The Top 5 Governance Songs

by Jeremy Loudenback

This week, thousands of music fans, critics, and assorted cool hunters will assemble in the parched desert expanses of Indio, California, for the annual Coachella Arts and Music Festival. Featuring acts like Flying Lotus, Lil B, and Tame Impala, Coachella’s lineup is considered a cheat sheet to some of the country’s most buzz-worthy bands and tastemakers. But as you pack up extra water and sunscreen, don’t forget the governance, as we’re fond of telling you here at the Bedrosian Center. So to get ready to rock this weekend, here’s a governance mixtape.

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Schoolhouse Rock – “I’m Just a Bill

For those who grew up in the heyday of the much-loved Schoolhouse Rock show, civic lessons often came in the form of Saturday-morning cartoons that paired catchy songs and lessons with animation. To celebrate the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, Schoolhouse Rock created a series of songs and skits that made the nation’s capitol and the process of creating laws look downright whimsical. The endearing antics of the titular bill may have turned a generation of tender television watchers onto the virtues of good government. (And it’s also inspired several hilarious tributes.)

Sunnyland Slim – “Be Careful How You Vote

The importance of thoughtful voting has a champion in Chicago bluesman Sunnyland Slim. As we’ve mentioned before, finding ways to include citizens and their political preferences in the democratic process is an important part of good governance. But don’t take our word for it—curl your ears around a song from the legendary Mississippi-born pianist.

The Honey Drippers – “Impeach The President

Following the rule of law has rarely sounded this funky. Composed in the last days of the Richard Nixon presidency, the Washington, D.C.-based Honey Drippers cut a seven-inch single that urged listeners to pursue a constitutional solution to the nation’s law-flouting leader, as well as providing one of the most-sampled drum breaks in hip-hop history. While the song no doubt provided the soundtrack to many D.C. house parties back in the day, it’s doubtful that it ended up on one of Tricky Dick’s mixes, despite his famed penchant for taping.

Public Enemy – “911 Is a Joke

What, you thought we would leave you with “Fight the Power”? Instead, we offer another chestnut from our friend in governance, Flavor Flav. A hallmark of good governance in the public sector is ensuring services are working, on time, and equitably offered to all residents. A failure to provide key government services can have deadly consequences, as Public Enemy reminds us here (“If your life is on the line, then you’re dead today”), not to mention eroding public trust in city institutions and elected officials.

Fela Kuti – “Authority Stealing

The struggle for good governance stretches around the world, a lesson that afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti was keen to share. A legendary musical innovator as well as a strident political activist, Kuti’s music still makes dancefloors sizzle, and his searing indictments of government corruption and mismanagement are spot-on today, nearly two decades after he died. In his prolific recording career, Kuti often sang about the abuses of the repressive Nigerian government, and 1980’s “Authority Stealing” sees the bandleader paying special attention to the thieving ways of corrupt government officials. While Kuti and his hypnotic band have no shortage of socially conscious head-nodders (check out “Original Sufferhead,” “Coffin for Head of State,” and “I.T.T.,” among others), it’s his call-outs to misappropriation, maladministration, nepotism, and embezzlement by name here that make this number the perfect song to start your own governance-inspired dance party.

Bonus Beats

As soon as your ears stop ringing after a weekend at Coachella, you might want to check in with the musical-theater wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda and his current off-Broadway smash hit, Hamilton. Based on the life of the chief aide to General George Washington, founder of the American financial system, and original policy wonk Alexander Hamilton, the musical uses a hip-hop beat to tell the story of one of the country’s most fascinating and tragic political personalities. According to Miranda, Hamilton “caught beef “with every other founding father, and his humble origins as an orphaned immigrant embody the aspirations of the American Dream. Check out a song from Hamilton performed at the White House a couple of years ago.