On July 16, 1992, I was covering the Democratic National Convention in New York's Madison Square Garden when Bill Clinton accepted the nomination. When he finished speaking, the usual hysteria erupted, the blue balloons dropped and Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" blared from the sound system.
And repeated. And repeated. And repeated. I think I counted nine times.
All I could think was: Crap, another great song saddled with political baggage.
Many studies have been made of the mutable meanings of music -- particularly in light of political candidates' penchant for completely missing the irony in a lyric (for the last time, "Born in the U.S.A." is not an uplifting song, guys) -- and this presidential campaign has furthered the arguments both for and against blasting a particular pop song at your whistle stop, not to mention spoiling our non-political associations with said song.
Obama also has been booking campaign stops from his official playlist, stumping with Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, on and on, even spending the last few days with Bruce Springsteen as an opening act. Each celeb tries to make at least one of their hit songs fit the occasion. Perry accented "Firework" with a dress designed like a ballot, marked for Obama. Wonder keeps singing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" the crowds of loyalists can shout, "I'm yours!" Springsteen wrote his own new campaign ditty.
The Republican candidate usually gets the short end of the celebrity stick, so Mitt Romney has recently shared stumps with Kid Rock, Meat Loaf and (yeesh) the Marshall Tucker Band. At least his cease-and-desist file is more artistically impressive, including legal letters from the Silversun Pickups, K'naan and Al Green.
But once this campaign has, thankfully, ceased and desisted, here are five songs I'd like to reclaim from the political arena:
"Signed, Sealed, Delivered" by Stevie Wonder
Obama calls Wonder his "musical hero," and Wonder's been performing this song at Obama events in 2008 and this year. A closer listen to the words ("Like a fool, I went and stayed too long") might make it a questionable choice for the occasions. On Sunday, Wonder performed the song at a poorly publicized Obama rally in Cincinnati -- fewer than 200 people saw Wonder's short set (all of whom are bragging about it now). Let's hope the next socially conscious candidate ignores Wonder's romantic gems and pulls out, say, his tale of hard-working families in Hard Time, Miss. ("Living for the City").
"Man of Constant Sorrow" by the Soggy Bottom Boys
Who puts that title at the top of their campaign playlist?! Romney, that's who. The headlines practically write themselves, don't they? I get it: The film it's from, "O Brother, Where Art Thou," has a subplot about (literally) running a racist politician out of town on a rail. But if anyone's smile is going to be associated with this lip-synched treasure, can we keep Clooney's?
"Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra
The previous song mentions staying too long; this one has a chorus about being away for too long. Plus, it's too cheery and, dag nabit, it's my first-sunny-play-hooky-day-of-spring anthem, a desperately needed item in any Chicagoan's seasonal music quiver. Knock it off.
"Let's Stay Together" by Al Green
Talk about a song that has no business in politics. When you press play on Al Green's opus, the last thing you should be thinking about is fiscal policy. But since Obama riffed on the Rev. Al's opening lines last winter at Harlem's Apollo Theater -- and since Romney used the song and its video to mock Obama's performance (see: Green's cease-and-desist, above) -- this low-light classic has been used to score too many political points instead of, you know, actually scoring.
"Tough People Do" by Trace Adkins
Country star Adkins claimed he wouldn't mind if Democrats also used this song -- a moving, rumbling lyric of people built America tough -- even though he performed it during the Republican National Convention. Of all the overly earnest country pabulum that consciously attempts to attach itself to campaigns, this one deserves bipartisan consideration.
"Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac
Clinton's still taking the podium to this song. Like, just days ago. Seriously, stop.