How the candidates are singing their way to success


By Claire Martin

Roosevelt used Happy Days are Here Again, Bill Clinton chose Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop and Obama had Yes We Can.

Whenever election campaigns have taken place, candidates have made use of songs to convey their political message. While they can be highly effective, catchy and memorable, deciding on the right track is crucial as it can help or hinder a campaign.

Deane Root, professor of music at the University of Pittsburgh, has stressed the importance and influence of music when it comes to political campaigns in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He said: “A political rally that doesn’t use music can sound hollow and incomplete, like a religious service without the hymns.”

Both Obama and Romney have both decided to use songs in their 2012 campaigns, but so far have had different levels of success.

Spotify success

Obama’s team have utilised the online music streaming service Spotify to build on the success of their campaigning techniques in 2008 when they used emerging social media platforms to publicise their views. With over 500 million playlists and more than 10 million active users, Spotify is one of the web’s largest streaming services.

Obama’s use of Spotify has also been beneficial for the company itself, which only arrived in America in July 2011. Spotify says Obama’s campaign playlist has contributed to a surge in users of its service.

Scott Spiegelberg, Associate Professor of Music at Depauw University said “Anyone who uses the Spotify playlist can listen to Obamas music which gives them a thrill and a type of connection to him.”

Many journalists have commented that by looking at the lyrics to some of the songs it seems Obama has carefully considered the messages he is trying to convey. For example, Tonight’s the kind of night when everything could change from Noah and the Whale to Now our lives are changing fast, hope that something pure can last from Arcade Fire.

Abusing copyright

Meanwhile, Romney has had less success in this field.

There was a stir in August when the band Silversun Pickups asked the Republican Party to stop using their song Panic Switch. The lead singer Brian Aubert has since been interviewed on CNN: “We were very close to letting this go because the irony is too good.”

“We doubt Panic Switch really sends the message he intends,” added the band.

Tension between bands and political candidates over song rights and political compatibility is not a new occurrence. Arguably the most significant clash was between President Reagan and Bruce Springsteen during Reagan’s 1984 campaign.

Ronald Regan told a crowd in New Jersey that: “America’s future rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many Americans admire – Bruce Springsteen.”

However, it surfaced that Reagan had not heard the lyrics to his songs because he used Born in the USA as a message of hope and patriarchy, when instead the song conveys the loss of American ideals.

When this news reached Springsteen, he refused Reagan permission to use it for the remainder of the campaign.

Romney also faced a challenge in February this year when he and fellow Republicam presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich had to pull Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger and K’naan’s Wavin’ Flag from their rallies. The songwriters were frustrated that their music had been used without permission.

K’naan said in an official statement that he was “dismayed” at not being asked for permission from Romney’s team, and that even if he had been approached he “wouldn’t have granted” his approval.

From this it seems the Republican Party have a tendency to choose music written by supporters of the Democratic Party. In fact, Springsteen is on Obama’s playlist this year.

It certainly seems that Obama builds strong rapports with his musical endorsers. wrote the song Yes We Can especially for his 2008 campaign and after choosing Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) for the same campaign, Wonder performed it live at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and at Obama’s 2009 neighbourhood inaugural ball.

However, this year, Romney got endorsed by Meatloaf who sang the national anthem at a rally. Just like the real election race, whatever one candidate does, the other one tries to do it better.