Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sing a Song of Cheer Again

Trump doesn't "Dream On" these days
In the latest sour note emanating from the Republican presidential campaign, singer Steve Tyler asked front runner Donald Trump to stop using “Dream On” at campaign stops.  Tyler had to send two cease-and-desist orders before Trump complied.

Trump should have been familiar with the process.  R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe asked him not use “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” which was played at an anti-Iran-deal rally attended by Trump and former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Trump is hardly the first candidate to run into such problems.  Musicians are typically more liberal minded than Republican conservative politicians.  As a result, Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen objected to Ronald Reagan using “Born in the USA” in the 1984 campaign. In 2008, Sen. John McCain used tunes by John “Cougar” Mellencamp, inciting an enraged response from the singer.  McCain also ran into trouble that year with Palin when the song "Barracuda" was used to mark their entrance.  The title referenced Palin’s high school nickname, but the band Heart, which owns the rights to the song, strenuously objected.

Somalian-born rapper K’Naan responded with anger when Mitt Romney used his “Wavin’ Flag” in his failed 2012 campaign. George W. Bush outraged Tom Petty for playing his “I Won’t Back Down.” When hit with a legal notice, Bush promptly failed to live up to the words of the song and chose another tune.

Nevertheless, every candidate seeks to find the right music to animate voters.  That’s been going on since the 1840 campaign when William Henry Harrison, the military hero of the battle at Tippecanoe, Ohio ran with John Tyler against incumbent Martin Van Buren and three possible vice presidential candidates.

The song was written by Alexander Ross and sung to the music of the folk ditty “Little Pigs.”  It contained the immortal words:

Who has heard the great commotion, motion, motion
All the country through?
Old Tippecanoe

It is the ball a-rolling on
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too
And with him we'll beat Little Van, Van
Van is a used up man
And with him we'll beat Little Van

The success of the song, which became extremely popular, caught the attention of other candidates.  As a result, songs have become a requirement of almost every campaign. So, in 1864, Abraham Lincoln won re-election with support from the rousing “Battle Cry of Freedom,” a song that is still current.

New York Gov. Al Smith picked a well known lilt from the 1890s, “The Sidewalks of New York,” to underline his failed 1928 try for the presidency against Herbert Hoover.  That song remains familiar today, too.

Broadway musical
Perhaps the best know campaign song is “Happy Days Are Here Again,” which was Franklin Roosevelt’s theme song in his success 1932 run for the White House.  It wasn’t the first choice – “Anchors Aweigh” was -- but at a campaign stop, a previous speaker was so boring, Roosevelt’s advisers asked for something livelier.  Someone selected “Happy Days” from the 1930 musical Chasing Rainbows.

The song has almost become a Democratic Party trademark in the intervening years.

Another popular song, the Beatles’ “Come Together,” was actually written by John Lennon to support Dr. Tom Leary’s quixotic attempt to become governor of California in 1969.  When Leary, a former Yale professor well known as an advocate for the use of  LSD, lost the race, Lennon added some nonsense lyrics and released the song to better success than Leary enjoyed.

In the 1992 campaign, challenger Bill Clinton went with Fleetwood Mac’s "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)" while incumbent George H.W. Bush started with "Don't Worry, Be Happy,” a successful 1988 a cappella hit by Bobby McFarren, and then shifted to Woody Guthrie’s anthem "This Land is Your Land." Ironically, given Bush’s conservative roots, Guthrie wrote the song to protest the rosy view of this country expressed in Irving Berlin's "America the Beautiful.”

That same year, independent candidate Ross Perot appropriately chose Patsy Cline’s 1962 smash hit, “Crazy,” which was written by Willie Nelson.

Today, music remains intricately entwined with the candidates, who often borrow sings without checking with the musicians first.  However, as president, no candidate has to worry about a theme song.  That role is already taken by “Hail to the Chief,” which was written in around 1812 and first used to introduce a president in 1829.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with occasional forays into American history.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His most recent book is Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons. His latest novel, Ice Flow, describes how one woman destroys a Massachusetts town in 1876.   His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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