Popular music, for however much it’s worth, can say a lot about the state of the culture. Politicians, for however little they’re worth, can say a lot about the state of the nation.

I’ve always been a fan of speeches, and an even bigger fan of music. Will they blend? Let’s find out.

I just so happened to have on me a collection of great speeches on my hard drive — some from a self-descriptive collection, others from one handy Web site or another. I also had Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Songs of All Time.

The biggest problem I have with Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Songs of All Time — ignoring that Supertramp got outright gyped — is that the list turned out to be The Top 411 Songs Released Before 1980 Plus A Smattering of New Wave, Rap and Grunge. Flawed, but workable.

In short, my goal: To create playlists that mix speeches and music to get, for lack of a better idiom, a sense of what the decade was like in America.

What song would have been interrupted on the radio to carry the news that JFK was shot? Once Nixon finished his resignation address? When the Challenger exploded?

That in mind, I tried to keep the music more-or-less chronological and contemporary with the speeches — no Blondie during the Johnson administration — and, when needed, I edited the speeches down so that the whole playlist could fit on one audio CD. Each mix covers either two or three presidential terms; come back over the week or so to see what I came up with.

Due to copyright law and the like, I’m afraid you’re on your own for gathering the songs. There’s always iTunes, if you don’t mind dealing into the hands of an unscrupulous corporate hegemony, and if you’re unscrupulous yourself, there are plenty of other methods at your disposal.


I neither condone nor encourage music piracy. Arrr at your own risk.


  1. Tim

    Just to give you a reference, I was born in the early 70’s, so the music from 1986 is the only of the three where I remember the songs when they were hits. Some songs are spot on, some would be totally tasteless given the circumstance. Considering (I assume) these would be songs played on American radio stations, I am certain that completely tasteless, inappropriate songs were played just after these events happened.

    Actually on one of the top Dallas radio stations (for teenagers and pop music) “I have a boyfriend” by The Chiffrons was playing. The song was interrupted by news that shots had been fired…

    Kennedy Nov. 23rd (?), 1963

    Can’t Get Used to Loosing You- Andy Williams
    Still by Bill Anderson
    Blame it on the Bossa Nova – Eydie Gorme
    Shut Down- Beach Boys
    One Fine Day- Chiffons

    Nixon August 8, 1974

    The Joker – Steve Miller
    Nothing from Nothing- Bill Preston
    Put your Hands Together- O’Jays
    Top of the World – Carpenters

    Challenger Explosion Jan 1986

    I Miss You, Klymaxx
    Broken Wings – Mr. Mister
    Alive and Kickin’- Simple Minds
    Holding Back the Tears- Simply Red
    When the Going Gets Tough- Billy Ocean
    Venus- Bananarama
    Danger Zone- Kenny Loggins
    No One is to Blame- Howard Jones
    Party All the Time- Eddie Murphy

    Doubt this was what you were expecting… I love your blog, even though I might be the one where you change your “no delete” policy. ha!

    I am sure I will regret this the second I hit the Submit button…

  2. I have not yet compiled my list, but this is a great idea for a classroom project!

  3. Agreed. It would be hard to pull off, but very much worth it.

  4. Wow, dude, you are insane. I can’t even imagine putting all that together. Way to go.

  5. The first mix will be up tomorrow.

  1. 1 Mixing Up the Kennedys « On the Tenure Track

    […] May 17, 2008 in Darndest ThingsTags: 1960s, bobby, disc, history, jfk, jr, kennedy, king, luther, martin, minow, mix, mlk, music, newton, sixties, speeches, tape, together Have no idea what this is all about? Check out the exposition. […]

  2. 2 OFF: Riddle of the Prank-Playing Playlist « On the Tenure Track

    […] done a few that compile inside jokes. I’ve done decades of American history. My iTunes even has a playlist-in-progress that compiles good songs inspired by record producers. […]

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