Guest Host: Tamara Keith

Then-Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) greets musician Kid Rock during a 2012 campaign rally at the Royal Oak Theatre  in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Then-Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) greets musician Kid Rock during a 2012 campaign rally at the Royal Oak Theatre in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Presidential candidates today frequently use popular pieces of music as campaign “theme songs” often without approval from the musicians themselves. But using music on the campaign trail is not a modern phenomenon: it goes back to our earliest presidential elections. In the 1800s, songs were used out of necessity: to reach potential voters who could not read. We investigate the history, evolution and modern-day role of music in political campaigns.


  • Eric Kasper Professor of political science, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; co-author of "Don't Stop Thinking About the Music: The Politics of Songs and Musicians in Presidential Campaigns"
  • Robert Greenberg Composer, pianist, and music historian; has been recording music courses for The Great Courses for 22 years; former music-historian-in-residence for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered
  • Sarah Schacter Entertainment and intellectual property lawyer, Loeb & Loeb LLP

Tell us: What's Your Favorite Campaign Song?

From 1786 to 2016: The Evolution Of The Presidential Campaign Song


  • 11:06:54

    MS. TAMARA KEITHThanks for joining us. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's having a voice treatment. Today, music is an integral part of presidential campaigns, getting supporters pumped up on the trail, bring a candidate onto or off of stage with a theme song that speaks to their platform or personality. In the 1992 election, Bill Clinton used Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" as campaign song, a choice some say helped solidify his victory.

  • 11:07:42

    MS. TAMARA KEITHIn that same year, Ross Perot used Patsy Cline's "Crazy," which may have helped cement a different sort of image for the candidate.

  • 11:08:07

    MS. TAMARA KEITHOh, I love that one. But the use of music on the campaign trail actually goes all the way back to our country's beginnings. Here in studio with me to talk about the history and current role of music in presidential campaigns is entertainment and intellectual property lawyer, Sarah Schacter. Thanks for being here.

  • 11:08:24

    MS. SARAH SCHACTERThank you.

  • 11:08:25

    KEITHAnd joining us from the studios of KQED in San Francisco is composer, pianist and music historian, Robert Greenberg.

  • 11:08:34

    MR. ROBERT GREENBERGGreat to be here.

  • 11:08:35

    KEITHAnd by phone from Rice Lake, Wisconsin, is political scientist, Eric Kasper, who has written a book all about campaign music. I'm glad that you are all here joining us for this. And for this program, it is ever so important to get our listeners to call in with their ideas, their favorite campaign songs or their favorite mismatched campaigns songs. The number to call is 1-800-433-8850. The email address is Or on Twitter, @drshow.

  • 11:09:09

    KEITHEric Kasper, let's start with you. When did presidents or presidential candidates start using music as part of their campaigns?

  • 11:09:15

    MR. ERIC KASPERWell, first, thank you for having me on this morning. The use of campaign music does, as you mentioned earlier, go all the way back to the country's founding, although initially it was after the first election of President Washington, it was kind of used as music to celebrate his inauguration and that became the de facto music that was then used when he ran for reelection the next time. You see music being used as part of the campaigns, but not as an integral part during the first several presidential elections.

  • 11:09:50

    MR. ERIC KASPERAnd the watershed moment really is in 1840 where the, of course, still well known song today of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" really came to the fore and was an important part of that campaign.

  • 11:10:02

    KEITHWell, I think we should hear a little bit of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." We have that music cued up and let's hear it.

  • 11:10:36

    KEITHSarah Schacter, that is the, basically, maybe the first attack ad song.

  • 11:10:43

    SCHACTERI think that's possible. I mean, going back to -- a little further back there were tunes written to lampoon Thomas Jefferson involving, you know, references to Sally Hemings. So it goes back a little bit further, you know, nastiness in politics, but that's a great example of a sort of attack song, historic attack song, so.

  • 11:11:06

    KEITHRobert, some of the early campaign songs were called contrafacta. What does that mean?

  • 11:11:15

    GREENBERGA contrafacta is a preexisting tune, presumably a well known preexisting tune that's been fitted out with new words. You know, in a pre-media age and pre-20th century, we're talking about pre-electronic media, a campaign song was a great way to sell a message, especially if you fitted new words to a tune everyone knew, like "Yankee Doodle" or a tune called "Anacreon In Heaven," which was used by the John Adams campaign. Later became known as "The Star Spangled Banner," an old English drinking song.

  • 11:11:50

    GREENBERGIf you have a tune that everyone already knows, it's easy to memorize the words and, of course, unlike pamphlets in the early days of campaigns, folks were fairly illiterate then or less literate than we are now, at least, and a song was a great way to memorize a message and to repeat that message over and over again. You know, candidates can speak for themselves today, but, again, pre-media, candidates didn't have that opportunity to speak for themselves unless they were actually present.

