Today is officially Lyndon Baines Johnson Day here in the state of Texas. The late 36th president's birthday was hallowed in his home state after he died in 1973 of a massive heart attack at the age of 64. He would have been 104 today.
Johnson ascended to the presidency from the vice-presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald. Johnson had not been Kennedy's first choice of a running mate, but he accepted the senator as a way to win over Southern Democrats.
Nonetheless, his presence in the Kennedy administration was negligible to the point that he attempt to seize the powers of the Senate Majority Leader. Kennedy instead appointed him to President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, a move that would hasten great positive change in the country later.
Once Johnson was sworn into office on a Catholic missal found in Kennedy's desk on Air Force One, though, he was the boss, and his administration has remained historically important not only because of his association with the famous killing of Kennedy, but because of the major impact he had on the country as a whole.
Some of it good, some of it bad, but no one can ever take away from Johnson the fact that he made a difference. Here's to you, sir, and I dedicate this week's playlist to you.
Tom Paxton, "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation": No list about Johnson in music can start anywhere but with Tom Paxton's famous protest song about the Vietnam War. Though hostilities began under Kennedy, it's Johnson who is most remembered during the conflict as it escalated quickly during his administration. The chant, "Hey! Hey! L.B.J. How many kids did you kill today!" echoes down the year to this day from protests staged during the war.
Paul Simon, "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Lyndon Johnson'd into Submission)": Simon originally recorded this song in 1965 for his Paul Simon Songbook before reworking it with Robert McNamara in place of Johnson for he and Art Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme a year later.
I like the first version better, as Johnson was known for his bullheaded ability to get his way by browbeating his opponents into submission. It was called the Johnson Treatment, and if that sounds like a dick joke, well...
Meat Loaf, "California Isn't Big Enough (Hey There Girl)": People talk about Kennedy's stud reputation, but Johnson commanded an honest-to-God harem in the White House. He single-handedly invented the greatest pick up line ever after, "I'm the Doctor," when he crawled into bed with girl who had attended a party earlier that evening and said, "Move over. This is your president."
He was also comfortable pissing in public, and if questioned would wave the organ he affectionately called Jumbo and challenge people to name a bigger cock. As fellow Texan Meat Loaf would say so eloquently many years later, "He could barely fit his dick in his pants."
Michael Jackson, "Black or White": As I mentioned earlier, Kennedy tried to keep Johnson busy dealing with racial issues, but Johnson took to the civil rights struggle with an amazing gusto that resulted in him signing the Civil Rights Act as president. He did more for racial equality in America than any president since Lincoln, and I thought it might be nice to dance to a little MJ to remind us all of that fact.
Unknown, "Medicare Song": Johnson was also the architect of the Great Society, signing onto law the institutions of Medicare, Medicaid, and the expansion of voting rights in the name of social progress.
Though Medicare remains a well-loved system by the nation's elderly, it has become a political football in the modern era when the retiring Baby Boomers threaten to bankrupt the system if change is not enacted. I have no idea who penned this "physician's eye view" of the Medicare system, but it's catchy as all hell.
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Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, "Brown Shoes Don't Make It": Though the lyrics don't have much to do with the 36th presidents (I think), the title comes from a famous observation by Time magazine's Hugh Sidey that Johnson was wearing brown shoes with a grey suit at an event he was covering.
Sidey, who knew that Johnson was a stickler for fashion and proper dress, suspected that something big must be going on to make Johnson make a fashion faux pas like that, and he was right. Later that day Johnson flew to meet field commanders in Viet Nam, changing out of his suit into a rancher's outfit to appear more like a soldier... including his brown shoes.