Candidates' Theme Songs Set Campaign Tone

For years presidential campaigns have used theme songs to set the tone, underscore their candidate's message and frame a candidate's personality

In his second bid for the Republican Party's nomination, Sen. John McCain has played the Swedish disco group Abba's "Take a Chance on Me," Chuck Berry's "Johnny Be Good" and more recently, the theme song to the movie "Rocky."

At a time when voters routinely tell pollsters they want "change," Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign has blasted "Blue Sky" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters with the lyrics: "Yes, you can change the world, she stands and she won't back down."

Campaigning as a Washington outsider, former Gov. Mitt Romney plays the dance remix to Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation" to emphasize his "take action" style.

Campaigning in East Los Angeles Thursday, Sen. Barack Obama tailored his music to the predominantly Hispanic audience, playing Ricky Martin favorites and Shakira.

The various candidates running for president this year may have different policy platforms, but their campaign playlists all have similarly upbeat, catchy popular tunes designed to energize their supporters.

"What candidates are looking for in the pop songs they choose is nothing horribly offensive and something uplifting, something energetic, something that makes them seem youthful," said Brian Hiatt, associate editor of Rolling Stone magazine.

Lyrics Can Hit Sour Notes

While all of the campaigns attempt to select toe-tapping, energizing tunes, sometimes the lyrics can hit a few sour notes.

After Obama's soaring victory speech after his South Carolina Democratic primary win, Stevie Wonder's 1970 hit blared from the loudspeakers: "Here I am, baby! Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours!"

The Motown-era, feel-good classic often plays at Obama's rallies, but the song is actually about a cheating lover trying to plead his way back into a woman's heart: "Then that time I went and said goodbye/Now I'm back and not ashamed to cry/Oooh baby/Here I am/Signed, sealed delivered, I'm yours."

The Illinois senator also plays Aretha Franklin's "Think" and U2's popular song "The City of Blinding Lights."

However Franklin's "Think" is a warning to a straying lover rather than a call to political consciousness: "It don't take too much high IQs to see what you're doing to me /You better think (think) think about what you're trying to do to me."

Romney's theme song "A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis Presley contains far more explicit lyrics than perhaps the candidate who touts his "family values" would have liked: "A little less conversation, a little more action please/All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me?Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me."

Music experts say it's a mistake to take the campaign songs too literally.

"Looking too deeply into these songs can be misleading," Hiatt said. "It's often a very superficial thing that they're taking from the use of these songs."

The Message Behind the Song

In today's era of personality-driven political campaigns, songs can take on new significance.

McCain's use of the Swedish disco tune "Take a Chance on Me" may reflect the iconoclastic Republican's maverick side. It's also a song he truly likes.

McCain told New Hampshire voters before the primary that Abba is one of his personal favorites.

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