Potus playlist: Barack Obama shares his favorite summer tracks on Spotify

The US president freshens America’s musical palate with a survey of tried-and-true classics and discoverable new artists ranging from soul to rock to jazz

If playlists on streaming services are the future of music discovery, then why shouldn’t the president of the United States get in on the action? On Friday the White House’s newly refreshed Spotify account gave listeners the opportunity to get a glimpse of Barack Obama’s musical tastes with a pair of newly refreshed summer playlists – one for daytime listening, the other more evening-appropriate.

Taken together, the brightly hued daytime playlist and its more subdued evening counterpart offer what could be viewed as coalition-building. The playlists are dominated, probably rightly, by the American-bred genre known colloquially as soul – the daytime playlist opens with The Temptations’ wrenching Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, while Erykah Badu’s winding Woo closes the nighttime offering, and titans like Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, John Legend and Stevie Wonder dot the playlists as well.

Classic rock staples like the Rolling Stones (represented by the foreboding Gimme Shelter) and Bob Dylan (whose Tombstone Blues is sandwiched between Talib Kweli’s project Reflection Eternal and Bob Marley’s So Much Trouble in the World) appear, as do new-millennium rock outfits like the brainy Brooklyn outfit Okkervil River and the strum-happy Colorado outfit The Lumineers. Jazz is also represented; John Coltrane’s expansive rework of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic My Favorite Things opens the evening playlist, while Miles Davis’s meditative Flamenco Sketches is its penultimate track. And there’s even a shout-out to Frank Sinatra, whose signature tune The Best is Yet to Come could be seen as an optimistic look forward to the Obama’s post-White House life.

Those who have put together mix tapes or playlists know that any collection is going to have a couple of “gimmes” – obvious tracks that speak directly to the playlist’s themes and that might have been a bit overplayed thanks to their being added to somebody’s canon in the recent past. Obama’s playlists have a handful of these, most of them pretty excusable. Sly & The Family Stone’s Hot Fun in the Summertime, which appears on the daytime playlist, might seem a bit cruel to cubicle-dwellers, though, since that song conjures a deep yearning to flee the indoors. Van Morrison’s Moondance, despite being constantly wrung out by classic-rock radio and adult-contemporary stations alike, still evokes the possibility offered by summertime’s shorter, sultrier nights. Meanwhile, Nina Simone’s slow-burn Feelin’ Good retains its power even after being endlessly mined by pop acts and American Idol hopefuls.

And there are even a couple of opportunities for discovery inside, songs that might surprise even the deepest crate (or search function) diggers. The Philadelphia outfit Low Cut Connie’s rollicking, Chicago-saluting Boozophilia has a loose end-of-summer feeling, its rolling piano riff and yell-along chorus sounding like a party’s about to break out. The glowing, barely there Is Your Love Big Enough? by the Prince-approved British growler Lianne La Havas is a highlight of the nighttime playlist, and it flows perfectly into Al Green’s whispered, skeletal How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.

In a time when “rock and roll” is in enough flux to be in somewhat desperate need of some new canon-building – bringing in hip-hop’s insistent lyricism, soul’s emotional resonance, jazz’s constant reinvention of musical form, pop’s punch and even those newer acts who fashion themselves after Dylan and Jagger, Obama’s playlist offers a different take on American music, one that evokes the spirit of the country in a way that’s inclusive of without feeling tokenistic while also being full of ear worms from all over the postwar era. Maybe when he’s done in the Oval Office, he can start working to fix classic rock.


Maura Johnston

The GuardianTramp

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