  • 11:12:22

    GREENBERGBut the song could travel anywhere at any time. So contrafacta frankly were the most common sort of campaign tunes, all the way through at least Lyndon Johnson's campaign. He used a tune called "Hello Lyndon," which was takeoff on "Hello Dolly" and Carol Channing actually sang "Hello Lyndon" and Jerry Herman, who wrote the original "Hello Dolly" wrote the words for "Hello Lyndon." And, again, everyone would've recognized that song right away and it would be easy to memorize.

  • 11:12:54

    KEITHEric, I want to go back just a little bit, back to the 1840s. You say a couple of things changed then and I think that Robert sort of eluded to them. What changed in the 1840s to make campaign music so much more important?

  • 11:13:10

    KASPERWell, what you see happening, especially in the 1830s, leading up to that 1840 election is the expansion of the right to vote and property qualifications being removed across the country during that time so...

  • 11:13:24

    KEITHSo people wouldn't have to be property owners to vote.

  • 11:13:26

    KASPERRight. And so, you know, what that did is it not only expanded the right to vote by about 60 percent in that decade leading up to 1840, but what that also did is it changed the demographics of the voters so you had a lot larger percentage of the voting population now that was illiterate or it was less educated and so, you know, printing up campaign literature and distributing that would not have been an effective means of getting your message out, but playing music would have been.

  • 11:13:59

    KEITHI want to play another little bit of music. This was an old Irish drinking song, but then it became a campaign song.

  • 11:14:28

    KEITHSo Robert, why don't we have songs like that anymore on the campaign trail?

  • 11:14:33

    GREENBERGOh, gosh, that's a good question. I think there's a lot of reasons and one of them might be the fact that the basic demographic that's voting now or at least the largest demographic that's voting now or should be voting are people that grew up listening to rock and roll. And rock and roll is a dance music. It's a very rhythmic music and it's music in which the words, let's say, might play a lesser importance and certain substantial musical elements, like harmony and melody, are perhaps less important than simple beat and rhythm.

  • 11:15:09

    GREENBERGA rock and roll song is not so easily memorized. The words might not be interesting and, frankly, so much rock and roll is a function of the people who created it. My favorite example is try to imagine someone else reinterpreting The Stones "Satisfaction," "I ain't got no satisfaction," or trying to use something like that in the campaign song. Really, what makes that song memorable is its original performance style, not so much the substance of the music itself.

  • 11:15:38

    GREENBERGSo it's hard to take rock and roll and to plug new words into it. Besides, for which, the media, given what it is now, it's easier to try to associate oneself with a performer. Everyone, for example, wants to be associated with someone like Bruce Springsteen, right? I mean, here you have a basic working man guy, a real blue collar musician who talks about the American worker and the basic values of the culture. So I think a lot of it is how we associate with certain figures today, how the media works, and also the nature of the music that we would be substituting words into.

  • 11:16:16

    GREENBERGOld march songs, drinking songs, yes, these were songs. These were pieces in which melody, harmony and a lyric of some interest were of tantamount importance. That's hard to do in rock and roll.

  • 11:16:27

    KEITHEric Kasper, at what point did we see the shift, were popular music became campaign music? Well, I mean -- well, rock and roll-ish popular music?

  • 11:16:37

    KASPERWell, as you've already heard, I mean, there's kind of several factors that play into this. But as you progress through the middle and to the end of the 20th century, as you have social movements that are using folk music and that are using more popular types of music, you also see campaigns start to use that as well. At the same time, you're seeing advertisers switch to using pop music in their commercials and so this kind of becomes the new way to get the message out.

  • 11:17:09

    KASPERAnd so by the time you get to 1984, you have the Reagan campaign using "God Bless The USA" by Lee Greenwood, by 1992, you have the Clinton campaign, as you played earlier, using Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop." You know, by then, it's pretty much cemented because of these changes that are out there in terms of what social movements have done, what lowering the voting age, that certainly helped as well to use this pop music to appeal to younger voters and the technological changes as well which lead to it being easier to just simply play prerecorded music on the campaign trail.

  • 11:17:45

    KEITHComing up, more of our conversation about campaign music and we'll get to the part about candidates using songs that the musicians didn't really want them to use. And we also want to hear from you, take your calls and your emails and your tweets @drshow.

  • 11:20:31

    KEITHWelcome back. I'm Tamara Keith sitting in for Diane Rehm. And that, of course, is Bruce Springsteen singing "Born in the U.S.A." This show is all about campaign music. And we have an email here from Frank. He says: Please discuss the details of Ronald Reagan using the Bruce Springsteen song, "Born in the U.S.A." and not being aware of the criticism of America in it. And let's go, first, to Robert Greenberg in San Francisco, composer, pianist, music historian. Tell us the story of that.

