With the first primary debates complete, the Presidential campaign season is officially underway. This means a lot of things: Incessant political commercials, arguments about people you had never heard of six months ago and will forget ever existed in a year, and of course a constant chorus of people on Twitter responding to any criticism of a Democratic candidate with a stern scolding that having an opinion different than theirs will lead to Trump winning a second term.
Soon, though, it will become borderline relevant to RIFF: They’ll start picking campaign songs.
An American tradition since 1800, but really only ubiquitous since 1988, campaign songs can rally and inspire supporters… but they usually don’t. In an effort to not scare off potential voters, most campaigns pick songs that nobody dislikes, but nobody really likes either. It’s pretty bad.
It’s also boring so we’re not gonna focus on those. We’re gonna focus on the songs that don’t make any sense.
Creedence Clearwater Revival — “Fortunate Son” (John Kerry, 2004)
John Kerry, to put it mildly, is rich. Stupid rich. He’s married to Teresa Heinz, like the ketchup, and because of all that condiment cash they’re worth an estimated $1 billion.
“Fortunate Son,” meanwhile, is a John Fogerty protest song about how the rich don’t care about you. You’re just a thing to them, a piece in an elaborate board game. To billionaires (like, say, John Kerry) you are ants.
What was he thinking? Well, he fought in Vietnam while his opponent, George W. Bush, used his family’s connections to buy his way into the Texas Air National Guard and avoid combat. There’s a verse about the rich sending the poor out to war, so it was a subtle dig. But it was a subtle dig against him now, so maybe he should’ve listened to the entire song before playing it all the time.
Woody Guthrie — “This Land Is Your Land” (George H. W. Bush, 1988)
In a similar vein as “Fortunate Son,” it’s a little off-putting when a very rich man uses a protest song about income inequality to get elected President.
“This Land Is Your Land” was the original “Born in the USA,” a song with a subversive political message that everyone ignores because of the refrain. Guthrie, famous for the “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS” sticker on his guitar, likely would not have approved of George Bush, Sr.
But here we are. A scathing response to “God Bless America” was too subtle, and the exact sort of person Guthrie despised used it in its place to become President. Good job, voters of the late ’80s.
ABBA — “Take a Chance On Me” (John McCain, 2008)
Look, there’s nothing wrong with ABBA or the song in a general sense. As a campaign song, though? Well… there are two major problems.
First, ABBA is not American. It’s a minor point but generally candidates try to feature a quintessentially American band, since the entire exercise requires a crushing amount of patriotism. And there’s no shortage of Americans to choose from.
More importantly? It sounds really desperate. The grown-up versions of the Children of the Corn begging you to take a chance on him does not inspire a great deal of confidence. Which, as it turns out, was warranted, because not only did he lose but he foisted Sarah Palin on us as punishment for not letting him be President.
The Clash — “Rudie Can’t Fail” (Rudy Giuliani, 2008)
I swear I’m not making this up.
Perennial failure Rudy Giuliani, recently known for being an unpaid attorney for Donald Trump who’s still overpaid somehow, picked “Rudie Can’t Fail” as the campaign song for his doomed campaign. It’s really pretty amazing. That’s the level of blind, unearned confidence it takes to keep plowing through rock bottom to find new, deeper lows.
It may have been the song, though, at least in part. It was also the namesake for Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe in uptown Oakland by the Fox Theater. That diner tragically closed, though it did last longer than Giuliani’s campaign. But still… maybe don’t upset the ghost of Joe Strummer.
Also, here’s this BONUS SONG:
Rolling Stones — “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (Donald Trump, 2016)
It’s like the man was rubbing it in before he even won, isn’t it?
The song played at the end of several campaign events before I realized it really was on purpose. There’s no way a presidential candidate is seriously using a song with a title that implies settling, and a chorus saying you’ll get what you need even if you don’t want it, and expecting that not to horrify people.
But it was real. It did happen. And in a way it was prescient since we didn’t get what we want; Trump got about 2 million fewer votes.
So let’s try to do a little better this time, OK?
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.