Music in Society Term Paper

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Music in Society

The impact of music on the presidential campaign song

Music has influenced both written and verbal forms of discourse in our society since our nation was founded. The most significant of these has been music's influence on political campaigns and speeches. The advent of the 'campaign song' has had a tremendous impact on political campaigns since President Washington was in office.

The political sect of our society is often demonized. Music has made politics more fun, enjoyable, and at times humorous. Music is a universal language all in its own. Despite ones career, education, or place in society, everyone in our society is familiar with certain traditional songs - such as "Row, Row, Your Boat."

The political world has simply capitalized on the fact that people are fond of songs. Even people who do not enjoy politics like songs. Music is used to communicate ideas to the masses. Just as singers and songwriters use music to convey their messages, politicians use it to convey their political ideas in a way that is not droll or condescending.

As Napoleon said, 'music of all the liberal arts, has the greatest influence over the passions, and is that to which the legislator ought to give the greatest encouragement.'" (

Campaign songs can have positive and negative effects when paired with a campaign. If a good campaign song is chosen for a politician, it can enhance his or her popularity greatly. However, there is always more to a campaign than a song, despite what some politicians, past and present, might hope.

Scores of political songs have been used in presidential campaigns throughout history. Politicians and campaigners have used songs to bolster messages about political candidates in the public mind since America's forefathers were in office.

According to Boucher, "in presidential politics, campaign songs have been around longer than campaign races. George Washington didn't have an opponent, but he had a number of sing-along themes, among them "Follow Washington," notes Oscar Brand."(Boucher)

Music used during political speeches and campaigns has evolved a great deal in American history. At first, songs were used to defame one's political opponents. This was typically done with flat out name calling in song format paired with common tunes of the time.

According to Boucher of the Los Angeles Times, "if history were written in the sheet music of presidential campaign songs, every schoolchild would know that Abraham Lincoln was a lying baboon, Martin Van Buren worshiped Satan and Herbert Hoover's name was synonymous with prosperity."

When George Washington was "serenaded with new words to "God Save the King" sung by all except his old Revolutionary buddy Thomas Paine, who wrote, 'I don't know whether you have abandoned your old principles or whether you ever had any.'" (Boucher)

An example of the use of political music to instill fear in voters is John Quincy Adams' 1824 campaign song, "Little Know Ye Who's Coming." The song "inventoried what would be coming if Adams lost. It's quite the list, including fire, swords, plague, plunder, pestilence, slavery and, that old favorite, knavery." (Boucher)

Another example of the use of fear propaganda in campaign songs is President James A. Garfield's campaign song, "If the Johnnies Get Into Power Again." Written in 1880, the song borrowed the music from a then popular song called, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." Garfield's campaign song warned the nation that the 'rebels' in the Southern states of America were going to take control of the government. (Boucher)

Some of the songs were intensely personal attacks. The song for Stephen A. Douglas, for instance, mocked supporters of the gangly Lincoln by saying, "Tell us any lie you want to, in any kind of mixture, but we pray you, God we pray you, don't show us his picture." William H. Harrison was portrayed as an alcoholic trickster, and one anti-Thomas Jefferson song described his scandalous relations with Sally Hemings, a slave in his household." (Boucher)

Another political song that could be construed as an attack, was a song written in 1861 about President Abraham Lincoln. In the song, Lincoln was referred to as "that baboon in the White House and murderer of women and
The presidential campaign song has changed dramatically over the past one hundred years. Campaign songs, which were once used to belittle ones opponent, are now used more as political '
theme' songs, reminding voters of the politicians which they represent.

Instead of changing the lyrics to well-known music as campaigners did in the past, today's campaign song is generally a piece of popular music that features lyrics which are already in sync with a politician's political platform. The message behind the music is typically positive, and the lyrics usually invoke ideals of American democracy, such a freedom, or progressing forward despite difficult times.

With the invention of television, came a new political format. In 1952, the first campaign song to be used on television was "Dwight Eisenhower's theme I Like Ike. It was designed to make the World War II hero seem like an "accessible, friendly guy," Beschloss said. Eisenhower won the 1952 election with the help of the song." (Segan)

President Ronald Reagan had a great deal of difficulty in finding the perfect theme song for his campaign. Regan, known as "the "great communicator," relied on the inspirational "God Bless the U.S.A.," but had some disagreements with songwriters. His advisers' attempt to use John Cougar Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses" was thwarted by the artist. And though he used Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." In his 1984 campaign, Springsteen is no Reaganite." (Segan)

Despite the political stance of the songwriter, Reagan used "Born in the U.S.A." As his reelection theme song as well. "It is ironic that Springsteen song "Born in the U.S.A." was adopted by Ronald Reagan during his reelection campaign, particularly considering the anti-Republican stance Springsteen has projected over the years on his albums."

McDonald, 87)

Hay adds that this was only the beginning of Regan's difficulty in finding music to support his political platform. Race relations also play a key role in determining the appropriate music in politics. "In 1989, when Lee Atwater, director of a presidential campaign...played the "blues" at a Republican party fund raiser." It was later said of Atwater that "many in the black community denounced (him) as racist."

Hay, 21)

Songs are also used as reference material in political speeches. Unfortunately, this can go wrong as well. President Ronald Reagan once fondly made a reference to the Bruce Springsteen's hit song "Born in the U.S.A.," as having "patriotic imagery."

The song contains the lyrics, "Got in a little hometown jam / So they put a rifle in my hand / Sent me off to a foreign land / To go and kill the yellow man / Born in the U.S.A. / Come back home to the refinery / Hiring man said "Son if it was up to me" / Went down to see my V.A. man / He said "Son, don't you understand." These are clearing not the type of lyrics that paint patriotic imagery.

Following Reagan, President George Bush Sr. picked campaign songs that were geared towards "grandfatherly appeal with both "God Bless the U.S.A." And "This Land is Your Land" - a Woody Guthrie song from 1940 repopularized in the 1960s." (Segan)

The song "This Land is Your Land" features strange lyrics for a campaign song as well. "One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple / By the relief office I saw my people / As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if / This land was made for you and me."

The most recent American Presidential campaigns, featuring Al Gore and George W. Bush, also used songs already written, which featured lyrics that were geared towards middle class and working class Americans.

President George W. Bush's main campaign song, "We the People" features the following lyrics: "Here's to every salesman on the telephone line / And every waitress working hard for those dimes / The middle managers who punch overtime / And anyone fighting wars, fires, and crimes / Day after day, year after year / The mint might print them, but the buck stops here."

Democratic political candidate Al Gore's campaign song, "Let the Day Begin," was very similar to the Bush…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Bindas, Kenneth J., ed. America's Musical Pulse: Popular Music in Twentieth-Century Society. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1992.


Blacking, John. How Musical Is Man?. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973.

Boucher, Geoff. "Songs in the key of Presidency." October 11, 2000.

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