  • 11:21:01

    GREENBERGI wish I knew it. We're going to have to turn to Eric Kasper or someone who knows more about these things.

  • 11:21:04

    KEITHOkay. Eric Kasper, all you.

  • 11:21:08

    KASPERSure. It was -- what it originated from was a campaign stop in New Jersey by the Reagan campaign in 1984. He talked about Bruce Springsteen. He talked about America's future resting in, as he put it, a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire, New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what the job of mine is all about. And so he was, of course, referring to "Born in the U.S.A."

  • 11:21:38

    KASPERBut, of course, if you're familiar with the song and if you listen closely to the lyrics, you know that it's not exactly a song celebrating what was going on at the time when he wrote the song. It was talking about things that were bad that had happened in his hometown and, you know, things that were, you know, his friend, when he was in Vietnam, at least speaking as the person in the song, who was killed and he came back home. And, you know, there was job loss and so forth. So there was a bit of a disconnect there between what the kind of, the title and the hook of the song is, which sounds very patriotic compared to the rest of the lyrics, where it's not exactly that same hopeful message.

  • 11:22:23

    KASPERAlthough one could make the same argument with something like Bill Clinton's use of "Don't Stop," by Fleetwood Mac, which was originally written as a song about a breakup between two of the band members. So, you know, these songs get repurposed by these campaigns.

  • 11:22:38

    KEITHSarah Schacter, you are an intellectual property lawyer at Loeb & Loeb.

  • 11:22:43


  • 11:22:44

    KEITHWhat happens when a musician doesn't like what the campaign did? In this case, Bruce Springsteen was not happy. Generally speaking, Bruce Springsteen has objected frequently to his songs being used.

  • 11:22:57

    SCHACTERWell, usually what happens is you get a complaint, either in the form of a public statement or a Cease and Desist Letter from an attorney from the artist who doesn't want their music being used in a way that's sort of contrary to their political beliefs or their message. Sometimes that works. And I think it's been -- there's been a bit of a shift lately and campaigns are becoming a little bit more sensitive to this issue than they used to be and really just more pragmatically wanting to avoid, you know, getting into some sort of argument with an artist who doesn't really want to be a part of your candidate's message.

  • 11:23:33

    SCHACTERLike, why would you want to force that artist on your, you know, on your message and create an issue that is sort of almost embarrassing a little bit to the candidate sometimes. So, you know, from there, there could be litigation. There's not always litigation. There are sort of two big examples of cases that were sort of litigated in a real way but it's not often that it goes that far. A lot of times these things, you know, either the politician agrees to sort of step back and not use the song or the case settles in some other way. So...

  • 11:24:08

    KEITHAnd sometimes the candidate is actually onboard.

  • 11:24:12


  • 11:24:12

    KEITHI'm thinking of "High Hopes."

  • 11:24:14

    SCHACTERRight. I mean, I think that's a really interesting example of a situation where the candidate was, you know, reached out to the artist and really made the artist a part of the message and a willing participant in the message. And I think that has a couple of advantages, not only in the sense that there's legal advantages and that you don't incur the wrath of the artist or sort of -- any sort of legal issue, but also it seems like those are the examples where maybe the best uses of music in a lot of ways.

  • 11:24:45

    SCHACTERAs you mentioned, "High Hopes" was a song that was used by JFK's campaign. It was a -- Frank Sinatra sang the song and it was rewritten with lyrics that referenced Jack and JFK And Frank Sinatra sang that song. And so -- and I think that that was sort of a big advantage, to have him onboard and, certainly, who wouldn't want to be associated with Frank Sinatra?

  • 11:25:09

    KEITHLet's hear a little bit of that.

  • 11:25:32

    KEITHRobert, does this kind of thing do anything to dilute the brand of the musician?

  • 11:25:40

    GREENBERGWell, as you say, if the musician's interested in it, if the musician is part of it, I don't think so at all. Frankly, if someone wanted to use something I wrote in a campaign, oh, my goodness, I might turn a blind eye to the politics and simply be thrilled that so many people were hearing something that I did. So, no, I -- speaking for myself, I don't think so. But, certainly, you know, if there are political extremes involved, yes. What I observe and what I see and what kind of tickles my fancy is that so many of the musicians are more to the left. And so when a candidate to the right wants to use his or her music, there are problems. But we haven't seen the opposite. And I would like to see Bernie Sanders use some Ted Nugent. I think that would be fun. I'd like to see how the other side reacts.

  • 11:26:30

    KEITHThat would be an interesting development.

  • 11:26:32

    GREENBERGYes, indeed.

  • 11:26:32

    KEITHAnd actually we -- we have a call here from Tim in Oklahoma City, Okla. Tim, you want to talk about Bernie Sanders, is that right?

