Candidates meet their match in song

July 11, 2011


Why is there always such poor advance work when it comes to presidential candidates and theme songs?

Every four years, it seems, someone uses a song without getting the necessary clearance. You’d think politicians would learn from their predecessors’ mistakes.

Three decades ago, Bruce Springsteen didn’t want Ronald Reagan using “Born in the U.S.A.” And last week, Tom Petty told Michele Bachmann to stop using “American Girl.” She should have known better, given that in 2000, Petty objected to George W. Bush’s use of “I Won’t Back Down.” (After which Bush began relying on John Mellencamp and Sting, only to have both of them ask him to back off.)

Thankfully for FDR, no one complained when he used “Happy Days Are Here Again.” And while beloved Phillies announcer Harry Kalas never ran for president, he wasn’t the only one to have a fondness for “High Hopes.” Frank Sinatra belted it out in a political context, to the benefit of JFK.

In 1992, Bill Clinton relied on Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” Four years later, Bob Dole had a pretty lame retort — a tailor-made version of “Soul Man” reworked as “Dole Man,” and he, too, was asked to stop using it because writers Isaac Hayes and David Porter never gave permission. In 2008, John McCain used ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me” while his running mate, Sarah Palin, relied on Heart’s “Barracuda” but, here again, was asked not to by the Wilson sisters.

I don’t know what explains all the poor planning when it comes to campaigns and music. But I have a solution. To alleviate any confusion in the 2012 cycle, I think it’s best for a neutral party — me — to assign songs to the candidates (with a hat tip to my Twitter followers for their suggestions).

Barack Obama: The night he was elected, he walked on stage to Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” but now it’s about re-election. Easy. Having inherited two wars and a poor economy, he has an obvious choice: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. Or “Any Colour You Like,” from the epic Pink Floyd album “The Dark Side of the Moon.”

Mitt Romney: The GOP front-runner has a tough choice. Given his various positions on abortion and gay rights, he can go with either Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” or David Bowie’s “Changes.”

Sarah Palin: C’mon, let’s face it. The race will get interesting when she dukes it out with Michele Bachmann. So put the needle down on Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever.”

Rick Santorum: Playing for the conservative base and touting his Catholic, pro-life bona fides, he has an obvious number: the Doobie Brothers’ cover of “Jesus Is Just Alright.”

Herman Cain: The former president and chief executive officer of the legendary pizza chain has a built-in psych piece: The “Godfather” theme.

Newt Gingrich: A tougher choice. Seals and Crofts’ “Diamond Girl” or maybe Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

Tim Pawlenty: For the most ill-defined in the field, “Who Are You,” by The Who.

Ron Paul: It’s not hard to picture Paul — tagged “Dr. No” by his congressional colleagues for his unwillingness to stray from his literal interpretation of the Constitution — as the “renegade” who cut his hair and favors suits in Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be Square.”

Jon Huntsman: Given that polls suggest that more than 20 percent of the country remains unwilling to vote for a Mormon, Huntsman should stick with “Losing My Religion,” by R.E.M.

Michele Bachmann: Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” Not ringing any bells? Well, after Bachmann’s mix-up of Concord, N.H./Concord, Mass., and the John Wayne vs. John Wayne Gacy case of mistaken identity, the opening lyrics seem appropriate: “Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology.”

Donald Trump: He ended his bid, but I was ready — Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty.”

Michael Smerconish writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers can contact him at www.smerconish.com.


BornAgainAmerican 6 years, 4 months ago

Poor planning? Not so much. According to this article, it seems to me that the traditionally far left entertainment industry does not want Republicans using their stuff.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

And why should musicians want politicians that they disagree with to capitalize on their popularity?

madameX 6 years, 4 months ago

... And the whole point of the article is "You'd think they would have figured out by now that many musicians don't want some candidates using their songs." So yeah, poor planning. That's what it's called when you don't look ahead.

deec 6 years, 4 months ago

Typical of the right-steal other people's stuff, then be all petulant about it when they object.

deec 6 years, 4 months ago

Please find any post I have made in support of Obama. And this article is about GOP candidates stealing the intellectual property of artists, not the president, so it is not germane to the topic. Typical right wing response, though. Ignore the topic and make a lame personal attack on the poster and the president.

uncleandyt 6 years, 4 months ago

Let's boycott Entertainment !!, ...or have it outlawed if its janitor closets are not big enough.

kernal 6 years, 4 months ago

Jeesh, I thought the main point of this piece was to make us laugh. Zounds, people!

uncleandyt 6 years, 4 months ago

Smerconish? neutral? Yes, neutral enough to fill in for O'Reilly on his old radio show that helped sell us on wars. But, anyway, the wars are running along smartly. There are more songs in the world to grab and strut under. Kill The Poor by The Dead Kennedys ?? Dumb All Over by Frank Zappa? Math Sucks by Jimmy Buffett ? D.O.A. by Bloodrock?? For The Love Of Money?? Money? Money (That's What I Want)? I Don't Wanna Be A Pinhead No More? The Ramones have a bunch of songs that would work well. There is a great song at the end of the movie Orgasmo, "Now I'm A Man, a manny, man, man... Parker and Stone now have a vast library from which the hopefuls might "borrow". Our national politics is now theatre. A great show needs a great soundtrack.

somedude20 6 years, 4 months ago

Didn't Larry Craig use "One Night in Bangkok? Bush should have used Rollin's Band's "Liar" Tony Weiner should have used Def Leppard's "Photograph" I can think of John Boehner's song, Beck's big hit from Mellow Gold...crazy with the cheese wiz Bachmann should use Garbage's 1996 hit "Stupid Girl" Palin, might I recommend Motley Crue's "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)"

jayhawxrok 6 years, 4 months ago

Idiotic right wing politicians believe they are above the law, copyright means absolutely nothing to them.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.