Just as Thanksgiving was a reminder of Irish rock band the Cranberries, today's national holiday is a celebration of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and quirky Seattle alternative rock trio the Presidents Of The United States Of America. For your Presidents Day, enjoy this list of the six best POTUSA songs. Feel free to leave your favorite songs or your disappointment for the exclusion of "Lump" in the comments.
6. "Feather Pluckin'" Openers are great, but the second track sets the tone for an album as a whole. The Presidents opened its self titled debut, wisely, with "Kitty." Placing "Feather Pluckin'" next on the tracklist may have been wiser, as the song plays like a thesis statement for the band, an absurd tale of guitarist monkeys and frogs rocking out "really really hard." It has lyrics about animals and references to rock music and dad humor, lest we forget what "that's totally feather pluckin' insane" implies. That's, like, eighty percent of the Presidents' discography in one track. On a deeper level, the song might be a play on the inability for humans to comprehend communication between animals, perhaps even poking fun at the ignorance of our kind by dumbfoundedly noting "Nobody taught them how." Or maybe it was just a song about secret animal jam sessions. Either way, it's a precursor to Punk Farm.
5. "Jazz Guy" Some people who are reading this might be unaware that the Presidents Of The United States Of America is still a functioning rock band who has released three records in this millennium. If you did know that, you're probably a member of Ludo. "Jazz Guy" is the highlight of 2000's barely noticed Freaked Out And Small. Artistic maturation is tough when your shtick is goofiness, but the Presidents nailed "Jazz Guy" by poking at an entire genre of musician: "I wanna learn all the chords / Solo 'till everyone in the room is bored" The song is sarcastic and cheeky, but it mocks the guy, not the jazz; singer Dave Dederer's first words are "I wanna be a jazz guy and play the greatest American music," and even the most serious jazz aficionado can't argue with the rampant indulgence referred to in the song. To further the joke, the album's next track "Meanwhile Back In The City" starts with a walking bass line and swing beat. Maybe he does want to be a jazz guy after all.
4. "Stranger" POTUSA (as the band is lovingly abbreviated) hails from Seattle. The Stranger is one of the city's alt-weeklies. "Stranger" has a double meaning: it's a song about people being infatuated with people they've seen in passing, but all the lyrics to the verses are culled from the Missed Connections section in the personal ads of the paper that shares the song's name. These personal accounts make for songwriting gold. "You, Lynyrd Skynyrd hat / Me, little kitty." "You seem pretty cool for a naked chick in a booth." "Stranger" furthers the mathematical principal of truth > fiction. Somehow, the song would not be the same if it came out today and was called "Craigslist." 3. "Man (Opposable Thumbs)" Okay, so the Goodburger soundtrack is not bad. It gives us "We're All Dudes" by Less Than Jake (featuring Kel Mitchell) and has some big names with questionable agents (Warren G, LL Cool J, the Pharcyde). Most importantly, it contains "Man (Opposable Thumbs)" by the Presidents, one of the band's least predictable tracks. From fuzzed out spy movie to fuzzed out surf rock song to a fuzzed out punky chorus of "Opposable thumbs / I've got one!" As in "Feather Pluckin'," the goofiness might hide a quasi-political message. This time, references to evolution hint at the dissonance between evolution and the modern conception of masculinity. Then, by the end of the second verse you realize all this caveman talk was an enormous setup so the band could get away with saying the word "boner."
2. "Volcano" The Presidents Of The United States Of America II is absolutely solid; "Mach 5" would probably be number seven if this list went that high. It doesn't. "Volcano" is a rare instance where the band's playfulness extends beyond its lyrics. The arrangement is full of fake-outs and subconscious key changes, even a time signature change toward the end, all joining hands to build a disorienting party song. "It's gonna blow / Volcano!" The actual mountain (which, as Chris Ballew expertly notes, "becomes a fountain") is likened to a speaker about to blow, possibly due to rocking too hard, but the song has no definitive explosion. "Volcano" is a party anthem for New York Times Crossword enthusiasts, "Love Shack" without the sex.
1. "Peaches" "Peaches" is exactly twice as good as it should be. Its first half is a stellar oddball alt-rock song romanticizing fruits and country life, with a mildly sinister minor key interruption. Then the quicker second half, "Millions of peaches" and so on, the part where the ninjas attack the band in the music video, is the icing on the peach cake. This was my favorite song in sixth grade, and I only realized about a month ago the brilliance of the lines "Peaches come from a can / They were put there by a man / In a factory downtown." I recall people being up in arms about how stupid the song is, or what secret drug/sex meaning the song was hiding. There's no good answer to the "Why?" of "Peaches" other than "Why not?" The Presidents Of The United States Of America came around at a time when rock music needed to lighten up. Under its wacky exterior, the band is about the simple pleasures: kitties, peaches, thumbs, and songs that have no exacting reason to exist but do anyway. This Presidents' Day, enjoy these things in life. It's what our founding fathers would have wanted.
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