If U.S. presidential candidates were rock bands they’d be…
Here’s where we think the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates stack up if they were a band headlining a 2020 music fest
We still have a long, long, long way to go until the 2020 U.S. presidential election — and the list of candidates seems to get a bit longer every day. So, how do you actually keep track of who’s who? Let’s try turning it into a soundtrack.
Admittedly, the list runs too long to actually break down all of those candidates (there are 20+ actually running in the Democratic primary, though several are polling close to zero percent), so we’ve focused in on the folks who are actually showing a bit of buzz in the polls. Plus, of course, the incumbent who is currently president. From hip-hop to corporate rock and everything else in-between, here’s where we think the current crop of would-be presidents stack up if they were a band headlining a 2020 music fest.
Joe Biden: The Rolling Stones
Uncle Joe has been a fixture of American politics for decades, and he’s launched failed bids for president over the past few decades. But with 2020 in sight, Biden is — by far — the most popular Democratic candidate on the ballot. He’s leading most polls by a mile, thanks in large part to the good will he accumulated as President Obama’s vice-president and a solid legislative record (though it does have some troublesome bits in there, too). But, pretty much everyone sees him as likable, solid and — keyword here — “electable.” Translating that to music, Biden feels like The Rolling Stones of this election cycle. Most everybody likes The Stones, from your granddaddy to your aunts and uncles. They also run pretty high on a bunch of those lists of the best band ever. They’re a solid bet, and pop in just about any Stones record, and you’re bound to get something pretty darn good. Sure, it can get a bit worn at times, but even after all these decades, it’s still good stuff.
Bernie Sanders: Big Star
Bernie has been around the scene for decades, much like Biden, but despite the name recognition he’s still not polling as well as Biden. He was huge in the last primary running against Hillary Clinton, and briefly hailed as the Next Big Thing for a while there. He also introduced some forward-thinking policy ideas, many of which have been adopted by a bevy of candidates now running against him this time around. Take that resume to the music world, and Bernie feels a whole lot like Big Star. The Memphis-based rock band burst onto the scene in the early 1970s, and sadly flamed out not long after. Much like Bernie, it took a while for folks to really latch onto just how great Big Star was at the time. They found a cult following a few years later in the 1980s, and went on to influence pretty much every decent band that’s formed ever since. That said, there are still plenty of people who still love and appreciate Big Star to this day. But, they’ll never be as big as bands like the Stones, or The Beatles.
Elizabeth Warren: Radiohead
Elizabeth Warren is a smart, smart candidate. Of the folks vying for the Democratic candidacy, she arguably has the best ideas and platform concepts laid out in detail. Oddly enough, she’s also polling well below folks like Biden and Sanders. Turning to music, she feels like the Radiohead of this election. She’s smart, probably one of the smartest if not the smartest candidate out there. That feels a lot like Radiohead, an indie band that puts out some clever music and has developed a strong, loyal fanbase with their excellent output (a lot like Warren has these past few years).
Kamala Harris: Tupac
This may seem a bit obvious, considering Harris has spoken publicly about her affinity for Tupac’s music, but hear us out. Much like Tupac, Harris has some OG bona fides. Before running for the senate she served as a district attorney and attorney general in California, leading an up-tick in the conviction rate for homicides and overall felonies. She also took on hate crimes during that time. As a senator, she’s taken full advantage of her DA roots to ask the smart, hard questions — without backing down. She has guts, much like Tupac did. Tupac also has a ton of name recognition, something Harris is quickly working to acquire as the campaign heats up.
Pete Buttigieg: Conor Oberst
As a city mayor in Indiana, Buttigieg has exploded onto the scene as a bit of a wunderkind candidate over the past few months. He’s young, smart, energetic and almost always knows the right thing to say when the moment comes. He comes off as accessible and fresh, much like the Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst has during his career. Sure, Oberst’s output has always been a bit niche, but if it’s your flavor it’s fantastic stuff. Buttigieg has had much the same kind of run in the lead-up to the primary. In certain circles, he’s quickly becoming a buzzy, respected voice. But, ask random folks on the street, and odds are they have no idea about Mayor Pete. That said, Oberst has always had the potential to blow out the Top 40 with a chart-topper — and Buttigieg is in the hunt to do much the same in the presidential race.
