Political Playlist: Presidential Campaign Songs from ’92 to Now

Photo: (Getty Images)

Sometimes when politicians, or their staffers, decide what to rock as their official election anthem, it strikes the wrong note. Especially when the artist who’s actually singing the song is from the other side of the political spectrum.

Exhibit A: Michele Bachmann — the anti-LGBT Minnesota rep — pissed off both Mrs. Perry and Mr. Petty when she tried to use Katy’s “Fireworks” (heeeelllloooo heavy-handed tolerance theme!) and then Tom’s “American Girl” at her campaign stops. Seriously, Mich?! #SMH

And earlier this month, presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that he was going to be kissing babies and shaking hands to Kid Rock’s “Born Free” — which is just kind of hilarious when you recall that this is the same hard-livin’, tatted-up Detroit dude who sang “Bawitdaba.” Although he’s certainly evolved into a flag-waving pop patriot over the years — and he openly supported Dubya — so we’re not surprised that Kid’s totally cool with all this.

N-E-waaaay, all of this political playlist action got us thinking about what songs actually have made it onto the speakers at those small-town rallies and national conventions — and which ended up on top of the White House charts. So we decided to pull together a quick review of the last decade of election diddies — it’s a Campaign Song Deathmatch, so let’s get ready to rumble!


Photo: Fleetwood Mac (Getty Images)

George H.W. Bush “This Land is Your Land” by Woodie Guthrie
Okaaaay, Old Man Bush’s choice may seem appropriate on the surface, but had free-wheelin’ Woodie — a political folk singer associated with the Communist Party who inspired future blue-collar crooners like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen –been alive when the straight-laced Texan started using his patriotic protest song, we think Dubya Sr. might have received a cease and desist.


Ross Perot “Crazy” by Patsy Cline
Oil tycoon Perot ran as a third-party contender on the Independent ticket — and given that his chances of getting elected in our country were the same as Katy Perry’s hair staying the same color, Ross’s decision to use Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” was ballsy, but ultimately totally on point.

Bill Clinton “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac
Bubba was flagging in the polls when the sunglasses-clad White House hopeful showed up on “The Arsenio Hall Show” to slay some Elvis on his sax. That’s how you get a political party started, y’all. He even convinced Fleetwood Mac — a super group from the 70’s and 80’s who had a notoriously bad breakup — to reunite and rock his Inaugural Ball.

#FTW: Clinton didn’t stop – and went all the way to the White House. Turned out this land wasn’t your land, Papa Bush.


Photo: Los Del Rio "Macarena" (Billboard)

Bob Dole – “Dole Man” by Sam and Dave
Back in the day, presidential candidates always used to take popular songs like “Yankee Doodle” (yeah, times were hard) and switch up the lyrics. So when the Kansas rep came up against Democratic incumbent Clinton in ’96, he went old school and changed the classic R&B track “Soul Man” to “Dole Man.” Yeah, it’s as bad as it sounds.

The song’s writer, Isaac Hayes, aka the former voice of “Chef” on South Park, was not down with Dole, so the mutilated track eventually got pulled from rallies. Whew. But then the soon-to-be “Viagra Man” played Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” at another campaign event –- and y’all can guess how the Boss felt about the Bob. Say it together now: CEASE AND DESIST! So Dole Man’s musical, and political, problems continued…


Bill Clinton – “Macarena” by Los del Rio and “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon
Clinton was already the Prez, so a badass election song wasn’t as crucial as it was back when he was taking the throne in ’92 — but his VP Al Gore kept things interesting on the campaign trail by doing the worst Macarena ever at the Democratic National Convention and making entrances to Paul Simon’s perfectly named peppy tune.

#FTW: Anything, and anyone, but “Dole Man.” Bill and Al Macarena’d right back to the Oval Office.


Photo: Billy Ray Cyrus (Getty Images)

George W. Bush – “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty, “We The People” by Billy Ray Cyrus and “Right Now” by Van Halen

Tom Petty must have a  C&D letter open on his computer every time there’s an election. Republicans be tryin’ to bogart his Americana hits like whoa. Which is exactly what he said to Baby Bush’s campaign –- and then he threatened to sue ‘em.

So logically, the next best option is Miley Cyrus’s dad, riiight?


Al Gore – “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive and “Let The Day Begin” by The Call

Even the Macarena couldn’t save Al now. He was right to play “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” because the whole country was shock-and-awed  by an insanely close election, a Florida ballot controversy, and a Supreme Court decision that ultimately sent Mr. Bush to Washington.

Ironically, Tom Petty played “I Won’t Back Down” at Al’s house the day he conceded to Dubya. Ouch.

#FTW: Bush and Billy Ray. Sorta.


Photo: U2 (Getty Images)

George W. Bush – “Only in America” by Brooks & Dunn and “Wave on Wave” by Pat Green
W. stuck to his roots and his boots — and two-stepped that whole “nonexistent weapons of mass destruction/what-are-we-doing-in-Iraq” debate — with these down-home country tunes in his fight for another four years.


John Kerry – “No Surrender” by Bruce Springsteen, “Fortunate Son” by John Fogerty and “Beautiful Day” by U2

Kerry tried out a couple different approaches to his election soundtrack — even calling in the big guns with Bruce and Bono — but nothing really stuck. And neither did he.

#FTW: Bush’s red-blooded anthems took him straight back to DC. Even with a blue-collar boost from the Boss, Kerry couldn’t win for the donkey.


Photo: will.i.am (Getty Images)

John McCain  “Take A Chance On Me” by ABBA, “Our Country” by John Mellencamp, “Raisin’ McCain” by John Rich, “Barracuda” by Heart

Yup, the Maverick is actually a Dancing Queen. But liberal-minded Mellencamp wasn’t amused by the GOP love and promptly told McCain’s camp to pull the plug.

And McCain’s Mama Grizzly VP had similar musical dramz. 80’s girl band Heart didn’t have one when it came to giving Sarah Palin the OK to use “Barracuda” (her high school nickname was Sarah Barracuda) as her main jam.

Finally, McCain just did a Dole and followed the Republican formula — he had country singer John Rich make him an original yee-haw track.


Barack Obama – “Yes We Can” by Will.i.Am and others, “Better Way” by Ben Harper, “Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder, “City of Blinding Lights” by U2, “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen, “Think” by Aretha Franklin, “Only in America” by Brooks & Dunn

Obama was all about change – and he certainly wasn’t afraid to do that when it came to his campaign’s soundtrack. He went from Motown to stadium rock, indie to country, and finally had his very own viral video hit featuring a slew of  can-do celebs.

#FTW: Yes he did.

Okay, now it’s YOUR turn. We’ve got a couple of requests over here at Act – “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine, “Hello World” by Lady Antebellum , “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga, “Power” by Kanye…but we wanna know what you would play if you were trying to set up shop at the White House. What songs do you think should make the campaign playlist in 2012? Leave it in the comments — or we’ll send you a cease and desist letter!