Behind The Music: Bernie Sanders No, this isn't a parody: The presidential candidate has a folk album. The producer of the 1987 recording gives NPR a glimpse inside the studio — and explains the then-mayor's "talking-blues approach."
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Behind The Music: Bernie Sanders

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Behind The Music: Bernie Sanders

Behind The Music: Bernie Sanders

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So yes, here at NPR we follow politics and we follow music. So if I were to say presidential music, what would come to mind? The odds are it probably isn't this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND")

BERNIE SANDERS: (Singing) This land was made for you and me.

MARTIN: Sound familiar? If you have not heard it yet, that's a little taste of a folk album recorded by Vermont Senator and now presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the late 1980s. It's been making the rounds of late-night television as the butt of a joke or two recently. But the whole thing got us wondering, how did that even happen? So we called up the album's producer, Todd Lockwood in Burlington, Vt.

TODD LOCKWOOD: I came up with the idea for Bernie Sanders' "We Shall Overcome" album.

MARTIN: In those days, Lockwood was always on the lookout for hot new projects to row his music label. One day, he had a bold idea.

LOCKWOOD: We had this intriguing mayor, Bernie Sanders, so I thought well, here's an opportunity to see the man behind the curtain. And I came up with this wacky idea of bringing him into the studio and having him record his favorite songs.

MARTIN: So he sent the then-mayor a letter. And before he knew it, they were face-to-face.

LOCKWOOD: The very first thing he said when I sat down in his office was I have to admit to you right up front that this appeals to my ego. (Laughter).

MARTIN: So he was on board, and you probably wouldn't guess what inspired their vision.

LOCKWOOD: It was only a couple of years before this that the Michael Jackson "We Are The World" recording had been done.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE THE WORLD")

U.S.A. FOR AFRICA: (Singing) We are the world. We are the children...

LOCKWOOD: And so we saw this as kind of a Vermont version of that. Where Michael had our room full of superstars, we were going to have a room full of Vermonters.

MARTIN: Lockwood enlisted 30 singers and musicians to help flesh out Bernie Sanders hand-picked track list. But when he finally got Bernie behind the mic, he noticed he had a little bit of a problem.

LOCKWOOD: I realized pretty early on that Bernie is not a singer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND")

SANDERS: (Singing) As I went walking that ribbon of highway, I saw above me that endless skyway.

LOCKWOOD: So we ended up with what you now here, you know, more along the lines of a talking blues kind of approach.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND")

SANDERS: (Singing) This land was made for you and me.

LOCKWOOD: And I think it really suits Bernie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BANKS OF MARBLE")

SANDERS: (Singing) The rich get richer, traveling about in their chauffeured limousines and jet-setting their way around the world to their exotic vacation places.

MARTIN: These days, it seems that Sen. Sanders himself is not so sure, as he told NBC's Lester Holt earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: If people are thinking of voting for me for my musical capabilities, not the right reason. I have other attributes - carrying a tune is not one of them.

MARTIN: Producer Todd Lockwood is more optimistic.

LOCKWOOD: I fully expect that if he becomes president that we will see a gold or platinum record hanging on the wall here (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH FREEDOM")

SANDERS: (Singing) The human spirit, may it never be extinguished...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: Oh, freedom, oh, freedom...

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