Beto O’Rourke: Foss (just kidding, Weezer)
The handsome, punk rock candidate from Texas became a national sensation when he gave Ted Cruz a scare — but ultimately lost. So, he used that buzz to launch a presidential bid. He’s had some missteps, but there’s no doubt O’Rourke is a tall, charismatic dude. He was also literally in the little-known punk band called Foss back in the day, but we won’t go with that one. Instead, O’Rourke feels more like the Weezer of this election. He’s the dude bro, and is largely popular in a broad, thoughtless, “Oh It’s On The Radio So Just Listen To It And Idly Tap Your Toe” kind of way. Weezer is sometimes the butt of jokes (like that run SNL skit), but they’re still huge — and Beto has much that same kind of potential
Donald Trump: Kid Rock
Time for the big, loud Commander-in-Chief himself. Trump isn’t refined, he’s not all that bright, and he typically just beats you over the head with whatever he’s saying. Kind of like one of his biggest supporters and golf buddies, Kid Rock. He appeals to a certain conservative type of redneck, which is where most of his popularity lies (that applies to both of ‘em, to be clear). There’s also the fact that, if you actually listen to what he says, it’s typically really stupid and nonsensical. We’re just waiting for the presidential radio edit.
Editor’s Note: To be clear, this is all meant in good fun. The presidential race in 2020 looks to be one of the most contentious and important in the modern history of the United States. It’s a big deal, and everyone should take it very, very seriously. But, between all that seriousness, there should be a bit of space to have some fun musing about the folks who want to lead the free world.
Feel Unlucky Punk: 5 records lost in the punk explosion
We take a look at 5 records lost in the post-1994 scramble of punk’s mainstream success.
We could sit here all day and discuss the ethos behind the entire punk mantra but it has been discussed to no end. Instead, we’re inspecting the spiraling consequences of the mainstream upsurge of punk that ultimately peaked in 1994/95. Three years after what many dubbed as “the year punk broke” (1991), the resurgence of the punk subculture back into the mainstream scope was in significant contrast to the
However, the effects of a genre’s popularity often result in a number of those caught up in the wave to get left behind. Casualties of other people’s success. For one reason or another, glory did not come to them as expected, and the resulting fallout ends with bands disbanding and careers changing. The fallout of an entire movement
Here are the 5 records lost in the post-1994 scramble of punk’s mainstream success.
05. Hog – Nothing Sacred
(Geffen Records, March 1996)
Los Angeles punk band Hog
I wore out my cassette tape copy of Hog’s Nothing Sacred it was so good. The title track is fantastic in particular, but there are so many great songs on this album, like the aforementioned “Walls” and “Not Perfect”. To this day I still go back to this album as the perfect windows down highway album because sonically, it sounds like a damn rock record. If you ever come across this album somewhere in a record shop and you like loud guitars, melodic punk, and some attitude, don’t hesitate to spend the money on it.
Stream: Hog – “Shut Down”
04. Waterdog – Waterdog
(Atlantic Records, October 1995)
Atlantic’s pop-punk flag carriers depended greatly on Green Day’s popularity to carry over. This self-titled disc was surprisingly accessible (bolstered by radio-ready tracks “Can’t Let Go” and “Jessica”) but ultimately lacked a strong connection to the recently converted masses. Unlike the Berkeley trio’s unabashed, juvenile visage, Waterdog relied on slightly more cultured lyrics and less simplistic
This album was not the best produced but had some great songs- most notably the closer “Good-bye, Good-bye”, and the track below “Jessica”. I still like listening to this song today and while it isn’t as loud or as urgent as Hog’s Nothing Sacred, had plenty to like, especially if you enjoyed pop-punk with a less bouncy appeal. The band came and went after only one album, but who knows just what they could have done during a different era.
