Saturday, August 30, 2008

Truly Bad Song Choices

Political parties are notorious for choosing absolutely abysmally in terms of songs to represent their campaigns. "Born in the U.S.A." (Reagan)? How about "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (McGovern)? "Fortunate Son" (Kerry)? "Crazy" (Perot)?! Sometimes the candidates should really look into what the song is saying in general, like in those cases above. And sometimes, the candidate should really look into what the musician's political affiliations are; Ronald Reagan using Bruce Springsteen falls into that. John McCain utilizing John Mellencamp's "Our Country" and his "Pink Houses" falls into that camp (though "Pink Houses" also falls under an incredibly bad choice as well, in terms of song content). George W. Bush using Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down" wasn't a wise move either.

But I kind of think this year's Democratic National Convention put those old song to shame in terms of absolute jaw-droppingly bad choices (well, maybe "Crazy" still holds that record...). Yes, Bill Clinton was introduced with his signature song. But then there was "Chain of Fools" playing at one point. "Chain of Fools", people! Is that the message Democrats want to be sending, that they -and those who vote for them- are a chain of fools? Because I would think that a savvy politician, and certainly a roomful of them, would recognize the badness in that statement. Democrats definitely shouldn't be telling that their constituents that they're just "a link in [their] chain".

The DNC also played "Pink Houses", which I was also kind of confused about. I understand that part of the Democratic push is how badly the economy is doing and how bad a job the current administration has done in terms of the ordinary Americans, but really now. This was a supremely bad choice, what with the lyrics:
"They told me, when I was younger
Boy, you're gonna be president
But just like everything else, those old crazy dreams
Just kinda came and went"
I'm going to put my foot down and say that this is not the message we should be sending out. We should not be saying, at a convention for the presidential nominee, that those crazy dreams of electing him are going to come and go. No, Democrats! Bad!

Michelle Obama getting "Isn't She Lovely" at the end of her speech wasn't really the best either. One, it is a song about an infant. Two, it refers to the she in the song title as "precious". And three, although her speech was about her husband and her job as a mother more than her own accomplishments (and was thus a good first lady speech), "Isn't She Lovely" kind of gives the impression that Michelle Obama -aside from the infant issue- is lovely in one specific way -and that is in appearance. She is very pretty, but she has more to bring to the table than just that. And apparently, though I missed it, the DNC also played XTC's "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead", which is "a song about a JFK-like pol who gets killed". And since the campaign has made a big deal about how much Barack Obama looks up to the Kennedys and how much like JFK he is as a politician who is able to enthuse the youth, that may have been the worst pick in the history of campaign song picks. Had I heard it, that would probably be my top pick. 

My favorite that I heard, though, was probably David Bowie's cover of The Beatles' "Across the Universe". Don't get me wrong. I love The Beatles. I love David Bowie. I love "Across the Universe", the original version, the version on "Let It Be... ...Naked", the one used in the musical "Across the Universe", and Bowie's version. But it is really not a great song to play, and here's why. One of the refrains is "nothing's gonna change my world". Since Obama's slogan is "Change We Can Believe In"... ...I think you know where I'm going with this. Word to the wise: if you campaign on change and the idea that your candidate can facilitate that change, don't pick a song that directly contradicts that message.

I'm looking forward to the RNC. I'm sure they'll have some fabulously horrendous song choices as well.


jjfs85 said...

Well let's look at things this way (I'll play the devil's advocate here); maybe choosing songs for a political campaign is nearly impossible. So you've stated and made good arguments that the songs chosen didn't fit into the message that was trying to be conveyed. Well what if you were in charge of selecting songs for the DNC. What would you choose?

petpluto said...

I don't really think it is impossible. I think Bill Clinton's song ("Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)") was a great pick. "Happy Days Are Here Again" for FDR was an inspired pick as well. JFK's "High Hopes" is less inspired and more silly, but less absolutely horrifying. Hell, "Take A Chance On Me" for McCain kind of falls into that less-inspired-than-silly-but-still-workable area.

As for what songs I would pick if I were selecting songs for the DNC....

John Mellencamp: Small Town, Our Country, ROCK in the USA, or -if they wanted to get into the economic downturn aspect like Pink Houses, Scarecrow.

Instead of "Chain of Fools", I would have gone for Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming", Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come", Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", and if they truly needed an Aretha Franklin song (since CoF probably wasn't supposed to have that much of an ironic political message), I don't think you could go wrong with, "Respect" or even "(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman". If not Aretha, then I like The Supremes' "I Want A Guy", with lyrics like:
I want a guy to love me
One who will love me completely
Not like the last
Who's in the past
Who broke my heart and made me cry

Now THAT also sends a political message, but a good one.

I would remove that XTC song completely (and whoever picked that one should be removed from the music scene entirely, and I may have substituted The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" for "Across the Universe".

What do you think?

jjfs85 said...

I'm convinced. If I ever run for a political office, you'll be my campaign manager/ music chooser. I never should've doubted...