  • 11:26:42

    TIMYes. And actually a comment on a couple of point you've already made, which is ironic, on Trump's escalator song with Neil Young, using about rocking America.

  • 11:26:54

    KEITHYeah, keep on "Rockin' in the Free World" from Neil Young.

  • 11:26:56

    TIMYeah. And the fact, the lyrics on that, you know, get into the song, you know, it's talking about, you know, drug use and leaving, you know, a baby beside a dumpster and things of that nature. And then, of course, the next day, Neil Young, which is a long-time Bernie Sanders supporter, had objected to him using the song. So if Mr. Young or Mr. Sanders is listening, hopefully, it'd be nice if he would actually write him a song for a campaign.

  • 11:27:25

    TIMAnd/or there's a song for Bernie Sanders that I think would be appropriate -- it was back in the '90s sometime, I believe -- it was by Van Halen, called "Right Now." And it's talking about needing to make a change right now. Matter of fact, it's got a video that's very appropriate for it as well about the things that are wrong in the world today. And I think we need to make a change expressly along those lines.

  • 11:27:51

    KEITHWell, Tim, thank you for your call. And I want to hear a little bit of "Rockin' in the Free World." And then let's talk to our guests about what happened when Donald Trump rode down his golden escalator to the tune of "Rockin' in the Free World."

  • 11:28:25

    KEITHEric Kasper, what ultimately happened with this?

  • 11:28:28

    KASPERWell, as the caller alluded to, Neil Young was not impressed by this and he released a statement shortly thereafter saying he -- that Donald Trump was not authorized to use it and that, you know, he supported, you know, he supports Bernie Sanders instead. And the Trump campaign claimed that they cleared it with the copyright holder. But, you know, Neil Young was kind of going a step beyond that, saying that, you know, that Trump was trying to give an implied endorsement -- basically, trying to project to voters that he was, you know, had the support of Neil Young.

  • 11:29:02

    KASPERAnd that's, you know, another common issue we see in more recent years, not only issues where the campaign uses a song without the copyright permission -- which may be held by someone other than the artist -- but even if they do have copyright permission to use the song, sometimes the artist will still publicly object. And then that, again, kind of defeats the purpose of using the song because you get this negative publicity associated with it.

  • 11:29:27

    KEITHAnd this story has something of a happy ending because Bernie Sanders is now using "Rockin' in the Free World" for his events. And Donald Trump has a new song. He's using, "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister. And Sarah Schacter, you're in the studio here. You're nodding your head about the copyright issues here.

  • 11:29:50

    SCHACTERYes. You know, it's -- we focus on copyright and copyright's really important. But important to keep in mind that there are other sort of claims that artists can bring, even if they don't have the -- even if they're not holders of the copyrights and can't make a claim based on that. And so it's always, you know, best to, as we mentioned earlier, work with the artist and not fight the artist, because there are claims based on, you know, association.

  • 11:30:16

    SCHACTERSo there's a claim under the federal Lanham Act, which is a trademark act, but has a section that involves false association or false endorsement. And sometimes artists will bring a claim under that act, even if, you know, they're -- or in addition to their copyright claim or if they don't have a copyright claim, and say, you know, you're falsely implying that I am endorsing your message. And that's against this statute.

  • 11:30:43

    SCHACTERSo, and there's another type of claim called a right of publicity claim, which is another claim that artists can bring that's a state law claim and varies from state to state. And basically that claim would be an unauthorized commercial use, typically, of -- and usually a celebrity's public image to -- usually to sell something, to sell a product. And so some artists have claimed that this is also, you know, this kind of situation would violate the right of publicity -- the right that they, the property right essentially that they have in their persona.

  • 11:31:15

    KEITHYou said earlier that there have been at least a couple cases where it has actually made it all the way to court, where there's been actual legal action. Can you tell us about those? Or your favorite one, at least?

  • 11:31:24

    SCHACTERSure. Well, you know, there's two big ones. I think, in some ways, they're both interesting and they both go to this question of whether an artist can say -- or a candidate can say, you know, I changed the song in some way and so it's not copyright infringement. And what that goes to is a defense to copyright infringement called fair use, which is essentially a First Amendment based defense that defendants often raise to claim a copyright infringement.

  • 11:31:54

    SCHACTERAnd the question -- it often boils down to whether the use is what's called transformative, which means did the user, so in this case, did the candidate take the song and do something to change the message behind it and really give it a new meaning? In which case, it might not be copyright infringement, even if, you know, it wasn't a licensed user -- if they didn't have a permission. This is usually not a great argument, it turns out, in political campaign context. And I would say that artists should not -- or candidates should not rely on being able to raise that kind of defense of transformativeness or a parody defense.

