Election week special: Presidential satire albums (1962 – 1982)


Radio history trivia: for a number of years, it was against the law for anyone to impersonate the voice of the President of the United States on the radio. This was a response to the “scare” of The War Of the Worlds (1938). I say “scare” in quotation marks because media research has shown us that the reports of widespread panic were overblown.  Newspapers fed the flames of concern to draw credibility away from radio and back to newspapers, where it had always/never been, depending on your point of view.  Regardless of the panic/no panic belief, the ban on comics sounding like FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower stayed in place.

The ban was lifted by 1960, and record sales benefited from it.  Vaughn Meader’s uncanny JFK sound-alike drove an album called The First Family. The album was, at the time, the fastest-selling LP in the history of Cadence Records, moving about six and a half million units in the first seven weeks following its release in the fall of 1962. Meader once explained that the LP was recorded on 10/22/62 – the same night that the real-life Kennedy gave his address on the Cuban Missile Crisis.  While some of the material is understandably dated, some routines on the album can bring a chuckle. A second volume of the LP was released, but Meader’s career suffered – understandably – upon Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.  (Reportedly comedian Lenny Bruce, who appeared in performance the night of the assassination, opened up that night by stating “Boy, Vaughn Meader is f—ed, huh?” to an uneasy reaction.)

The producers of the LP, Bob Booker and Earle Doud, were not going to miss out on a good thing.  They went to work on Welcome to the LBJ Ranch. Without the skills of an impressionist, Booker and Doud relied on actual press audio re-assembled to advance their jokes.  A sample can be found here.

By the time the Nixons moved into the White House, a new comedian had risen on the scene.  David Frye was to Nixon as Meader was to Kennedy.  His 1969 LP I Am The President was one of the first I got my hands on as a kid and learned the routines, despite not really understanding why they were funny until years later. Take, for example, a track from the LP in which Frye’s Nixon experiments with marijuana in order to gain an understanding of the drug problem. (A similar track features Gabe Kaplan on Richard Nixon: A Fantasy from 1973.)

After Watergate, we weren’t feeling so funny.  That was fixed by Rich Little’s 1982 LP The First Family Rides Again, in which Little played Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Johnny Carson, and a host of other voices. The album can be tracked down in various forms, but I recommend enjoying it this way: as a rap, done over a track that sounds a lot like the Tom Tom Club’s Genius of Love.

Whichever way you lean, whichever way you laugh – please remember to vote on Tuesday, November 8th.


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