Nixon Then, Nixon Now, Connie Francis & His Changing Campaign Songs from 1960 to 1972

Richard Nixon campaigning in 1968.

No question about it, Richard Nixon cut the widest swath when it came to presidential campaign songs, both in terms of on-message lyrics and musical genres. Then again, he ran for President three times over the course of a dozen years.

Nixon campaigning for President in 1960.

The period of time marking his first campaign, in 1960, to his final such contest, in 1972, also happened against the backdrop of a radically shifting Popular Culture, a reflection of social and political change in which Nixon was himself involved. His pursuit of the presidency stemmed from the wholesome black-and-white Atomic Age into acid-colored Mod times and the ensuing long-haired hipper days. California native, first elected to Congress in 1946, then the Senate in 1950, it was from that latter elective body that 1952′s Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower chose him as running mate. Upon their victory, Vice President Nixon spent the next eight years, some of the Cold War’s most frigid, as the President’s personal emissary. In many Asian, Middle Eastern and South American nations who’d never had an official visit from an American official, Nixon became an important symbol of the United States to hundreds of thousands of people in those regions.

Campaigning in 1960 with wife Pat.

A Nixon 1960 button referencing charges that JFK’s wealthy father was “buying” support for his son.

His persona through the 1950s, however, also carried with it the tough, often ruthless image impressed of him since his congressional years as a hard-line anti-Communist.

When Nixon ran for President in 1960 against John F. Kennedy, the most dramatic difference between them was in their biographies.

Kennedy was the Eastern Establishment prep-school and Harvard-educated millionaire son of a millionaire who seemed to glide with ease up each ladder rung in life.

Nixon, son of a western farmer and grocery-store owner, had struggled his way up, working through college, living sparely in a garage apartment. His story reflected the idealized “American Dream,” that nothing short of disciplined hard work would lead to success in any field. Finding the right campaign song to match his persona would be an evolving process.

The 1960 Click with Dick clicker was tied to a clunker song.

Even with the matching novelty item of a clicker, the first Nixon 1960 campaign song, Click With Dick, fell flat. The more engaging one, with an emphatic march-like beat seemed to reflect the fighting toughness in Nixon’s character, and the lyrics also suggested voters find the same disciplined commitment to support him that he’d used to lift himself. Entitled Buckle Down With Nixon, the song’s music was actually a Pop Culture standard already.

The new lyrics touching on Nixon’s extensive foreign affairs experience being set to Buckle Down, Winsocki, written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin. The original song was used as a boy’s high school military academy football team anthem in Best Foot Forward, a theatrical musical comedy, produced by George Abbott, which ran on Broadway in 1941 for 326 performances, and starred Lucille Ball. The second act of the otherwise forgettable play opened with the rousing musical number which evoked not only Nixon’s famous love of football but memories of his own high school football team, which he played on. By the time he was making his first run for the presidency, however, Buckle Down was nearly two decades old and sounded extremely dated, suggesting a political perspective that looked back into the 40s and 50s and not ahead in the 60s.

In a recording made half a century later however Buckle Down was magnificently restored with just the right retro touch, performed by multi-media artist Brian Dewan on that ubiquitous instrument of the mid-Century – the acordion. Here goes:

An ironic anti-Nixon button in 1968.

Nixon may have lost the 1960 presidential election, but all was not lost for Buckle Down. After winning some recognition from the air time it got during the Nixon campaign, the music was again re-treaded  with new lyrics by the New York City Department of Transportation. That agency put to use  as the theme for a public-service television commercial urging citizens to prevent injury and death in their automobiles by using their safety-belts.

Effortlessly re-titled Buckle Up For Safety, it was familiar to generations of those living in the New York region through the 60s and 70s. Among them – Richard Nixon.

After losing the presidential election in 1960, Nixon returned home to California but his passion for politics overcame his wife’s wishes and advise from friends, leading him to run for Governor two years later. He lost again.

This time, he even told the press, he was through with politics. He moved his family to New York City in 1963, working as an attorney.

A 1968 brochure which actually anticipates the “Nixon Now” theme of 1972.

Dismayed by the conservative turn the Republican Party took when it nominated Arizona Governor Barry Goldwater for the presidency in 1964, Nixon nevertheless remained popular with moderates, who at that time still formed the majority of the Republican Party.

As he had so often before and would again so often in the years ahead, however, Nixon defeated those who judged him defeated. Early on during the 1968 primary season, Nixon began to pull ahead of his fellow Republican contenders.

The 1968 theme Nixon pin.

At the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami, he won his party’s presidential nomination for a second time. With a campaign advertising campaign based on market-research, the candidate was packaged as the “New Nixon,” with tri-colored campaign products all bearing the official slogan, “Nixon’s The One.”

The Nixons campaigning in 1968.

And with the “New Nixon,” there was a “New Nixon” song. Although, by 1968, her astounding popularity among a young audience was dated to the time of Nixon’s first presidential candidacy, pop singer Connie Francis still had a currency with them – now as adults.

She also recorded standards which appealed to older generations.

