Sunday, April 22, 2018
Politics

Presidential campaign music: a brief history

Bernie Sanders' campaign released a new ad in the waning days before the Iowa caucuses using Simon & Garfunkel's anthem America as its soundtrack. The ad has no narration, just video of regular folks working on farms, talking around the dinner table and interacting with the presidential candidate as the song plays and its signature lyrics "They've all come to look for America" appear.

Candidates have gone to the musical well for decades to connect with voters. Some pairings have become part of our political lore. Some have led to cease and desist orders.

Here, a sampling of the musical history of presidential campaigns.

Tippecanoe and ... something, something, something

Stretch your memory back to middle school social studies, and the term Tippecanoe and Tyler Too is probably rattling around in there.

That was the name of a campaign song from 1840, promoting Whig party candidates William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. The song, with its 12, yes 12, verses, was a sensation in its day and gained new life when They Might Be Giants recorded an alternative rock version for the 2004 compilation album, Future Soundtrack for America.

Politics goes rock 'n roll

When baby boomers heard Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow), they swooned. Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign was the first to feature rock music at its center. Doing so set him apart as a youthful, energetic and iconoclastic alternative to the grandfatherly President George Bush, who came of age listening to the Andrews Sisters, though he went with Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land.

That catchy 'plan of action' tune

Before the 1990s, campaigns didn't always use popular songs to spread their messages. They wrote their own and set them to familiar melodies. They were as hokey as you might expect.

Jimmy Carter's 1976 campaign song was called Why Not the Best?

A lyrical snippet:

His name was Jimmy Carter, and he was running for president.

Laid out a plan of action, and it made a lot of sense.

Ronald Reagan, four years later, used a jingle about his roots in the Golden State.

California, here we come, back where Reagan started from.

Our Ronnie, he can do it, he's got the knack.

He's strong and he's steady. Good times will be coming back.

Don't cross the Boss

In a 1984 campaign speech, Reagan praised Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA (apparently without reading the lyrics), saying "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about."

Springsteen, whose politics lean liberal, was having none of it. And he had to fight this battle again, with Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan in later campaigns.

Cease and desist, circa 2015

The artist-politician tangle this campaign cycle (so far) pitted Republican frontrunner Donald Trump against rocker Neil Young.

The Donald used Young's rousing classic Rockin' in the Free World at his campaign announcement in July, to which Young responded with a statement declaring his support for ... Bernie Sanders.

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