After ranking the top ten albums released during each of the presidencies from Kennedy through Obama, it’s now time to rank the presidents. While this may not need to be clarified, I’m not going to risk it since this is the internet: The rankings below are not based on the politics, successes, and failures of the ten presidents. They’re based solely on the music released during their time as POTUS. Ultimately, the rankings are about which generation had the best music. Baby Boomers versus Gen X versus Millennials.
Let the rankings begin.
10. President Barack Obama
On this list, at least, President Obama falls victim to the proximity of time. There is really no way to adequately judge the music released during his eight years in the White House. Although, if I’m being honest, I highly doubt that the advantage of time will change his status much in the coming decades. Frankly, the state of pop culture, including pop music, has been mostly abysmal the last decade or so.
To be fair, Obama’s list reveals that not all was lost during his presidency. Arcade Fire is an excellent band that produced some interesting music during Obama’s time in office. Those years also saw the release of albums from incredible indie musicians (“indie” in the truest sense of the word) and musicians and groups like Bill Mallonee and The Innocence Mission. Sadly, due to their true indie status, their music is most likely going to be lost to posterity.
9. President George W. Bush
I promise that this list isn’t going to be chronological. Although, I’m willing to bet that anyone following this series could’ve predicted the ninth and tenth spots on this final list. Like Obama, President W. Bush suffers from timing. We do not yet have a good perspective on the music released during the first eight years of the new millennium. However, bands like Arcade Fire and The Strokes did release albums that I believe will stand the test of time.
8. President Gerald Ford
Some of the greatest albums ever produced were released during Gerald Ford’s time in office. Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan and Horses by Patti Smith stand up to almost any album ever produced. Unfortunately for President Ford, his time in office was so short that even though some great music was produced during his presidency, there just wasn’t a lot of it. By virtue of the his abbreviated presidency, Gerald Ford is relegated toward the bottom of this list.
7. President Bill Clinton
Presidents Obama and W. Bush have Bill Clinton to thank for much of the poorly written and produced bland music released during their presidencies. When President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law, he basically nailed pop music’s coffin shut. The market now rewards the lowest common denominator. We began to see that taking place in the mid to late ’90s as genres like post-grunge and the worst of rap-metal (Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit) dominated the charts. Thankfully, indie bands like Pavement, Alien Lanes, and Neutral Milk Hotel as well as the rise of Radiohead help Clinton redeem himself. Somewhat.
6. President Jimmy Carter
For sure, President Carter saw all-time great albums like London Calling, The Wall, and Remain in Light released during his years as POTUS. But, disco also exploded during that era. For that, he can never be forgiven. President Carter loses points for disco, so he lands in the bottom half of this list.
5. President George H. W. Bush
Even if you don’t like the music released during Daddy Bush’s presidency, you can’t deny the impact that it had on the music and the culture at large. This was the era of grunge and gangster rap. This was the time period during which Nirvana released Nevermind and Public Enemy released Fear of a Black Planet. Not to mention the albums from the height of the underground movement — Spiderland by Slint, Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement, and Doolittle by the Pixies.
4. President John F. Kennedy
The remaining four presidents on this list were hard to rank. I mean, President Kennedy had Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles as well as The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Monk’s Dream by Thelonious Monk. The Beatles began to make their mark during JFK’s time in the Oval Office. Ultimately, though, the brevity of his stint at POTUS hurt him for this list. The remaining three presidents simply had too much excellent music released during their presidencies for JFK to overcome.
3. President Ronald Reagan
Any music critic who claims complete objectivity is a music critic who should be ignored. While recognizing that, I would like to take the opportunity to pat myself on the back and say that if I were choosing based solely on my druthers, Ronald Reagan would be ranked number one. The albums Zen Arcade, Surfer Rosa, The Joshua Tree, and Murmur, among others on Reagan’s list, including honorable mentions, are among my favorite and most played albums. Alas, I am aware that the music released during Reagan’s administration is not better than the remaining two presidents on this list. Besides, all of the music from Reagan’s presidency that I love owes its existence to the great music that came before it. As much as it pains this Gen-Xer to admit, Baby Boomers win the musical bragging rights.
2. President Richard Nixon
President Nixon may have the most varied list of all ten of the presidents in this series. From Miles Davis to the Southern jam band The Allman Brothers Band, the psychedelic music of Dark Side of the Moon, the easy crooning of Nick Drake, and, finally, the blues-based hard rock of Led Zeppelin, the combined list of albums released during Nixon’s presidency will satisfy all types of music lovers.
1. President Lyndon B. Johnson
The music released during LBJ’s presidency isn’t just great, much of it is iconic. That fact is what helped nudge President Johnson above President Nixon. Pet Sounds, Highway 61 Revisited, Are You Experienced, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Led Zeppelin all dominate the musical memories of those who love pop music. It’s next to impossible to imagine pop culture minus the albums released during the presidency of LBJ.