By Lauren Lopez
Musician is not a title most would associate with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. But in 1987, Sanders collaborated with thirty Vermont artists to record his first album, We Shall Overcome, which includes five folk songs. The album was produced under BurlingTown Recordings at the request of a Burlington-based author/photographer/musician Todd Lockwood. Oddly enough, Lockwood never met Sanders before, but left him a voicemail pitch of his idea.
Sanders does not actually sing on the album, but speaks over folk instrumentals and harmonies sung by the other artists. The music is mainly acoustic guitar and at times sounds like children’s songs, especially in “This Land is Your Land.” Even though Sanders is speaking about pretty heavy issues throughout the album, the musical tone barely changes, staying soft and light. His “lyrics” combine his powerful words with his distinct Brooklyn accent as he yells about his political views. The juxtaposition between Sanders’ accent, which is most clear when he says words like “human” or “war,” and the childlike melodies of the folk songs create an unexpected, and even laughable, combination.
Musically, the album consists of covers of pre-existing songs featuring Sanders. In “The Banks of Marble,” he expresses his disgust over the gap between the rich and poor in America. This Pete Seeger original is interspersed with speeches Sanders has made about the poverty in the United States. In “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” a song originally by Peter Paul and Mary, he speaks about the horrors of war and the sacrifice soldiers make for others when they go off to war, saying, “War, the human disease that has plagued mankind forever.”
This is a combination that a lot of listeners probably think is too weird to be taken seriously. There have been articles about this album that have described it as “endearingly bad” or just plain “bad.” However, seeing as these songs were since taken from the original cassette tapes, remastered, and sold on the Internet, Sanders must have done something right.
The video below features an interview with Sanders, in which a reporter from ABC inquires about the album.