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Ronald Reagan in music

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Title: Ronald Reagan in music  
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Subject: Ronald Reagan, 1980s, Blows Against the Empire, Popular music, Reagan (film)
Collection: 1980S, Popular Music, Ronald Reagan
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Ronald Reagan in music

Let Them Eat Jellybeans!
compilation album from 1981

Ronald Reagan in music refers to songs, albums and bands that refer to Ronald Wilson Reagan, particularly during his two terms as president of the United States. While references to Reagan appear in pop music, his presence in song lyrics and on album covers is often associated with the hardcore punk counter-culture of the 1980s.[1]


  • Pre-presidency 1
  • Reagan's impact on music during his presidency 2
    • Popular music 2.1
    • Hip-hop and sampling 2.2
    • Punk rock 2.3
  • Post-presidency 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


Ronald Reagan became a subject in song during the era of protests against the Vietnam War while he served as governor of California (1967-1975). Folk singer Phil Ochs makes mention of Reagan on his 1966 album Phil Ochs in Concert during the introduction to the song "Ringing of Revolution" when he speculates a future where the last of the bourgeoisie are besieged in a mansion atop a hill. Ochs jokes:

This song is so cinematic that it's been made into a movie.
It stars Senator Carl Hayden as Ho Chi Minh,
Frank Sinatra plays Fidel Castro,
George Murphy
and John Wayne plays Lyndon Johnson.
And Lyndon Johnson plays God.[2]

Ochs' satire highlights the blurry line between actors and politicians, drawing parallels between George Murphy and Reagan. Murphy, like Reagan, had been a movie actor and president of the Helen Gahagan to Ronald Reagan." In the live version on the album That Was the Year That Was (1965), Lehrer raises inflection on Reagan's name, as if he cannot believe Californians' foolishness in electing him.

Jefferson Starship referred to Reagan's policies and attitudes as governor in the song "Mau Mau (Amerikon)" on their 1970 debut album Blows Against the Empire. Paul Kantner sings:

You unleash the dogs
Of a grade-B movie star governor's war
While you sit in the dark
Insane with the fear of dying
We'll ball in your parks
Insane with the flash of living[3]

Kantner's reference was to Reagan's status as an ex-B-movie actor who had called on National Guard troops to quell a protest on the University of California at Berkeley campus in 1969, saying, "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with, no more appeasement."[4]

Reagan's impact on music during his presidency

Sleeve for 1985 single by The Ramones

Popular music

A number of popular music artists made mention of Reagan in their music during the 1980s.

In 1981 British Synth-poppers Heaven 17 critiqued Reagan in their song, "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang". The following year on his album Controversy, Prince released a plea to Reagan called "Ronnie Talk to Russia":

Ronnie, talk to Russia before it's too late
Before it's too late, before it's too late
Ronnie, talk to Russia before it's too late
Before they blow up the world

Pink Floyd's 1983 song "The Fletcher Memorial Home" likens Reagan to corrupt leaders throughout history:

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Reagan and Haig
Mr. Begin and friend Mrs. Thatcher and Paisley
Mr. Brezhnev and party
The ghost of McCarthy
The memories of Nixon[5]

In 1984 10,000 Maniacs.

In 1985 Sting released his anti-Cold War single "Russians". The following year saw singer Joe Jackson admonishing the president for speaking in black-and-white terms, several songs on Jackson Browne's album Lives in the Balance pointed at U.S. foreign policy under Reagan, and The Violent Femmes featured a 29-second song "Old Mother Reagan" on their album The Blind Leading the Naked":

Old Mother Reagan and her crew, took away from me and you
I hope she goes far away, she better go far away, Y'know it ain't right
When it's all wrong, this is the Old Mother Reagan, protest song, old Mother Reagan
She's so dumb, she's so dangerous, how come...
Old Mother Reagan went to heaven, but at the pearly gates she was stopped!

U2 criticized Reagan in "Bullet The Blue Sky" from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. That same year INXS highlighted Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative in their similarly named song "Guns in the Sky", and R.E.M. likened Reagan to former senator Joe McCarthy:

Sharpening stones, walking on coals to improve your business acumen
Vested interest united ties, landed gentry rationalize, look who bought the myth, by jingo, buy America
Enemy sighted, enemy met, I'm addressing the realpolitik...Exhuming McCarthy (Meet me at the book burning)[6]

Frank Zappa makes mention of Ronald Reagan, and other 1980s luminaries, in his 1987 song "Untouchables":

Okay - let's look at some mug-sheets of the suspects from the 80's
REAGAN! You're asleep! Wake up! The country's in a mess!
You're anyway out in the way, buddy
You're history - you're meat - you're through!
You're vapor - you're baloney without the mayo, buddy!
You're outta here - In fact, it's Robin Leach instead!
I don't know why.

