush. The song criticizes Bush for war, spying on citizens, ramping up racism, botching the response to Hurricane Katrina, and misrepresenting and abusing religion.
“Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” – Randy Newman
A song first recorded in 1974 during the Nixon administration, Randy Newman’s “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” has found a new life and audience in the Trump and post-Trump era.
While Newman wrote this song for a particular president, it is a song really for any president. “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” is critical, but rather than being angry and vitriolic, it is a plea for the leader in the big fancy house to help working men and working families running out of money and hungry in a bad economy.
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” – Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder brought the funk and The Jackson 5 on background vocals for “You Haven’t Done Nothin,” a song from his 1974 album, Fullfilingness’ First Finale.
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” is about as angry and political as Stevie Wonder gets. The song is both direct and single. Directed at Richard Nixon, it captures the feelings and emotions of many during that time. Two days after this album was released, Nixon resigned.
There are many different ways that artists have used to express their political views.
Some of these songs about presidents are serious, and some are humorous, but they all reflect the changing nature of politics in America over the years.
People are putting out more music about politics today than ever before because they feel like politicians need to be held accountable for their actions.
So the next time you hear a political song on the radio, don’t turn it off, even if it’s not your favorite artist or genre of music. You may start to appreciate that song more than you have in the past.