Rating the Campaign Music - 2008

by Carl Wiser

Found this one in the archives - it's from January 28, 2008. The Republican race was a battle between John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul, with Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani still hanging around. The Democrats in contention were Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with John Edwards a distant third.

From inspiring to bewildering, the 2008 presidential candidates are trying a variety of songs on the campaign trail. We rate them on their selections (links take you to the Songfacts).
#1) Barack Obama

Main Songs:

"Move On Up" - Curtis Mayfield
"City Of Blinding Lights" - U2

Others Used:

"Think" - Aretha Franklin
"(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher" - Jackie Wilson
"Lovely Day" - Bill Withers
"Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" - Stevie Wonder

Mayfield's classic "Move On Up" is as uplifting as they come, and the kids will relate to it through Kanye West's rewrite, "Touch The Sky." U2 is always reliable, and Aretha's "Think," while it is directed at a romantic interest, gives crowds a chance to yell "Freedom!" Obama took some heat for "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," as it implied the arrogant air of inevitability he criticized Clinton for, but it's a Soul classic, as are his other selections. Interesting that he's the only candidate using much black music.


#2) Mike Huckabee

Main Song:
Whatever the band is playing

Others Used:
"Free Bird" - Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Unwritten" - Natasha Bedingfield
"Sweet Home Alabama" - Lynyrd Skynyrd
"R.O.C.K In The USA" - John Mellencamp

Huckabee plays bass in a band called Capitol Offense, and he seems to understand music better than any other candidate. At most of his events, Huckabee has local musicians perform and leaves the songs to them, often joining them on bass for a little Skynyrd. Good move, as it localizes the music and provides some nice photo-ops.


#3) Ron Paul

Main Songs:
"Hope for America" - Steve Dore

Others Used:
Various other custom recordings with names like "Ron Paul For The Long Haul"

Paul is kicking it old school by letting his supporters create songs for him. Back in the 1800s, candidates often commissioned custom songs for their campaigns, but in modern times, familiarity is usually the way to go. Ron Paul is certainly original, and it's great to see him going counter-culture when it comes to his music.

Someday, a well-funded candidate will pay Diane Warren to write a custom song that will get lots of airplay on Adult Contemporary radio and lead that candidate to victory. Paul doesn't have that luxury, so he'll settle for his fans turning "New York, New York" into "Ron Paul, Ron Paul."


#4) Hillary Clinton

Main Song:
"You And I" - Celine Dion

Others Used:
"Suddenly I See" - KT Tunstall
"American Girl" - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" - The Police
"Takin' Care Of Business" - Bachman-Turner Overdrive
"Blue Sky" - Big Head Todd and the Monsters
"9 to 5" - Dolly Parton

Clinton's campaign had a "contest" where her supporters were asked to select her campaign song. It was more like her staff taking suggestions, as the winning choice was Celine Dion's "You And I," a song we refuse to believe anyone actually voted for. The song was created specifically for use in an Air Canada advertising campaign, which makes it both manufactured and Canadian.

Celine's song didn't go over so well on the road, so Clinton's people dumped it. The other choices are better, although "Suddenly I See" has played out on numerous TV shows, and "American Girl" might be a little too complex, especially when Petty sings, "If she had to die... trying." BTO's "Taking Care Of Business" has the opposite meaning of the title, as it's really a slacker anthem, but this being politics, most people won't go below the surface.

Clinton is relying a little too heavily on imports: Dion and BTO are Canadian, Tunstall is Scottish and The Police are from England.


#5) John McCain

Main Songs:
"Johnny B. Goode" - Chuck Berry
"Take A Chance On Me" - ABBA

Others Used:
"All At Once" by The Fray
"I Won't Back Down" - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
"I Will Hold My Ground" - Darryl Worley
"Let's Get It Started" - Black Eyed Peas
"Theme From Rocky" - Bill Conti

ABBA? Really? It's a catchy song, and we understand that the only significance is the title, but even that sounds like a bad pickup line. There's just something about a Swedish pop group that is not presidential.

"Johnny B. Goode" makes a little more sense, but not much. It was based on Chuck Berry's life, and tells of a boy who "never ever learned to read or write so well." The Rocky theme is probably his best bet, as the only lyrics are "Gonna Fly Now," and McCain was endorsed by Sylvester Stallone.

These candidates are out of the race, possibly as a result of their music selections.


Mitt Romney

Main Song:
"A Little Less Conversation" - Elvis Presley

Others Used:
"Simple Man" - Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Heart Of Gold" - Neil Young
"More Than A Feeling" - Boston
"Sweet Caroline" - Neil Diamond
"Don't Stop Believin'" - Journey
"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" - BTO
"Such Great Heights" - Postal Service
"Right Now" - Van Halen

Romney is using the remix of "A Little Less Conversation," which provides the Elvis swagger with a contemporary production. A Romney staffer filled us in on the selection: "The song underscores Governor Romney's promise to bring change to a broken Washington. He believes there needs to be more action to address our nation's challenges, with less talk and partisan bickering."

The other songs are simply good tunes, stuff you want on your party playlist. Romney is certainly not a "Simple Man," and it's unlikely that Neil Young would approve of a Republican using his work, but combined with Neil Diamond, Van Halen and The Postal Service, you've got a great little mix.


John Edwards

Main Songs:
"Pride (In The Name Of Love)" - U2
"Our Country" - John Mellencamp

Others Used:
"I'll Take You There" - The Staples Singers
"Times Like These" - Foo Fighters
"Land Of Hope And Dreams" - Bruce Springsteen
"A Change Would Do You Good" - Sheryl Crow
"Shining Star" - Earth, Wind & Fire

U2 wrote "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., but it does have that rise-up-and-conquer feel. Mellencamp is a good fit for Edwards, but "Our Country" was appropriated by Chevy, and now we can't stop thinking of Silverados when we hear it. That's the main problem here: we don't think of John Edwards when we hear these songs, as they've been milked for a variety of commercial purposes.


Rudy Giuliani

Main Songs:
"Rudie Can't Fail" - The Clash
Music from the movie Rudy

Others Used:
"Eye Of The Tiger" - Survivor
"Stand Back" - Stevie Nicks
"Fly Like An Eagle" - Seal
"Life Is A Highway" - Rascal Flatts
"Best Of Both Worlds" - Van Halen

At least he didn't use one of the many songs inspired by 9/11, but he does have some pretty aggressive selections in his set list. In 2000, Giuliani criticized Hillary Clinton for playing "Captain Jack" - with its lyrics about drugs and masturbation - when she announced her run for senate. Someone might want to tell him that in the Clash song, "Rudie" is a "Rude Boy," which is a Jamaican term for a juvenile delinquent that shows up in a lot of punk and reggae music.
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