Hip-hop and sampling

As hip-hop came of age during the 1980s, many rappers inserted Reagan into their lyrics. Proto-rapper Gil Scott-Heron made Reagan the subject of his 1981 song "B-Movie" as well as his 1984 single "Re-Ron":

They're off running again, on the campaign trail...
We don't need no re-Ron, no we don't need no re-Ron,
But there he is running the Cold War...banging on the war drums...
The world watching our re-action to the third's the new time bomb for Lebanon,
The gladiator invader of Grenada, news more for El Salvador.
Would we take Fritz with our grits? We'd take Fritz the Cat. Would we take Jesse Jackson? Hell, we'd take Michael Jackson![7]

Sound collage group Negativland first sampled Reagan on their 1981 album Points on the instrumental track "The Answer Is", where the music interrupted by the president stuttering, "The problem isn't being poor, the problem is, uh...the answer is..." In 1985 P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins and Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads teamed up as Bonzo Goes to Washington (named for Reagan's film Bedtime for Bonzo), and released a single that heavily sampled the president saying, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that outlaws Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes," during a microphone test.[8]

Other songs mentioning or referencing Reagan include Ice-T's "Squeeze the Trigger" (1987), Biz Markie's "Nobody Beats the Biz" (1988), Boogie Down Productions' "Stop the Violence" (1988), among others.

Punk rock

With much of punk rock's ethos as antithesis to established authority, president Reagan became a prime authority figure for punks to rally against in the United States and abroad.[1]

In 1980 a quartet of anarcho-punks from Queens, New York named themselves Reagan Youth as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Hitler Youth.[9] The following year a group of skate punks from Phoenix, Arizona named their band JFA, short for "Jodie Foster's Army" in tribute to the efforts of John Hinckley, Jr. to impress the movie star by attempting to assassinate president Reagan.

In 1981 Alternative Tentacles Records featured Reagan on the cover of the compilation album, Let Them Eat Jellybeans!, whose title refers to Reagan's favorite candy. The label was run by Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra whose band made a career out of mentioning Reagan in songs like, "Moral Majority", "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now", "Bleed for Me" and "Dear Abby".

Other notable punk bands that sang about Reagan included [10][11]


Many artists from different genres have continued to make note of Reagan's legacy in their lyrics, including Neil Young, Van Dyke Parks, Camper Van Beethoven, Jay-Z and Kanye West.[12] In 2010, television actor Fred Armisen and ex-Scream/Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl paid tribute to their own punk rock roots in the Saturday Night Live sketch, "Crisis of Conformity", a send-up of an 80s hardcore band reuniting to play a wedding 25 years past their heyday. The lyrics are reminiscent of the Dead Kennedys' "Bleed for Me", among others:

When Ronald Reagan comes around,
He brings the fascists to your town.
You think it's cool to be a jock,
But we all get beat up by cops.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b Hlavaty, Craig. "Ronald Reagan: Biggest Punk Icon Of The '80s". Houston Press. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  2. ^ Ochs, Phil (1966). ""Ringing of Revolution"". Phil Ochs in Concert (Sound recording). Elektra Record. 
  3. ^ Blows Against the Empire (Vinyl LP, inside cover and libretto booklet). New York: RCA. 1970. LSP-4448. 
  4. ^ "Reagan nominated for governor of California". This Day in History. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  5. ^ The Fletcher Memorial Home by Pink Floyd, Songfacts.
  6. ^ Teague, Kipp. "Exhuming McCarthy". R.E.M. Lyric Annotations FAQ. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  7. ^ "gil scott-heron". SoulWalking. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Deseret News: Ronald Reagan's 10 Best Quotes
  9. ^ Cripple, Paul. Reagan Youth Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  10. ^ Perkins, Michael (4 September 1984). "Rock Against Reagan long on punk and short on anti-Reagan sentiment". Deseret News. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  11. ^ Montgomery, Kevin. "Rock Against Reagan in Dolores Park". Uptown Almanac. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Insanul and Pereira, Julian, Ahmed. "The Teflon President: Our 10 Favorite Ronald Reagan Lyrical References". Complex Music. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  13. ^ Kinski, Klaus. "Crisis of Conformity Played SNL". Brooklyn Vegan. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
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