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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Rock ‘n’ roll here to stay on campaign trail

I know it’s only rock ’n’ roll, but I like it when politicians decide to use familiar tunes as a sound track to their events, which might mean different things to different people and tick off some thin-skinned musicians.

Case in point, the close of the Republican National Convention on Thursday. After nominee Donald Trump’s acceptance speech, during the traditional balloon drop and the filing out of charged-up delegates, the convention managers played two familiar tunes. 

If you watched on a network that switched to talking-head punditry, they may have been barely audible in the background. But for those in the convention center, as well as those paying close attention at home, they were:

“All Right Now,” by Free, and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” by the Rolling Stones.

Although the first has a chorus that seems to suggest things are fine now, it is an odd choice for a family-values candidate. The song is, after all, about a guy who picks up a strange woman on the street and takes her home for sex. Whether she’s a prostitute or just looking for a one-night stand when she says “Now you tryin’ to trick me in love” is open to interpretation. But still.

The chorus of the second could be an overture to all the delegates who started the campaign supporting someone else, sending a message that they didn’t get their first choice but now they have what they need to retake the White House. It does, however, have some pretty dark lyrics about drugs and death.

If they wanted dark, they might have considered “Eve of Destruction” as the followup to Trump’s acceptance speech.

Pop songs have been a part of presidential campaigns since at least 1800, when John Adams’ campaign put words to “Anacreon in Heaven”, a popular drinking tune. If you don’t recognize it, the song was used a decade or so later for “The Star Spangled Banner.” FDR used “Happy Days are Here Again” and Frank Sinatra reworked “High Hopes” for a campaign song for John F. Kennedy.

But using pop songs is not without controversy, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was just down the street from the Republican National Convention, noted last week. Bruce Springsteen told Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984 to quit using “Born in the U.S.A.” That was a questionable choice, anyway, because even with a rousing chorus that seems to celebrate American nativity, the lyrics are about a reluctant Vietnam vet who returns home to hard times. 

Bobby McFerrin asked George H.W. Bush to knock off playing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in 1988, Sting had a similar request of Al Gore in 2000 over the use of “Brand New Day” and Sam Moore asked Barack Obama to stop using “Hold On, I’m Coming” in 2008, the hall noted. The Trump campaign has been asked by Neil Young not to use Rockin’ in the Free World,” by Steve Tyler not to use “Dream On” and by R.E.M. not to use “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”.  No one has had more challenges than that, the hall noted. The Stones and Paul Rodgers of Free are expected to join the list.

Can’t wait to see whom the Democrats tick off at their convention this week. They don't have a hall of fame in Philadelphia, but that was the home of American Bandstand.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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