Election 2008

Musical Messages in Campaign Soundtracks

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At campaign events across the country, candidate playlists are pumping over PA systems. What songs have you heard? And what do you suggest?

Songwriter, guitarist and NPR music blogger Carrie Brownstein talks about the campaign music underscoring each of the presidential hopefuls.

Her favorite pick so far? Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has boldly chosen Abba's "Take A Chance On Me" as his campaign theme.

Carrie Brownstein Reviews Campaign Songs

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The presidential candidates are using music to inspire their supporters. Musician Carrie Brownstein breaks down the good, the bad and the cheesy.


Back now with DAY TO DAY. And a look at the presidential campaign from a musical perspective. Carrie Brownstein is a guitarist for the band Sleater-Kinney. She's also a blogger for NPR's music Web site. Carrie has been watching the campaign and listening to the candidates' theme songs.

(Soundbite of music)

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: When Barack Obama took the stage in Des Moines to deliver his impassioned Iowa caucus victory speech, U2's song "City of Blinding Lights" preceded him.

(Soundbite of song, "City of Blinding Lights")

U2 (Band): (Singing) Oh, you look so beautiful tonight...

BROWNSTEIN: And considering that most media outlets declared him unstoppable after that early win, it's not entirely his fault that he got a little ahead of himself and chose Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" in New Hampshire. Whoops.

(Soundbite of song, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours")

Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Singer): (Singing) Like a fool I went and stayed too long...

BROWNSTEIN: While Obama tends to change up his songs, Hillary Clinton often sticks with her campaign theme, Celine Dion's soaring "You and I," a tune that sounded a little broken in Iowa, but in the victorious context of the New Hampshire primary, was like all Celine Dion songs - soulless yet uplifting.

(Soundbite of song, "You and I")

Ms. CELINE DION (Singer): (Singing) Because you and I were meant to fly.

BROWNSTEIN: When I raised the issue of candidates' theme songs on my NPR blog, readers wrote in with their own suggestions. Many felt that current campaign songs weren't congruent with the rest of the candidate's message. One reader thought Giuliani's theme should be Wilco's "I'm a Wheel," a song which ends with the refrain...

(Soundbite of song, "I'm a Wheel")

WILCO (Singer): (Singing) I will turn on you.

BROWNSTEIN: A few people suggested that a single song could sum up all of the candidates - from The Eagles's "You Can't Hide Your Lying Eyes," to "Not Great Men" by Gang of Four, to LCD Soundsystem's "North American Scum."

(Soundbite of song, "North American Scum")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM (Band): (Singing) Some proud American Christians might disagree here in North America...

BROWNSTEIN: In other words, anthems do matter. In a time in where highbrow and lowbrow, public and private are conflated to the point of being indistinguishable, even politics are viewed through a pop lens. A candidate's choice of music might not be crucial, but it is telling. The less the candidate's music taste nears our own, the better.

I'd rather that Hillary Clinton stick with BTO's "Takin' Care of Business" than use a song by the band Spoon. And the more the candidate's belief diverts from our own, the less we want them to share our cultural tastes, like if "The Greatest" by Cat Power accompanied Mitt Romney.

(Soundbite of song, "The Greatest")

Ms. CAT POWER (Singer): (Singing) Once I wanted to be the greatest...

BROWNSTEIN: We'd like to think that our favorite bands, who ostensibly share our political outlook, have ideologically similar fans. Which is why musicians are better uniters than politicians. So maybe if each presidential candidate took the stage and played a song they wrote - and I'm not talking about Mike Huckabee jamming on the base - but if they played a song that gave us a glimpse into who they are and that cut through all the rhetoric, now that would really signify change. And that might actually sway my vote.

(Soundbite of song, "We Will Rock You")

QUEEN (Band): (Singing) Singing we will, we will rock you. We will, we will...

BROWNSTEIN: For DAY TO DAY, this is Carrie Brownstein in Portland, Oregon.

(Soundbite of song, "We Will Rock You")

QUEEN: Buddy, you're a young man, hard man, shouting in the street...

BRAND: Carrie Brownstein's blog is called Monitor Mix, and you can find it at nprmusic.org.

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