.Sixty Punk Songs About How Much Reagan Sucks

boheme magazine e-edition

Al Quint, publisher of Suburban Voice ‘zine and host of Sonic Overload Radio, posts this downloadable “Tribute” to Ronald Reagan. Originally aired in 2004 the week of Reagan’s death, the show undertakes the mammoth task of compiling definitive punk songs about how much Reagan sucks. There must have been two thousand. Quint picks 60 of them.
The show runs the gamut, from DRI’s hyperfast “Reaganomics” to the Violent Femmes’ “Old Mother Reagan,” and we even get Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” near the end. It’s amazing to revisit all the methods used in the ’80s to talk shit about the president, like the sudden tacking on of the line “President Reagan can shove it” after a song about trying to get laid (“Superficial Love,” TSOL) or the ridiculous adding of the prefix “Mc-” to select words in the Dayglo Abortions’ “Ronald McRaygun.” Most bands, like NOFX (“Reagan Sucks”), go the simple route.
Sixty punk songs about how much Reagan sucks. Now please, help me out: Why weren’t punk bands this vociferous about W., who from the onset was far worse in the eyes of the punk community? Were they scared? Numb? Trying to sign to Victory? It’s always confused me. There was Fat Wreck Chords’ Rock Against Bush series, but the tracklisting—especially on Vol. 2—reveals bands repurposing older, non-Bush related songs. “Chesterfield King” never was political song, just like “Fucked Up Ronnie,” by D.O.A., isn’t much of a love song.


  1. I can think of a number of reasons off-hand, most of them more subtle, societal shifts that manifested themselves concretely rather than any concerted decision by individuals.
    I think the biggest difference between the Reagan and ‘W’ eras (as pertains to punk music) comes from the changes in communicative medium occuring in the years between the two administrations. Generally speaking, during the Reagan years there was considerably less social ‘noise’, or rather there was plenty of noise but it hadn’t yet reached the level of diversification/specialization that we saw by the early 2000s. There was no internet, not much else other than network TV, less in the way of talk radio, etc. That being the case, those looking to identify themselves by way of communication not available through said limited channels found themselves looking to ‘underground’ sources, and punk/hardcore became one such source.
    By the time the W. administration came around, there was a cable television for every personal preference and ideological interest, untold websites catering to the same, 24/7 radio punditry, etc. At any given second of any given day, an individual could now plug into hive communication validating and reproducing their own social identity, and with this sophistication, I think four guys jumping around and screaming lost some of its urgency (at least insofar as ‘subversive’ political communication is concerned). One can, with the flick of the switch or click of a mouse, view righteously indignant members of the ‘left’ foaming at the mouth on one channel, and hate-intoxicated members of the ‘right’ having an apoplectic fit on the other, all in the comfort of one’s living room and on the same plasma or LCD screen.
    With this said, it seems (to me) like music also had to mutate/diversify as a communicative medium, and the relatively simplistic formula of the 80s hardcore protest band had to give way to other templates. The very face of ‘punk’ and what it means changed considerably from the 80s to the 90’s to the 2000s as well. I remember as a kid in the late 80s, early 90s, a band like MDC was, in my mind, the pinnacle of punk rock ‘success’. They were HUGE! Who knew a few short years later, Green Day would become the new U2. I guess Green Day isn’t the best example of the changing face of punk as a social medium, but take a band like Rancid, who posture in a vaguely similar way to their 80s, anti-Reagan predecessors. What, in the 1980’s, consisted of guys with ‘liberty spikes’ screaming half-baked political platitudes to a room full of ten sweaty dudes, by the 2000s had become basically its generation’s version of Motley Crue, but with lamer outfits and worse music.
    Times change, society evolves, and music and other communicative mediums redefine themselves in order to distinguish themselves from their environment. Similarly, one could wonder why this generation of alternative musicians has been so quick (generally speaking) to embrace the Obama administration, where in the past there seemed to have been more of a distrust/disconnect between ‘counterculture’ and ‘establishment’ politics. Interesting stuff.

  2. Also, on a really simplistic level, propaganda art generally sucks. ‘Chesterfield King’ might not be about Bush or Reagan, but I’d rather listen to that song than any 80’s hardcore song about Reagan. At a certain point I think people need to live their real, human lives involving the people who are directly in front of them rather than get lost in the maze of immovable political monoliths.

  3. Punk was young and vital in the 80s… 20 years later it’s a middle aged less-than-vital stinky old dog with no new tricks.