  • 11:32:37

    KEITHI'm Tamara Keith of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to call us, please do. It's 1-800-433-8850. You can send an email to Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. We have a few notes that have come in over the Web and I want to read a few of them to you. One listener writes, their -- I don't know if this was their favorite or their least favorite campaign song -- but it's, Arnold Schwarzenegger used the same song that Donald Trump is now using, which is "We're Not Gonna Take It." The listener says, quote "I hated that campaign. Do I need to explain why? When Dee Snider performed it live at a rally, this song was ruined for me forever." Let's hear a little bit of it, just for kicks.

  • 11:33:47

    KEITHThere was a little bit of Twisted Sister and a song that's been used on a couple of campaigns -- with Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign and now Donald Trump's campaign. I want to go to the phones and Dave in Sarasota, Fla. Dave, welcome to the show.

  • 11:34:00

    DAVEHi. Thanks for taking my call. I have an old 45 record I came across and it's from a Richard Nixon campaign song for president. And it goes to "Merrily We Roll Along," and I think there's another song they fused in there also. And I was always curious, first of all, what campaign that may have come from. And, secondly, if presidential candidates often combine two or three songs in one campaign song?

  • 11:34:33

    KEITHEric Kasper or Robert Greenberg, do either or you have any knowledge of this -- this particular song?

  • 11:34:40

    GREENBERGNot this one. The one that I know from Nixon is the "Buckle Down With Nixon" based on the music of "Buckle Down Winsocki." So this might have been -- it could have been a presidential campaign song, but it could very well have been one of his congressional songs as well.

  • 11:34:55

    KEITHEric Kasper, do you -- are you going to bow out on that one?

  • 11:34:58

    KASPERYou know, I'm not sure about the -- I'm not familiar with the music. But I know, you know, Nixon used a few songs in his presidential campaigns, including "Nixon's the One" and "Nixon Now." I mean, it was still during that era when you had a lot of these songs being written for the campaign yet.

  • 11:35:15

    KEITHWas the -- we now have these copyright issues or these issues where candidates -- where candidates try something and then musicians get grumpy. At what point did that start happening? That we -- we now have these regular clashes. It's sort of like a great tradition of every presidential campaign, that you're going to get a bunch of complaints. Eric, when did that happen?

  • 11:35:39

    KASPERWell, it really starts to take off only in about the last 20 years. There are some isolated incidents of that, as we talked about earlier, the Johnson campaign had made use of a modified version of "Hello, Dolly!" with "Hello, Lyndon." The Goldwater campaign, in 1964, also tried to do the same thing. But David Merrick wouldn't allow that and publicly objected. You had the use of "Don't Worry Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin in 1988 for a time by then Vice President George H. W. Bush running for president. And McFerrin objected to the use of that.

  • 11:36:19

    KASPERBut it really doesn't take off until you get into, really, about the year 2000, where you -- it's also the era when we start seeing these campaigns using more and more songs and basically trying to have different songs through time during the campaign and different songs that they play as they're campaigning in different geographical locations throughout the country. And so, as they start using more and more songs, they start running into just more artists, then, who are objecting since really the year 2000.

  • 11:36:50

    KEITHHmm. I was campaign -- on the campaign with Mitt Romney, following along. And we get to Ohio and they start playing "Hang on Sloopy," which is the Ohio State fight song. So the campaigns definitely try to be appropriate to their location. Coming up, we're going to take your calls and your questions for our panel. We're going to play some more music and talk some more about campaign songs. Thanks for listening.

  • 11:40:01

    KEITHWelcome back. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And today we are talking about campaign music, campaign theme songs and how they've changed over time. And Robert Greenberg, you're a composer and a pianist and a music historian, and I just wonder, what do you think makes a great campaign song?

  • 11:40:24

    GREENBERGWell, if we're going to talk about the pre-last 20 years, which is what I would do listen, the whole point of all of this campaign music, this is advertising music. These are jingles. These are opportunities to use words and music to intensify the meaning of a campaign. That's always the beauty of music, by the way. You know, words by themselves are not capable of as much as they are expressing when music is attached to them. And this is something we've known culturally going back to the very beginning.

  • 11:40:57

    GREENBERGAncient Greeks used music in religion and theater, and we've been using it in religion and theater since then, too, to deepen meaning. Always music deepens the meaning of words. So what makes a great campaign song, what makes a great song of any kind, because a song by definition is a simply accompanied piece of poetry in which music intensifies the meaning of the poetry, what would make a great campaign song is something that has a message, delivers the message, deepens the message through memorable music.

  • 11:41:29

    GREENBERGIt makes people want to sing it. It makes people want to listen to it, and in listening to it, they get the message over and over again. And this is why I'm intrigued by these contrafacta, these old, pre-existing melodies that everyone knew, fitted out with new words because those words become instantly deepened and made more substantial by music people knew.

