The Business of Political Music

Tirelessly stumping across America as the clock ticks toward zero in the 2004 presidential campaign, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry greet throngs of onlookers every day, taking the stage to a rock star's welcome while their campaign music blares in the background.

For Kerry, Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender" drives the campaign soundtrack. Bush sticks with the 2001 Brooks & Dunn country hit "Only in America." Their choices mirror a generally accepted red state/blue state division between country and rock music, but maybe more importantly, they've chosen artists with ideals similar to their respective campaigns.

Springsteen was the headliner of this month's Vote For Change concert tour benefiting Americans Coming Together, a voter registration organization hoping to oust Bush from the presidency. And though Brooks & Dunn have said "Only in America" is an apolitical song, the duo reportedly support Bush's re-election.

Apparently the two campaigns learned from Bob Dole's embarrassing gaffe in 1996, when the license holders to the song "Soul Man" threatened legal action over his campaign's unauthorized use of the song -- after he changed the words to "Dole Man." The campaign was also rebuked by Springsteen, who didn't want his "Born in the U.S.A" played at Dole events.

Yes, the candidates' choice of music, like everything else in politics, is now vetted as thoroughly as a stump speech. Music has become just another part of the political process.

So where does that leave the artists? Can they still reach the masses with songs of protest or patriotic support in an increasingly manufactured political landscape?

Apparently so. Or at the very least, they're not afraid to try.

Despite the potential potholes of alienating a fan base that may not agree with their views, musicians are as willing as ever to enter the political fray. From the Springsteen-led Vote For Change to the patriotic anthems of country singer Toby Keith, musicians are tackling the some of the country's most controversial issues.

"There has always been a trend that the issues of the day are heard in music," said Geoff Mayfield, director of charts and senior analyst with Billboard magazine. "Entertainers have long been willing to espouse their political views. There can be consequences, but fortunately there are still a lot of people willing to go out on that limb."

And for the most savvy and motivated, the public's post-9/11 political awareness can be a marketing and sales bonanza.

Country's Conservative Connection

Keith has released two multiplatinum albums with political messages in the past three years. The first, "Unleashed," was headlined by the song "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," a patriotic rant supporting the Iraq war and threatening a boot in the backside of any country daring to cross the United States. The song's wildly popular, chest-thumping message pushed the album to more than 4 million sales, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

The follow-up, "Shockin' Y'all," featured songs titled "The Taliban Song" and "The American Soldier" and sold another 3.8 million copies. And in 2003 Keith performed for troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., at the request of Bush.

The themes clearly struck a cord with country music fans, who have pushed similar works like Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?" to the top of the country music charts.

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