Barack Obama let loose with Jimmy Fallon last night, gamely slow-jamming the news and making cracks about not legalizing weed to a crowd stuffed with college students. But the president’s a bit more buttoned-up in a new Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner — well, at least until the conversation turns to a certain legendary soul singer.
The 6,500-word piece tackles everything from Obama’s views on marriage equality to the Keystone pipeline to turmoil in the Middle East. But we know what you’re really interested in: More scoop on 44’s famous take on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Apparently, the singing was inspired by the president’s deep aggravation: “It was my fifth event of the day,” he explains to Wenner. “It’s about 10:30 at night, and we go up to the Apollo. I wanted to hear Al Green. The guys who were working the soundboard in the back, a couple of real good guys, they say, ‘Oh, man, you missed the Reverend, but he was terrific, he was in rare form.’ So I was frustrated by that.”
But just as searing post-breakup pain leads to awesome post-breakup jams like “Since U Been Gone,” Obama used his frustration to fuel his musical outburst: “I just kind of broke into a rendition of ‘Let’s Stay Together.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, so the president, you can sing, man. You should do that onstage.'” Though senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was against the idea, press secretary Jay Carney told Obama to go for it.
Was he nervous about taking on a classic in front of the man who made it famous? Of course not — this is No-Drama Obama we’re talking about. “I can sing,” he says. “I wasn’t worried about being able to hit those notes.”
Toward the end of the interview, Obama also talks a bit about what’s on his current pop culture agenda. He’s a big fan of Homeland (“It’s a terrific psychological study”) and The Daily Show (“I think Jon Stewart’s brilliant”), as well as The Descendants; the president praises the Best Picture nominee for capturing “that part of Hawaii that’s not just rainbows and sunsets.” He tells the magazine about meeting Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger as well; evidently, the two of them hung out for “probably about 45 minutes” the day before the rocker performed at the White House.
At that same event — a blues celebration in honor of Black History Month — Obama sang again, putting his spin on a few bars of “Sweet Home Chicago.” According to the POTUS, this was totally unplanned: “I was actually trying to avoid singing,” he claims. “The only problem with my Apollo performance is that everywhere I go now, somebody wants me to sing. My whole point is that the fewer the performances, the higher the ticket price, so you don’t want to overdo it.”
Okay, he might have a point. But that doesn’t mean we’re not hoping to see some full-blown tuneage at the Democratic National Convention in September.
Which song would you like to see Obama cover next?