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 two weeks ago, 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.”
By Michael Smerconish, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Michael Smerconish writes a weekly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. ― Ed.