  • 11:41:48

    GREENBERGSo I think what makes a great campaign song is the same thing that makes a great song, a great jingle, a great piece of musical theater, and that is a message that is deepened and made transcendent through the addition of music, something that people can remember and something that somehow can sway their feelings in a way that the words by themselves cannot.

  • 11:42:12

    KEITHI want to play a little clip. You talk about jingles. This one sounds just like something straight out of "Mad Men." It's called "I Like Ike."

  • 11:42:41

    KEITHRobert, does that one count for you as giving new meaning, or at least it's an ear worm.

  • 11:42:46

    GREENBERGYou know, it's -- exactly, it's ear candy. It's a great jingle, and that's an advertising jingle, and that was no doubt written by someone who had to sell his or her message in a 10- or 15-second period of time.

  • 11:42:59

    KEITHEric Kasper, you've played this one for your students, right, your modern-day political science students?

  • 11:43:05

    KASPERYes, I mean, I think it's a wonderful song personally, "I Like Ike," but when I play it for my students at UW Eau Clair, you know, they are kind of like what is this. You know, this is not something that they're used to, and it's not something that's going to appeal to them. And it's, you know, it's why modern campaigns have largely moved away from it, and what they're -- what you're seeing today instead is picking a song that's already popular, has that hook of the song, you know, that key line that reinforces whatever your message is, whether it's "We're Not Gonna Take It," or it's "Born Free," or "We Take Care of Our Own" or some of these other songs that have been used recently.

  • 11:43:49

    KASPERAnd also if you do have the artist who sings the song behind your campaign, then, you know, you invite them onto the rallies, you announce that that major celebrity artist is going to be there, it attracts people to the rallies who otherwise might not go, and then once they're there, it's more likely that you can get them involved in terms of volunteering with the campaign.

  • 11:44:14

    KASPERSo, I mean, there are some big benefits to picking that song where you have the celebrity power of that artist, and if you can get that artist to come along with you, someone like Bruce Springsteen, who we talked about earlier.

  • 11:44:26

    KEITHI have an email here from Matt in Cincinnati. He writes, are there any recent examples of candidates having original music written for their campaigns? And I see a hand up. Sarah Schacter here, the entertainment lawyer.

  • 11:44:40

    SCHACTERI learned recently that I believe Rick Santorum had a song written for him. It's called "Take Back America," and he's got it for sale on his campaign website. So both, you know, avoiding potential legal issues or potential artists complaining and also using it, then, to, you know, raise money, which is another advantage to that.

  • 11:45:00

    KEITHRobert, you also noted this song.

  • 11:45:04

    GREENBERGWell, I just would love to see Don Trump hire someone to write something for his campaign because there are just very few words that rhyme with Trump, and the ones that come to mind are bump and dump and lump and rump, and I'd like to see how someone would get around that.

  • 11:45:18

    KEITHThat might be why he's sticking with Twisted Sister.

  • 11:45:20

    GREENBERGI happen to agree with you, yes.

  • 11:45:22

    KEITHLet's go to Simian in Rochester, New York. Simian, welcome to the program.

  • 11:45:29

    SIMIANThank you for taking my call. I appreciate it. So I wanted to remind people that in 1968, Bobby Kennedy, when he was running for president, chose as his campaign theme song "This Land is Your Land," and the premise behind that choice, I think, is that he wanted his song to reflect what his campaign was all about, which was to try to unify people and bring people together around a global, broad, inclusive vision of America.

  • 11:45:56

    SIMIANAnd it's no coincidence that he was the last major presidential candidate to attract white ethnics as well as the African-Americans to support him. Wouldn't it be great if a candidate today would choose that, or a similar song, that had as its goal unifying people and bringing people together to say this land is your land, America belongs to all of us?

  • 11:46:19


  • 11:46:20

    SIMIANInstead of a song that it creates wedge issues.

  • 11:46:21

    KEITHEric Kasper?

  • 11:46:23

    KASPERYeah, I think that's an example of a song where, you know, the title and the hook and, you know, all the lyrics together kind of reinforce the same message and the way that it was being used by Robert Kennedy in 1968 fits that message. We, you know, heard the example earlier of "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen, which, you know, Reagan had used that year, or he at least referred to it that year, which didn't quite fit as well, although Reagan did, in 1984, also use "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood, which again kind of fits the types of values that the Reagan campaign was espousing.

  • 11:47:00

    KASPERSo it's not like these campaigns are always, you know, picking music, and there's some sort of problem. Sometimes it does fit together quite well.