Stream: Waterdog – “Jessica”
03. Samiam – Clumsy
(Atlantic, August 1994)
Amongst their respective discography, Samiam’s Clumsy can easily go unnoticed. Their foray into the majors did not end here but unlike some of their kind, Samiam lasted through all the troubles and are still around today. Their creative blend of chunky pop punk components with more rock-oriented mechanisms resulted in their fiery guitar powered focus. Keen on quality vocal delivery and constantly trying to rework their musical progression, Samiam
Sergie Loobkoff of the band also spent time in seminal emo band Knapsack as well as indie rock band Solea. I had a chat with Sergie Loobkoff about Solea back in 2002 about his then-new band.
Samiam are one of the lucky few.
02. Jawbreaker – Dear You
(Geffen Records, September 1995)
Pulled from shelves just months after its release, Dear You is a painful reminder of the fickleness that saturates the major label landscape. Far more restrained than their previous work, Jawbreaker’s (then) final release is as mysterious as it is admired; a defining example of bad things happening to good bands. Almost completely disappearing from North American retail stores (and most definitely from the Geffen catalogue), it has been the scourge of punk record collectors who have been unsuccessful at securing a copy. Featuring the classic Jawbreaker track “Jet Black”, Dear You was re-released in 2004 via Blackball Records. After Jawbreaker’s initial break-up, Blake Schwarzenbach went on to form one of my favorite bands, Jets to Brazil.
In 2017, against all odds, Jawbreaker reformed. Remarkably, there is new music on the way. New Jawbreaker. In 2019. Who would have thought
01. Klover – Feel Lucky Punk
(Mercury/Polygram Records, August 1995)
Featuring members of legendary Boston hardcore outfit Gang Green, Klover epitomized all that was the spirit of a misunderstood generation. Leering like the Buzzcocks, influential like the Jam and embodying the youthful enthusiasm of early Social Distortion, Feel Lucky Punk was an immensely competent release. Confidently portraying ideas of rebellion, social rejection and an underlying cause for unity, it was a record that exuded all that was great of the punk movement. Strengthened by the “Basket Case”-like “Our Way” (how did this song not resonate with the radio crown? I just don’t know), the gang vocals of “Beginning to End” and the truly wonderful cover of the Real Kids’ “All Kindsa Girls”, Feel Lucky Punk is a real gem that deserved far more than it received. The album sounded great, the songs were exactly what you would expect from a shiny, major label punk release- everything seemed poised for success. It never came. Klover disbanded in early 1996 after just one album.
If there was ever an album so commercially ready to be big, it was this one. Mercury Records didn’t do anything for the band, and the songs here were relegated to used bins in Tower Records all around the world. Too bad because there is so much good material on here, so much of it is still so listenable today (you could argue that it holds up better than a lot of mainstream punk of the last decade). Their cover of “All Kindsa Girls” is still one of the best covers you’ll hear. However, it is the opening track “Our Way” that really sets the tone for the album and remains one of the best things not to have been huge.
Stream: Klover – “Our Way”
10 alt-rock albums from the ‘90s you should pick up on vinyl now
We’ve gone digging through the shelves to cherry pick 10 1990’s alt-rock and grunge albums that are well worth revisiting on vinyl.
Dust off the turntable and turn off the
A decent amount of modern day releases are already getting vinyl runs at release, alongside CDs and digital, and of course the classics have been on LPs for decades, available at most thrift stores or used record shops. But the 1990s tunes — which landed in the awkward transition phase of cassettes and CDs — have been a barren wasteland. Until now-ish. If the album was an alt-rock hit over the past couple decades, there’s a decent chance a label has pulled it off the shelf and pressed it on vinyl.
So, we’ve gone digging through the shelves to cherry pick 10 1990’s alt-rock and grunge albums that are well worth revisiting now that they’ve been re-issued on vinyl. From Oasis to Goo Goo Dolls, here’s what we’ll be spinning while rocking some flannel.
Bush – Sixteen Stone
This 1994 rocker, Bush’s debut record, put the band on the map. The band would go on to have some great releases, but none of them matched the perfect storm of alt-rock and monster hits of Sixteen Stone. The album was host to No. 1 singles like” Comedown,” “Glycerine” and “Machinehead,” all of which still get regular spins on the airwaves. Beyond the remembered commodities, though, the entire album is a churning romp. There’s a reason it made Bush a household name in the 1990s.
