The Presidential Playlist

Thursday, October 1, 2015

You might think that the presidential campaign is based on issues, but as any good student of pop culture will tell you, it's all in the music.

If you want to win hearts, you have to win ears.

Donald Trump recently used R.E.M.'s hit, "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" as his theme song at an appearance.

Aside from being a pretty nutty choice to characterize a campaign, he didn't have the band's permission, which led to a cease and desist demand and a statement from the bass player terming candidates, "sad, attention grabbing, power-hungry little men."

This isn't even the first musical faux pas for Citizen Trump, who set his announcement to run for president to the Neil Young classic "Rockin' in the Free World," to the surprise of Young, who is: 1. A pal of Bernie Sanders, 2. a Canadian citizen and 3. to put it mildly, P.O.'ed.

Maybe Trump would have better luck borrowing a song from one of his Celebrity Apprentice reality show guest stars - Gene Simmons, Bret Michaels, Lil Jon, or Trace Adkins. (Let's see, KISS put out "Strutter" in 1974, that might be appropriate. Michaels' 2010 solo, "Lie to Me" has politics written all over it. Lil Jon rapped out "Bend Ova" in 2014, which could be a theme for the whole government in general at the moment. And Adkins twanged out, "You're Gonna Miss This," perfect for after nomination time.)

Trump's not alone in musical setbacks this cycle, of course. Scott Walker was the subject of a tweet from a popular Irish band recently: "@GovWalker please stop using our music in any way...we literally hate you!!! - Love, Dropkick Murphys.

It's sort of a Republican tradition. Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson unloaded on Sara Palin for using their song, "Barracuda," saying her "views and values in no way represent us as American women."

George H.W. Bush got in trouble for using Bobby McFerrin's ode to denial, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," without worrying about copyright law. But even Trump looks like a misdemeanor tuna fish shoplifter next to musical cat burglar John McCain. Jackson Browne, Foo Fighters, Boston, Heart, John Mellencamp and some composer nobody's ever heard of all demanded that McTunes to stop playing their music during the same campaign in 2008.

In recent years, candidates have stolen anything the Walmart CD bargain bin could offer - Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down (Wesley Clark), John Mellencamp's "Small Town" (John Edwards), John Lennon's "Imagine" (Dennis Kucinich), John Fogerty's "Centerfield" (Joe Biden), Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" (the senior George Bush again).

In a rather bizarre paiing, Mitt Romney insisted on being introduced to Kid Rock redneck metal. Kid Mitt, he is not. Ross Perot was at least honest, when he chose as a theme, "Crazy" By Patsy Cline. Tom Vislack used to take the stage to "Let the Day Begin" by The Call. What? Who? Exactly.

John Kerry, one of the richest candidates in history and under Swift Boat Veterans for Truth scrutiny over a dubious military record, strangely chose Creedence's "Fortunate Son" - a song complaining about rich guys who could dodge combat duty. Rick Perry makes a strange choice too with Colt Ford's "Answer to No One" which includes the line: "Tax my check 'til I ain't got none."

What do we have this election season?

Bobby Jindahl is going with "Eye of the Tiger," from one of the 68 Rocky movies, though his campaign of late has looked more like a declawed housecat. He didn't only steal the song from Survivor, he ripped off Newt Gingerich, who stole it years before him.

Ted Cruz - "Where the Stars and Stripes and Eagle Fly," which seems like one too many ands. Rand Paul - "Shuttin' Detroit Down." Not to mention his own campaign. Ben Carson - the guy hired a gospel choir to sing an Eminem song, which is like hiring Michelangelo to paint a comic book cover. Mike Huckabee - "Where I Come From" (and will soon be going back to.) Lindsay Graham, James Brown's "I Feel Good" - the hardest working man in the not going to be elected president business. Jeb Bush - Pitbull's "Rain Over Me" - which Trump has been doing to his campaign. Chris Christie - Bon Jovi's "We Weren't Born to Follow." Especially if you are moving very fast. Martin O'Malley - U2's "One" - which may the number of people who eventually vote for him. Bernie Sanders scores a musical coup with "God Bless America." Old school for an old fella, but nobody's going to make fun of Irving Berlin. Not on my watch.

Hillary Clinton deserves the award for the worst campaign song in the history of music, a DIYditty that could be useful as interrogation torture at Guantanamo, "Stand With Hillary." It was apparently commissioned by her Super Pac, and sung by some unshaven cowboy/construction male model who is dearly hoping right now that no one ever discovers his name.

"Looking back in time, learning hindsight's always right. We came together in '08, a defining moment we all can celebrate. And now it's 20-16 and this time I'm a thinking, Guys, put your boots on and let's smash this ceiling. Oh I been thinkin' about one great lady... Oh, there is something about her...this great lady."

For a month, I literally thought it was a parody.

You know, like "There's No One As Irish as Barack O'Bama," released in the midst of the 2008 campaign by Hardy Drew & The Nancy Boys.

Campaign theme songs date to the early 1800s, and some credited Abraham Lincoln's victory to a catchy Irish drinking melody his supporters set to new lyrics, "Lincoln and Liberty." Listen to enough political speeches, and you'll wish you were drinking too. Fast foreword a century, and FDR scored big with "Happy Days are Here Again," which, I think, was sung by Arthur Fonzerelli.

A Beatles classic was even written as a campaign jingle - "Come Together." Trippy Timothy Leary was planning to run for governor of California in 1969, and asked John Lennon to write his campaign song. His slogan was "Come Together, Join the Party." When Leary turned the song down, Lennon said he added some "gibberish" and used it on Abbey Road.

Ronald Reagan adopted Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," until The Boss, who was not a fan, objected. But Reagan then so benefitted from co-opting Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," that literally every candidate since has tried to steal the existing good will of some familiar pop song or another. Springsteen didn't object a couple of administrations later when Barack Obama used his music, "We Take Care of Our Own." With the amount of time the guy's spent on the golf course, it should be the theme from "Caddyshack."

Bill Clinton's song was "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mack. And no, I don't know if he hummed it to Monica.

My studied advice to candidates - you want something with a good melody, something everyone knows, something with a simple message ideally fitting for this election campaign.

That's right. "Send in the Clowns."