  • 11:47:07

    KEITHI have a listener email here, and apparently this listener is not the only person suggesting this. I'm going to read it for you. Since Bernie Sanders has been running for president, I've told friends that I think he needs to get the rights to the Blue Oyster Cult song "Burning for You." And then it would -- and now I'm going to do something I'm going to regret. I'm Bernie, I'm Bernie, I'm Bernie for you, something to that effect.

  • 11:47:34

    KEITHRobert, as a musician, do you think that works?

  • 11:47:39

    GREENBERGYou know, I -- you've left me speechless, which happens very rarely. As a musician I'm constantly stunned by what works out there. I'm always amazed by what folks are willing to hear. If they liked Ike, they would -- someone would probably like "I'm Bernie For You," as well. Who knows? You know, we're not talking about music quality or integrity here. We're talking about memorability, sellability and does something resonate with some aspect of the spirit of the campaign.

  • 11:48:11

    GREENBERGSo if Bernie Sanders was willing to get up there and sing it for everybody and lead them in the song, that would be just great because he would become a man of the people, he would become a man of music, he would become a man who is willing to make himself look a little foolish in order to make his point. So it all depends on the context. I don't think we're talking about high art here. We're talking about selling.

  • 11:48:34

    KEITHYes, yes, this is, at its core, advertising or something. Sara Schacter, there is at times a conflict between the artist who wrote the song and had a certain meaning for that song and the politician who, in some cases, they don't agree with. Whose First Amendment rights take precedent here?

  • 11:48:56

    SCHACTERRight, I mean, that's -- I think that's kind of the key question and a really interesting question. And, you know, on the one hand you have a candidate who is engaging in what we would think of as being core political speech, so some -- you know, in a lot of ways, the most important kind of speech because it's the speech that educates the electorate and allows the electorate to then make an informed decision about who they want to be their president. And so that's obviously very important.

  • 11:49:22

    SCHACTEROn the other hand, you have an artist who doesn't want to be sort of a forced participant in that speech, and that to me also represents a First Amendment interest. I don't know if -- it's not necessarily, you know, a legal claim in the sense of being a First Amendment claim, but it's important, too, because it's in a way a compelled speech or a compelled association. And so it creates this interesting clash of sort of First Amendment interests, both on the part of the artist and the candidate, and it's, I think, a hard thing to navigate in a lot of ways because on the one hand political speech is so important, and we want to get -- we want candidates to be able to use music to express themselves and really kind of introduce themselves to the electorate, but on the other hand, we don't -- we don't really like misleading speech.

  • 11:50:11

    SCHACTERSo speech that tends to imply that an artist is associated or endorses a campaign is not really speech that's helpful, I think.

  • 11:50:20

    KEITHI want to go to email here, Catherine in Michigan writes, I'll never, all-caps, forget Bill Clinton's entrance at a stop in East Lansing, Michigan, during his 1996 campaign. It was dark at night, and there were thousands of students there from Michigan State University. Clinton stepped off the train to the bright lights and throbbing beat of "Are You Ready For This," and the crowd went wild. Eric Kasper, how much of campaign music is about getting those people in the crowd excited?

  • 11:50:51

    KASPERWell, you know, it's -- yeah, music has a certain emotional power over us, and so this is a way to kind of get people ramped up, either, you know, as a candidate's coming in or right at the end of the speech. And, you know, either way, you know, that helps with the image that's being projected on camera, when you have -- when you have the media there covering this, and, you know, they see the big, roaring crowd.

  • 11:51:12

    KASPERAnd, you know, music -- music certainly helps with that. You know, and I would kind of analogize to two other campaign strategies. One is -- in some ways it's kind of similar to what you have on late-night talk shows, when candidates appear on there. You know, it's kind of a different way to get the message out, to reinforce the campaign's message and perhaps to get it out to people who otherwise wouldn't hear that message.

  • 11:51:38

    KASPERAt the same time, though, you know, when I think about, well, how many people are actually swayed to vote for a candidate because of their song, and I think that that's a pretty small percentage of the electorate, in some ways I analogize campaign music to campaign yard signs. You know, next summer or next fall, you know, yards across the country will be littered with these campaign yard signs. And I don't think that there are a whole lot of people who are swayed to vote one way or the other based on yard signs, but campaigns still do it, and they still spend money and time putting those yard signs together and getting them out there because the other side is doing it, as well, and they don't want to fall behind.

  • 11:52:12

    KASPERAnd I think music in some ways is similar to that. You know, you know the other side's going to use music, so you'd better do it, too, because you don't want to lose that edge, especially in a close election.

  • 11:52:23

    KEITHI'm Tamara Keith, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Eric, the candidates have started putting together play lists. Hillary Clinton has a play list that she's put up on Spotify that includes things like "Shake It Off" from Taylor Swift. What do you make of the candidate play list? She's definitely not the first one to do it.

