While Kanye West’s proposed bid for the 2020 U.S. presidential election won’t start for another few years, there have already been plenty of overlap moments between music and the U.S. election cycle, a coupling that goes as far back as our first president.
While George Washington didn’t have any official campaign jingles, many songs were written about him, including “God Save Great Washington” based off of “God Save the King.” Originally, many political tunes paired new lyrics with pre-existing melodies, like William Henry Harrison’s famous “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”, which was set to folk tune “Little Pigs” and swept the nation during his successful 1840 campaign. It has since been covered by They Might Be Giants:
Other politicians were savvy in a different way, picking well-established songs and singers to help define their campaigns. Abraham Lincoln’s chose “Battle Cry of Freedom” (also known as “Rally Round the Flag” and used again by Garfield in a later election) for his 1864 campaign. FDR’s “Happy Days are Here Again” ended up defining the Democratic Party’s soundtrack for years. Presidential heartthrob JFK turned to Frank Sinatra's 1959 hit “High Hopes” to convince voters that he was the man for them:
In recent history, there have been some missteps in the campaign song game. In the complicated 2000 election, George W. Bush attempted to use Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down.” The singer, who was a supporter of Al Gore, threatened to sue him and subsequently played the song proudly at Gore headquarters just minutes after he’d conceded:
In recent years, President Obama has set the bar so high with selections like Ben Harper’s “Better Way” and Motown favorite Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” that many political analysts have blasted the current candidates for uninspired choices. Luckily, this armchair commentator is here to help, especially as Californians head to the polls today to Rock the Vote.
Here are some suggestions for the remaining candidates:
Since Trump enjoys reminding Americans of better days, he might take a cue from JFK and pick another one of ol’ Blue Eyes’s hits -- “My Way” -- to explain how his presidency would shake up politics:
Trump might also want to warn his voters about the sometimes violent protests that have been erupting at his recent campaign stops. My suggestion? Outside each of his convention halls, he could blast Kenny Loggins’ hit “Danger Zone.”
Musically, Sanders has made some smart choices; for example, the use of Simon and Garfunkel’s perennial hit “America” in his campaign ads was very well-received. But, at his Bay Area campaign rally yesterday, his headliner Dave Matthews Band had some scratching their heads at Sanders’ momentary lack of street cred for his constituency.
Since Sanders likes to dig back into musical archives for material, here’s an idea that people of any age would appreciate: The Underdog theme song from 1964. Here’s why it’s perfect: not only will a large voting block -- the Baby Boomers -- respond with nostalgia for this folksy show, but younger voters might remember the 2007 adaptation. And the lyrics reflect many of Sanders’ campaign ideas of wanting to help the, well, underdogs of American society: “Speed of lightning, roar of thunder, fighting all who rob or plunder.”
Of course, if the associations with a popular cartoon aren't considered presidential material, he might do well to make use of 1984 Twisted Sister hit “We’re Not Going To Take It.” I bet he and Ellen would have a fun time dancing to it, at the very least.
Hillary is determined to leave no opportunity behind, so she released a carefully-curated Spotify playlist featuring plenty of female artists like Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Sara Bareilles and Jennifer Lopez. (Unfortunately, the playlist does not feature a hit suggested by many to be Clinton’s unofficial campaign motto -- “Shake it Off.”)
While it’s helpful that songs like Clarkson’s “Stronger” reflect her message, I am left wondering if they truly reflect Clinton’s personal taste. Instead, I would suggest that she take a cue from her husband’s successful 1992 campaign. While aides thought that the Fleetwood Mac #3 hit on the 1977 Billboard charts “Don’t Stop” would seem not “cool” enough, Clinton held firm and still uses the song since it proved such a crucial part of that election.
So what would I suggest for Hillary Rodham Clinton? If she wants to emphasize the historic aspects of her campaign and her history of fighting for women’s rights, she might try using Helen Reddy’s hit “I Am Woman” from 1971 that helped shape the International Woman's Year:
Or she could also pick everywoman’s Bridget Jones’s favorite anthem, “I’m Every Woman” as sung by Chaka Khan in 1978:
She could also pick the Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School” to reflect her hope that Democrats remain loyal to their party this election.
Ultimately, only one nominee can ascend to the presidency, so what about the others? I might suggest one more tune to comfort them, the hauntingly beautiful “Once I Was Loved” from Melody Gardot, which has the power to heal any broken heart:
Got any suggestions or your own for the candidates? Leave them in the comments!