  4. Amazing explanation, Scott. What I’m wondering is how could the subtle shift in the way people expressed themselves socially sap what surely would have been justifiable anger from a type of music that’s supposed to be angry? We shouldn’t have just laid down and signed on to whatever Al Franken was saying, or, as you say, “At any given second of any given day, an individual could now plug into hive communication validating and reproducing their own social identity.” In that scenario, an individual retains the surface of but loses the essence of his true individuality. In other words: Even if a hive of bees are all saying the same thing, they make more noise than the Queen bee saying it and every other bee in quiet agreement.

  5. Quitty – you could be right, but thinking about the new “youth movements” in music that came along in the ’00s, none of them seemed particularly interested with hating the president. Electroclash? Grime? Garage Rock Revival? Indie Chamber Pop? Freak Folk? Turntablism? Punk is a stinky old dog, but at least a stinky old dog that criticizes a horrible administration is still being critical. (P.S. I miss you.)

  6. Not to jump on a dead horse, but I think it’s more than relevant to look at the different ways these two men and their administrations embodied and practiced their brand of evil. There’s not much to saying that Reagan was a worse president than W, but his policies (which of course I have no actual memory of having lived through) seem to have effected people on a much more personal level than Bush’s. As different as Bush was from Clinton, the contrast between the two pails in comparison to that between Jimmy and Ronald. Furthermore, the things that Reagan started doing had real consequences in the day to day lives of most Americans. Whether you’re looking at urban disinvestment, implementing tuition in the UC system, or (for Christ’s sake) Reaganomics, Reagan did a lot of things that a lot of people seem to have felt in manifestly real ways. Bush, on the other hand, was just another practitioner of the neoliberal economic doctrine that stretched back for much longer than my generation. I clearly never much liked Bush, but for all the problems he created in my community, it was always hard to clearly trace them back to one man. I suppose what I’m getting at is that, in many ways, people are a little bit self centered and only want to fight back when they’ve been hit first.

  7. I personally believe part of it to be far more sinister. Look at the number of “punk” bands around these that have either Christian or Republican members or leanings. And these are the bands that get popular. Not to mention the fans. Huge amounts of them are “moshing for Jesus.” I think the songs are out there, they just are played by bands shoved out of the way (and down) by the punk that is more marketable. Of course the only slightly political song I ever played was an attack on Berkeley, “Something Political (The Blah Song).” So who knows.

  8. Aylan makes an important point…the increase in media diversification and specialization that occurred from the 80’s to the 00’s brought with it a change in the way we perceive political figures.
    People still ultimately (and, I think, naively) tend to think of politicians in a ‘personal’ way (e.g. actually believe a politician is functioning as an individual, making individual decisions etc), but I think this was even more so the case during the Reagan administration.
    In my memory, Reagan was like a king. He was a personal ruler over the land, and all decisions made by him were, really, truly, made by this one individual, so all of their attendant consequences were his responsibility (this was the perception). While people still tried to do this to a degree during the W. years, it was kind of a half-hearted attempt. You have to REALLY suspend disbelief in the 21st century in order to believe that geo-political machinery is the work of individuals. Further, the machine made an ingenious choice in its selection of W., as, while Reagan was virile, patriarchal, a man’s man, the great communicator, etc. (I’m not saying I believe this, I’m saying this was the spin), W. was a simpering half-wit living in his father’s shadow, so he, as a symbol, seemed to engender more of just an irritated disdain than the rage Reagan was capable of producing (or the love for that matter).
    You can see this pattern of change from politicians as individuals to politics as a machine as (and if) societies evolve over their lifetime from a more hierarchical model (top down management) to a functional one (a web of specialized component parts). Remember when Sadaam Hussein challenged Bush and Cheney to a duel? Part of that was probably just blustery propaganda, but part of it was a function of his coming from a hierarchical society confronting a functional one. In Sadaam Hussein’s Iraq if you were to ‘kill the king’ all hell would break loose (and we’ve seen that it did). In a functional society, if you chop off one head, another one will grow back.
    Gabe – unfortunately, I think a lot of the 80’s-style ‘anger’ helped pave the way for what we saw during the Bush administration. As anger was funneled into various specialized media outlets, impersonal politics become overly personalized to the point that you had people overlooking practical decision making for extremist flights of fancy. Clinton and Obama are anything but ‘perfect’ (and really, a ‘perfect’ or even ‘good’ political system is, I think, sort of like a square circle), but I tend to think of the difference between ‘right’ and ‘left’ like the difference between 1984 and Brave New World. Yeah, Brave New World sucks, but at least it’s killing you slowly with mindless entertainment and not torturing you in an interrogation chamber. While poverty, war, disease, ethnic hatred, etc. would still exist were Gore or Kerry to have been president instead of Bush, I find it hard to believe that the world would not be in a slightly more comfortable spot than it is now were either figure to have been in office.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

North Bay Bohemian E-edition North Bay Bohemian E-edition