Buy Sixteen Stone: [Amazon] [SRCVinyl]
Counting Crows – August and Everything After
This album went Platinum about as many times as an album could go platinum, and for good reason. Almost every song on this record turned into a hit single, from “Mr. Jones,” to “Round Here,” to “Rain King.” It’s a snapshot of that particular brand of country alt-rock that fell into vogue in the era, and top to bottom, is still a fantastic set of songs.
Buy August and Everything After: [Amazon] [SRCVinyl]
Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
Don’t worry, we’re not leaving Britpop alt-rock off the list. Oasis’ second album is arguably the band’s best, anchored by “Wonderwall,” “Champagne Supernova” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” It’s even more fun on vinyl, with a bit of pop and warm hum to really bring the guitars home. The band may all hate one another now, but there was a shining moment when they could work together and make one hell of a good record.
Buy (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?: [Amazon] [SRCVinyl]
Pearl Jam – Ten
It’s not a ‘90s rock rundown without a heaping dose of Seattle on the list. Most of us probably still have an old cassette copy of Ten laying around somewhere between the car seats, but now it’s available on vinyl, too. You know, in case your record collection is lacking a bit of that flannel rock that only “Even Flow,” Black,” or “Jeremy” can provide.
Wallflowers – Bringing Down the Horse
It’s been a long road since this one hit shelves in 1996. In the years since Jakob Dylan released his seminal album with The Wallflowers, he went on to carve out a decent solo career and eventually revived the Wallflowers name once again. But, nothing has matched the hit-making power of Bringing Down the Horse. It spawned three Grammy nominations and songs you’re probably still humming under your breath, like “One Headlight,” “6th Avenue Heartache,” and “Three Marlenas.”
Buy Bringing Down the Horse: [Amazon] [SRCVinyl]
Green Day – Dookie
Before Green Day was putting together epic political rock operas, the band was just a little ball of California punk fury. That raucous attitude came to a perfect head with Dookie, the band’s major label debut, and one of the best little punk albums of the ‘90s loaded with head-bangers like “Longview” and “Basket Case.” Green Day would go on to make plenty of fantastic records after this one, but this is the snapshot where the band went from punk up-starts to living legends.
Buy Dookie: [Amazon] [SRCVinyl]
Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
The band would eventually sputter and fall apart a bit later, but there were few alt-rock bands bigger than the ‘Pumpkins for a good run of the ‘90s. In Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Billy Corgan’s boundless, rambling ambition actually paid off with lightning in a bottle. The sprawling double album was loaded with fantastic tracks that would dominate the airwaves, including “Zero,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “1979” and more. It’s seriously hard to fathom how many monster singles were packed on this release. The vinyl release falls on the pricier side (the cost of being a massive double album in the first place), but well worth it.
Buy Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: [Amazon] [SRCVinyl]
Our Lady Peace – Clumsy
The Canadian alt-rockers didn’t leave quite the legacy as some of the bigger names on this list, but regardless, few albums were better than Clumsy from top to bottom. Raine Maida’s trademark falsetto blasts through hits like “Superman’s Dead” and “Clumsy.” Beyond the singles, though, deep cuts like “
Buy Clumsy: [Amazon] [SRCVinyl]
Nirvana – Nevermind
No ‘90s alt-rock list would be complete without the OG on the rundown. Nirvana’s Nevermind is an iconic work of grunge rock. It will never grow old, it will never lost punch, and it will always make you start banging your head when you hear the opening notes of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The album is largely responsible for ushering grunge and alt-rock into the mainstream, so it might be obvious, but it doesn’t make it any less awesome.
Buy Nevermind: [Amazon] [SRCVinyl]
Goo Goo Dolls – Dizzy Up the Girl
Some rock fans already knew the Goo Goo Dolls before Dizzy Up the Girl, but this one turned the band into a radio and ‘90s staple. it already had great songs like “Dizzy,” “Slide,” “Broadway,” and “Black Balloon” on it — but those paled in comparison to the rollover soundtrack hit “Iris,” which became about the biggest song in the world for a hot minute when the film City of Angels was released (which itself featured a memorably weird Nic Cage performance FYI). Again, you probably have this one on cassette somewhere, but it’s high time to replace it with something fresh.