A Look Into The Presidential Candidates’ Campaign Songs


Photo Courtesy of Simon and Garfunkel.com.

This year’s presidential candidates have made interesting taste in music, choosing campaign songs that reflect not only their positionsand sometimes not their positions at all but also their campaign strategies. There is a long history of artists both objecting and embracing their songs being used by these politicians.

While Senator Bernie Sanders was still in the race, he picked a song that was a surprise, but in line with his campaign. He chose Simon and Garfunkel’s 1968 masterpiece “America,” which is about disillusionment and restlessness at the height of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement. The song has an anthemic chorus about finding the promise of America, but is really a vignette about a young couple’s uncertainty of the state of the world.

“‘Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said though I knew she was sleeping,” Simon sings. “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” Both Simon and especially Garfunkel gave their blessing. The lyrics work just as well now, as feelings of disillusionment and restlessness are, tragically, still wholly relevant. Sanders’ entire campaign was based on finding the promise of America.

Secretary Hillary Clinton’s choices have been more safe, which is in line with her campaign: as from the beginning, Clinton has focused on running the most stable campaign. Rachel Platten “Fight Song” is a pretty generic affair, with the tone fitting with that of a typical campaign song. It has become an integral part of her running strategy, even going so far as to have a celebrity-filled version played at the Democratic National Convention. Her other choice, Katy Perry’s “Roar,” has that same vibe, as does her 2008 choice, like “Suddenly I See,” by KT Tunstall. However, most of her other past choices had a very different tone.

Choices like Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business,” Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5,” and even Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” put a different frame around her campaign. These are all fairly obvious songs to use, but also ones that give an impression of a regular Joe, the kind of identity President George W. Bush and Governor Mitt Romney were trying to emulate [something that paid off for Bush, not so much for Romney].

These were a foil to President Barack Obama’s choices over his two campaigns. Songs like Springsteen’s “The Rising” and “We Take Care of Our Own,” Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher,” and U2’s “City of Blinding Lights,” all have an uplifting, inspiring soundsomething necessary for the message of change and rebirth at the end of the Bush-era.

Donald Trump’s approach is also much like his campaign, in that his choices make no sense. Trump has received no support from the artists of these songs. His choice of “Here Comes the Sun” was met with ridicule from George Harrison’s estate, who offered him “Beware of Darkness” instead. Artists ranging from Neil Young to Queen have also complained.

However, it is the Rolling Stones who have been the most vocal in their displeasure of Trump’s use of their songs. At first, he was known for playing “Brown Sugar” at rallies. Given the subject matter of this song, this is not only a baffling choice, but a disturbing one. There is no way to even spin the message in a positive light, not that it matters. All the controversies and inconsistencies make no difference to his campaign. The chaos just makes the supporters love him more.

The other Stones’ song he used [played at the Republican National Convention] was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Whether it was intentional or not, this song fit the event perfectly. The Republican Party did not get what they wanted, they got Donald Trump.

Most of the party has accepted him begrudgingly, mostly in an attempt to save their own political careers [a decision that will all-but-certainly misfire]. However, it speaks to the country as a whole and is essentially an insult to Trump. If he understood that, he would have by no means used it. It’s just like Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born in the USA,” which he treated as a love letter to America, despite the fact the Springsteen is screaming out lyrics about the hopelessness of Vietnam war vets living with Reaganomics. The message isn’t concealed, it’s just ignored. While a song should have no impact on your vote, the songs used at these rallies say quite a bit about the people they’re introducing.

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