When they’re good, they’re good. And when they’re bad, they’re even worse. Here are three examples of when a campaign’s theme song worked and three examples of when it didn’t.
The good ones
1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and “Happy Days are Here Again“
This song apparently became Roosevelt’s theme in 1932 by accident when someone played it during a rally to excite the crowd. The song, from the 1930 musical “Chasing Rainbows,” then became the Democrats unofficial theme song for years to come.
End result: FDR wins! Four times!
To hear the song in all its jingle jangle glory, here’s a video containing clips and photos of soldiers at war, people eating at soup kitchens, and flood victims — to show that things really weren’t all that happy:
2. Bill Clinton and “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac
In 1992, the future two-term president used Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” as a rally song. The song continues to be associated with Clinton, playing before his public appearances as recently as 2012.
Upshot: Clinton wins! Twice!
The reunited Fleetwood Mac performed the song at Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. In this video, the Clinton family joins the band onstage for some awkward dancing and clapping around the 2:16 mark. Then Michael Jackson appears next to them:
3. Dwight Eisenhower and “I like Ike,” written by Irving Berlin
This song, written especially for Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign, may make you want to pull out a tooth without anesthetic, but it was successful for a few reasons:
Eisenhower won the presidential election.
It was used in one of the first televised campaign ads, Berlin’s star power buttressed with art by Walt Disney Studios.
It’s hard to get this song out of your head — which is bad for you, but which worked wonders for the Eisenhower campaign.
Upshot: Ike wins! Twice!
To see the original television ad and hear the words “Ike for President” repeated like some kind of cult indoctrination:
The bad ones
1. John Kerry and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”
This was a very intellectual choice for Kerry in 2004, with lyrics about someone who serves in Vietnam because he is not the fortunate son of a rich businessman or an elected official. It was a subtle way for the decorated Vietnam veteran to take a dig at opponent George W. Bush, who did not go to war.
The problem? It was too subtle and too intellectual. If this current election cycle has showed us anything, it’s that nuance is not appreciated by the voting populace.
Upshot: Kerry loses to Bush.
2. Hillary Clinton and “You and I” by Celine Dion
Campaigning for her party’s 2008 nomination, Hillary Clinton allowed her supporters to vote online and choose her theme song. So it’s not her fault that this terrible song was chosen.
Actually, it’s completely her fault. If only she’d had the knowledge we do now: That allowing the general public to make a decision means you can end up with a $300 million research ship named Boaty McBoatface.
The lyrics here proclaim: “You and I / were meant to fly / higher than the clouds / we’ll sail across the sky.” However, the song fell flat. And that’s without most people even knowing that Air Canada had commissioned their Canadian sister Dion to write and sing the song for a television commercial.
Upshot: Clinton loses the nomination to Barack Obama.
Here’s the official clip. You’ve been warned:
John Quincy Adams’ and “Little Know Ye Who’s Coming.”
Running for reelection in 1828, Adams’ campaign adopted this threatening song which warned of all the bad things that would happen if Adams’ opponent, Andrew Jackson, was elected. One section: “Fear’s a-comin’, tears a-comin’, plague and pestilence a-comin’!”
Upshot: Adams loses to Jackson. No reports of plague or pestilence follow.
The Smithsonian Institute’s musical branch released a song of presidential campaign songs from 1789 to 1996 that includes this tune.