Do music and politics mix? Of course they do
On Monday, after Bernie Sanders shocked the world and pulled off a virtual tie with Hilary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses, he took to the stage and, before a rabid crowd of Berners, gave a very Bernie-like speech (he was in the zone, the Bernie zone, hand gestures flying).
And when it was over, they fired up some music. But not just any music. A very carefully selected song full of meaning, a song to suggest a certain sense of momentum for Bernie, a song written by another guy who came out of nowhere to excite the masses. That song was “Starman” by David Bowie. Check it out below. It was perfectly timed to come in at the chorus.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
It was a genius choice. Not only is it a great song, but so many people are still mourning Bowie’s death. Bernie, the nicest guy in the race, the outsider (at least in the Democratic party) combined with a great song by a guy whose death brought his music to a new generation of listeners, young listeners, many of whom make up Bernie’s base.
Politicians have often employed music to aid their cause. Music is visceral. Take something with emotional power behind it and use it as a backdrop to a powerful orator, and it’s not difficult to see why they do it.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?
“DON’T STOP,” CLINTON CAMPAIGN, 1992
Who could forget this moment? In 1992, Bill Clinton both began and ended his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention with the words, “I believe in a place called Hope.” This song followed directly after his speech was over and became America’s favorite song. Well … some of America, anyway.
“WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN,” BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, OBAMA CAMPAIGN, 2012
The more recent Springsteen albums have produced ZERO so-called hits. Radio stations no longer play his new music. But this track from the Wrecking Ball album is one of that album’s best, and the song summed up Obama’s policy goals of making affordable health care available to everyone.
“FORTUNATE SON,” CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, KERRY CAMPAIGN, 2004
This was a delightful choice for John Kerry. As a person of means, he likely could have found a way around having to suit up for the Vietnam war. But there he was, getting dirty enough to be awarded three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. This Creedence Clearwater Revival song champions the common man’s plight, the plight of having to go to war when our country demands. Say what you want about Kerry, it was pretty ballsy to enlist, and then fight in a war he could have easily avoided.
“TAKE A CHANCE ON ME,” ABBA, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN, 2008
Gutsy move by McCain, picking the cheesiest of cheesy songs to play at his rallies. Then again, it’s hard not to like ABBA.
“BORN FREE,” KID ROCK, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN, 2012
Leave it to Kid Rock to shun the conventional wisdom of his breathren. He’s always been on the conservative side, and when Mitt came calling, Kid was there to stand firmly in support of the Republican presidential nominee.
Now, it’s worth noting that there have been a candidates who try to use a song but are quickly issued cease and desist orders from the artists. Usually this occurs because the artist wants nothing to do with the political candidate. Here’s a list.
- Ronald Reagan wanted wanted to use Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” in 1984 when he was running for re-election. Springsteen, “Nah, bro.” Plus, Reagan — or, perhaps more accurately, Reagan’s people — failed to grasp that “Born in the U.S.A.” isn’t exactly a happy, pro-America anthem.
- George W. Bush was using Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” for a while before Petty said, “Nah, bro.” It was a solid choice, though. Not only did Dubya use it, Hilary Clinton used it in 2008, and did Ron Paul.
- Sarah Palin used Heart’s “Barracuda” during her campaign. It apparently was her nickname in high school. Anne and Nancy Wilson said, “Nah, bro.”
- Paul Ryan in 2012 tried to use Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio.” Rage said, “Nah bro,,” and guitarist Tom Morello had this to say: “Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.”
- The Romney campaign had been using the song “Panic Switch” by Silversun Pickups, until the Pickups said, “Nah, bro,” and issued a statement from their lawyer that said, basically, the band’s reputation would be compromised if their fans thought they were endorsing Romney.
- And of course the lovely Adele recently delivered a very on-pitch “Nah, bro,” to The Donald, who’d been blasting “Rolling in the Deep” at his rallies.