  • 11:52:47

    KASPERNo, and we saw that in 2012, the -- President Obama's campaign and Mitt Romney's campaign, they each did one of these, as well. You know, it's another example of, you know, changes in technology and changes in the law, quite frankly, how it relates -- recognizing the law, changing how these campaigns conduct themselves with respect to music.

  • 11:53:08

    KASPERI mean, obviously Spotify lists are not something that you could have done in 1992 or in 1964 or in the past because Spotify wasn't around.

  • 11:53:17

    KEITHDidn't exist, yeah.

  • 11:53:18

    KASPERSo, you know, it's there now, and so they're making use of it, and it's a way for them to get this message out that the song projects but not running into those same copyright issues because they're not playing the song. They're just listing off here are the songs that represent my campaign.

  • 11:53:35

    KASPERAnd so it's a way of, you know, kind of avoiding some of the potential problems that come up if they play the music without permission, but it's also getting that same message out there in a new way because it becomes a news story, and people pay attention to it.

  • 11:53:48

    KEITHWe have an email from Brian. He says, I'm a union musician in the greater Detroit area and make my living playing jazz. I've been asked to and have participated in events like the Democratic State Caucus in Detroit in the past. He says, I know from experience that even on a grassroots level, music creates a visceral reaction that can give a candidate a definite edge over the competition. Robert Greenberg, music as an edge?

  • 11:54:14

    GREENBERGNo doubt. I would have to agree with that. Especially today, you know, we're so surrounded by sensory experience all the time. That's one of the beauties and banes of our media world as it exists now. We're never more than a finger-click away from -- or a finger-flick away from anything. And, you know, the Spotify lists, for example, it's a perfect example.

  • 11:54:38

    GREENBERGWe lived for so long without Spotify lists, and now that we have them, we can't live without them. We need an advantage. We're always looking, no matter what we do, for a competitive edge, and music has become part of that competitive edge. And the right pieces of music, especially if associated with a campaign, it would seem to me, can indeed inspire a listener to think about someone in a different way.

  • 11:55:04

    GREENBERGAnd if that is a positive way, if the spin is going to be, you know, this person does have more appeal to me, we have the same kind of taste in music, we believe in the same things as expressed in these lyrics, I think the impact can be really substantial. And music itself, you know, as a musician, music itself has the power to persuade as very few other things do.

  • 11:55:27

    KEITHBernie from Cambridge, Connecticut, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:55:31

    BERNIEHi. Interesting...

  • 11:55:33

    KEITHYou have a suggestion?

  • 11:55:34

    BERNIEYes, I just had a suggestion for Donald Trump's theme song, the ballad, "Am I Blue."

  • 11:55:41

    KEITHAre you questioning his party loyalty there?

  • 11:55:46

    BERNIEWell, you know, kind of wondering where he falls.

  • 11:55:50

    KEITHWell Bernie, thank you so very much for your call. And I -- we are almost out of time, and this...

  • 11:55:56

    GREENBERGI would've suggested, by the way, I wouldn't suggested "Stormy Weather."

  • 11:56:00

    KEITHAnd here is your chance because I would like to ask our guests, as their final, last words, what song do you think any given candidate should use, if you have any ideas. Eric Kasper, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eu Claire and the author -- co-author of "Don't Stop Thinking About the Music," what would you pick? Do you have any ideas?

  • 11:56:23

    KASPERWell, you know, especially in this year, when we don't have an incumbent running, you know, the Al Green "Let's Stay Together," that worked pretty well for President Obama in 2012. But I think that one that kind of has some universal appeal is Tom Petty's "I Won't Break" -- excuse me, "I Won't Back Down."

  • 11:56:39

    KEITHWon't back down.

  • 11:56:41

    KASPERAnd that's one that the Bush campaign tried to use, but they didn't have copyright permission, and they got in trouble for it.

  • 11:56:46

    KEITHRobert Greenberg, any suggestions from you?

  • 11:56:48

    GREENBERGOh my goodness, about two right off the top of my head. I would recommend that Jeb Bush continue the current tenor of his campaign by using "Rock-a-Bye Baby."

  • 11:56:59

    KEITHOh, low blow.

  • 11:56:59

    GREENBERGAnd I like -- I like -- Hillary Clinton should use either "I Am Woman" or "Respect."

  • 11:57:06

    KEITHRobert Greenberg, composer, pianist and music historian, thank you for joining us on the show. And Sarah Schacter, anything, very, very quick.

  • 11:57:14

    SCHACTERMaybe, you know, maybe stick with younger artists, I don't know, try and get that youth vote out, maybe a Taylor Swift or a Katy Perry for Hillary Clinton couldn't hurt. I don't know.

  • 11:57:22

    KEITHWell, thank you for joining us. There is a blog post up on our site at with all kinds of stuff, including a play list. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.

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