Richard Nixon by Dr Dafydd Townley #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

After a short hiatus we are back with #HistoricalDesertIland Discs to see you out of lockdown (hopefully) and on into the summer. Today Dr Dafydd Townley presents the eclectic musical choices of Richard Nixon… 


Richard Milhous Nixon (1913 – 1994) was the 37th President of the United States between 1969 and 1974. Famed for being the only president to have resigned from office as a result of his involvement in the Watergate crisis, Nixon was also on the winning ticket for four presidential elections, (1952, 1956, 1968 and 1972) and narrowly losing a fifth in 1960. Here, we look at the former Congressman, Senator, Vice President and President, and his suspected choice of Desert Island Discs.

California Soul by Marlena Shaw

The President was always a California man. Born in 1913 and raised in Yorba Linda, in a house that his father built, he moved to Whittier, California after his family’s ranch failed. Brought up a Quaker and living in a modest household, Nixon’s early years shaped the rest of his life. He called his mother a saint, and while recognising that he lived in near poverty, he later claimed that his childhood was a happy one. After excelling at school, especially at debating, he attended Whittier College, graduating in 1934. He finally left California to study at Duke University School of Law. He would go on to represent the State both in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate between 1947 and 1953 before being elected as Vice President. After he resigned from the presidency in 1974, Nixon returned to California and lived in coastal San Clemente with his wife Pat.

You’re So Vain by Carly Simon

After serving in Navy during the Second World War, Nixon entered the world of politics. He had a meteoric rise within the Republican Party, briefly serving as Representative and Senator before becoming President Dwight D Eisenhower’s Vice President. Nixon had ambitions of his own for the highest office and ran for the presidency in 1960 where he narrowly lost out to John F. Kennedy. Key to his loss were the televised debates. The first debate was crucial. Nixon refused the offer of makeup, and the combination of a recent illness and the brightness of the studio lights, caused him to sweat profusely. While many listening to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had edged it, those on television thought that the suntanned Kennedy looked at ease and more presidential. The experience never left Nixon, and he ensured that he prepared fully for further televised appearances using make-up and having handkerchiefs to mop his brow and upper lip off camera. He would never take part in a presidential debate again.

Winner Takes It All by Abba 

After losing the 1960 election, Nixon’s star began to wane. He was envious of the Kennedy campaign and the wealth it had been able to draw upon in the campaign. He ran for Governor of California in 1962 but lost to Pat Brown. Nixon appeared to be in the political wilderness.

Some conservatives, such as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, encouraged him to not give up hope. Nixon, after founding a law firm, decided to run for the presidency for a second time in 1968. The fragmented nature of his opponents, the Democratic Party, and Nixon’s promise to bring a quick end to American involvement in the Vietnam War, gave Nixon victory.

Hands Across the Ocean by The Mission 

During the Eisenhower administration, Nixon had established himself as an expert in foreign relations. Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, created a new era in US foreign policy. Labelled as détente, the policy allowed Nixon and Kissinger to engage and negotiate with communist China and the Soviet Union, allowing greater trade between them, and providing the foundation for several arms limitation treaties. This had only been possible because Nixon had established himself as a staunch anti-communist during his congressional and vice presidential years. His reputation allowed him to avoid criticism from conservatives and he became the first president to visit both communist China and the Soviet Union in 1972. Détente was a success, and led to many observers to claim the Cold War was over. However, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, saw an end to détente and a resumption of geopolitical rivalry.

Crazy by Seal

Nixon had promised to end US involvement in the war in Vietnam through a process known as Vietnamisation. To help bring the communist North Vietnam to the negotiating table, the Nixon administration adopted the Madman theory. Nixon wanted his opponents to believe that he was irrational and volatile and prepared to use nuclear weapons in the war in the South East Asia. The theory was partly based in fact – Nixon struggled with insomnia during his time in the White House, and the combination of prescribed sleeping pills, anti-depressants and his favourite tipple of Blue Johnnie Walker whisky, made him often incoherent and unhinged in the later hours of the day.

Know Your Enemy by Rage Against The Machine 

Despite his efforts to end the war in Vietnam, the years of the Nixon administration were marred by protests from anti-war groups. Nixon felt that such groups were unpatriotic and failed to understand their motivations. In May of 1970, students at universities around the country had gone on strike in opposition to Nixon’s extension of the conflict into Cambodia. At 4am on May 9, as protestors conducted an overnight vigil on the National Mall, a sleepless Nixon travelled to the Lincoln Memorial with his valet and a handful of Secret Service agents. He spoke with dumbstruck students at the memorial, telling them that he understood just how they felt. But the truth of the matter was that he didn’t. While he later claimed that he was trying to educate the students on his government’s policies, it also gave him an opportunity to learn why so many Americans opposed the Vietnam war.

Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley 

On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley visited the White House. While the thirty five year old singer was arguably in his prime and not quite in the overweight stage of his life, his visit was not musically motivated. Presley had written to Nixon to over his services in the administration’s efforts against youth drug use. Presley believed that communist forces had used the drug trade to brainwash the youth of United States and that it was his duty be a part of the effort to end such subjugation. Nixon believed that those who were protesting against US efforts abroad were drug takers. To him, narcotics, violence and anti-American activity were all connected. Sometime later, as a way of thanks for his offer, Presley received a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the forerunner of the Drug Enforcement Agency).

I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker 

Nixon’s presidency is tainted by the Watergate Crisis. The scandal, surrounding the administration’s attempts to illegally gain information on Nixon’s political opponents through bugging and wiretapping, became more than just the infamous break-in at the Watergate complex in Washington DC. Although there is no proof that Nixon was involved in the burglary, it is clear from the White House Tapes, that Nixon was at the centre of a cover-up and, when that was discovered, the cover-up of the cover-up. Nixon used his executive powers in a failed attempt to hide damning evidence of the conspiracy. After two years of fighting the press, courts and Congress, Nixon finally resigned in August 1974. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him a month later. Nixon refused to admit that he did anything wrong, although when interviewed by David Frost in 1977, he apologised to the nation.


Nixon would be at home with the Bible and the Collected Works of Shakespeare. His choice of an additional book – the collected series of his own autobiographies – would be driven by the pride and vanity of a man who saw the world with himself in the centre. An American football fan all of his life, his luxury item would have to be a TV that worked on a Sunday and on a Monday evening so he could have watched the games each week.



Find out more about Dafydd and his work with The Monroe Group and at the Rothermere American Institute

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