Let The Music Do The Talking: Last Call For Campaign Music
As caucus season rocks to end end, so does the roar of campaign rally music in halls across Iowa. One of my stock-in-trades of liveblogging Campaign `07 was the obsessive focus on stage music. Voters are often asked which candidate they'd like a beer with, or who they'd trust to babysit the kids. But which candidate would you trust to load your iPod?
A candidate-programmed music player would certainly include Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and U2's "Beautiful Day," because almost everyone played those at one time or another. Once you get past those cliches, though, there's definite distinctions.
Ron Paul wins the no-prize for his way-too-into-it custom recorded music, in rock, rap and country genres, with lyrics encompassing his name and platform. (Typical lyric: “We need Doctor Paul to make a presidential house call.”) The rewrite of “New York, New York” made me briefly think of Rudy Giuliani before it reached the chorus of “Ron Paul, Ron Paul,” and the re-written lyrics to the Beatles' “Revolution” made this old-school Lennonist cringe.
Hillary Clinton comes in next to last, mainly for the much-promoted song contest that wound up with an unfortunate Celine Dion victory. The Dion song "You And I," written for a Canadian airline ad, was occasionally heard, but was mostly abandoned for the song that was probably supposed to win the contest, KT Tunstall's "Devil Wears Prada" anthem "Suddenly I See." Team Hillary also played Clinton 42 era "Right Here Right Now" by Jesus Jones, with its non-subtle making history chorus.
Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich lose some points for using cover versions. Richardson walked on stage in June to a remake of "Not Fade Away," originated by Clovis, New Mexico's own Buddy Holly. Kucinich used a generic cover of John Lennon's "Power To The People."
While Democrats parse rally music lyrics for political message, Rudy Giuliani blasted the Iowa Memorial Union in October with a mix of apolitical classic rock for the aging frat boy in all of us: AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Guns N' Roses, with no discernable message other than kick ass. (Kind of like his campaign.)
Joe Biden and Mitt Romney weren't so big on music the times I saw them, though once in a while at cattle-call events Biden took the stage to John Fogerty's "Centerfield," the "put me in coach" song.
Sam Brownback of Kansas brought the band Kansas to the Ames Straw Poll, while Duncan Hunter -- campaign slogan: "No, I'm not a cake mix" -- brought an Elvis impersonator and kept a straight face while maintaining the fiction that it was actually the real Elvis. Just before Ames, at the candidate-saturated State Fair, Alice Cooper got into the act, closing the set with his 1972 classic "(I Wanna Be) Elected" and announcing his candidacy.
Mike Huckabee rocked the house himself at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, playing bass with his own band Capitol Offense. While I never saw a large Huckabee event, we had a pleasant conversation back in his asterisk era. "The Stones, of those that are still around… the Beatles of course," he said of his favorite bands. "I like a lot of 60s rock because it's authentic music that the artist produced, not like a lot of things now that are so manufactured. You can tell in the first few licks if a song is by someone like Led Zeppelin or Creedence."
Barack Obama hit the repeat button a few too many times -- sometimes the same five songs cycled three or four times while the crowd waited -- but he had a nice mix based around Motown and `60s soul: Jackie Wilson's "Higher And Higher," Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," Aretha Franklin and James Brown.
Finally, John Cougar Edwards was the most on message. A "Rise Up" cadence in a late version of his stump speech ended with Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" on the loudspeakers. The John Mellencamp alliance loses points for the "Our Country" truck ad tie-in, but gains points for the actual endorsement of the artist as Mellencamp joins Edwards for a night-before-caucus Des Moines rally. Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne also played for Edwards, while Paul Simon -- the "and Garfunkel" guy, not the 1988 candidate -- played for Chris Dodd. But Edwards takes the prize for the most creative and obscure choice of all: "Salt of the Earth" by the Rolling Stones, heard at a December Iowa City rally.