Volunteering her name on a roster of “Celebrities for Nixon,” and also recording a television commercial for the candidate which aired during the popular comedy show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Connie Francis went a step further to record the song version of Nixon’s The One.

Connie Francis thought – and sang – Nixon’s the One.

Like Kennedy’s 1960 High Hopes, recorded by Frank Sinatra, the Francis version of Nixon’s the One was sold as a 45.

Although its sounded like she might  have performed on one of the era’s number of waning variety shows, like the Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show, it was decidedly “square,” a far more wholesome sound than the electric guitar vibe then influencing all musical genres.

Which was just fine for Nixon: it was the kind of music that appealed to the “Great Silent Majority” that would compose his primary political base. Here’s Connie Francis performing Nixon’s the One:

A Nixon 1972 pin just using his middle name.

Victorious in 1968, by the time President Nixon was heading into his 1972 re-election campaign, the nation was even more bitterly divided over the Vietnam War he had promised to end four years earlier.

Nixon campaigns in 1972.

Anti-war protests on college campuses, widespread experimentation with drugs, and the mainstreaming of the “hippie” culture  was more than enough for the Nixon campaign to shift its focus to a younger voter demographic.

Most importantly, however, was the successful passage of the 26th Amendment two years earlier, granting the right to vote to 18 year olds now – who were also of the age eligible to be drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam.

A Nixon ’72 poster aimed at youth voters.

Nixon had supported the change – but also wanted to make sure the campaign reached towards the older teenagers and young 20-somethings more directly.

Matchbook from Nixon’s 1972 campaign in the official theme font style.

For a President so often perceived in later years as being out of touch with the younger generation, Nixon’s campaign was not at all unhip.

Another hipper poster for the Prez.

Rather than ignore or avoid many other issues identified as being important to them, he explained his Administration’s “war on drugs,” and sweeping environmental protection legislation (which was truly radical and remains so today, even in the context of what his successors would initiate).

To match his well-coordinated campaign theme of “Nixon, Now More than Ever,” was the release of his third and certainly most swinging of campaign songs, called Nixon Now.

While to 2012 ears, it sounds like a bland version of “family band” music at the time, like that of the Partridges or the Cowsills, or even like the decidedly conservative feel-good group Up With People.

Still, it was  far more swinging sound than any previous presidential campaign songs. than any previous not Lawrence Welk bubble music from the 50s.

It was not necessarily a standard recording played at Nixon ’72 rallies, but rather served largely as the background theme music for television commercials aimed at young voters, using edgy jump-cuts of various still pictures of his first term. And true to presidential campaign song tradition, its lyrics only vaguely  referred to hard issues:

Nixon’s loss in 1960 made his rise again in 1968, sustained through 1972, a dramatic story, His great fall from those heights, ending with his resignation as a result of the Watergate scandal, already set in motion by the time voters heard Nixon Nowon television, was even more unbelievable. For many years to follow, almost nothing was associated with Nixon except Watergate and his resignation – even the three very different songs which had helped him soar before falling.

A psychedelic Nixon poster from 1972.


Categories: Advertising & Marketing, History, Politics, Presidential Campaign Music, Presidents, The Nixons

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4 replies »

  1. Hi Carl, U have been so darn productive, I just can’t keep up w/all your great pieces. I loved that accordian! * I haven’t heard Connie Francis in years. To me, she not only sounded smarmy, but also rather seductive, like she was trying to flirt with Nixon via this campaign song! Some women just love power as an aphrodisiac in it’s own right. Connie never came across to me as one of the brighter musicians of her era. Here, she once again comes to the picnic minus a few deviled egg salad sandwiches.

    **off topic: believe it or not, I actually do own a cd that contains a musical work featuring an eerie but beautiful (in strange way) accordian piece by Hovhaness: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. This piece does sort of prove that accordians can make pretty music.

    • Well thank you wonderful Susanne. It will be slowing down, schedule-wise, in the new year. I didn’t know much about Connie Francis before researching the article – but she has sure done something brilliantly – after half-a-century she just never stops going – huge fan base, she’s broken a lot of records (not thrown and smashed, meaning she’s sold an astounding astronomical amount) – almost leads one to wonder if she’s really a keen businesswoman who developed a public persona that runs counter to that. I do recall one very funny incident. A few years ago, maybe 2005 or so, she was on Larry King and he asked her what contemporary or new artists she liked, what her views were on new musical movements and she said, “Oh, Larry I don’t go in much for the Beatles.”

  2. Hello, Great read,

    I noticed that you labeled the “Nixon’s The One” poster as a Psychedelic poster from 1972. I remember that same poster from 1968.

    And I have an interesting discovery that you may find intriguing.

    Back in 1968, I was active in politics at my college.

    I still have two original “Nixon’s The One” posters that were for “Students for Nixon” back in 1968. They were authorized by Youth for Nixon-Agnew.

    The posters are the same, except, on one poster there is 1 face and on the other poster there are 2 faces. Maybe you can identify the three faces?

    I don’t know which poster was printed first. So either 1 face was dropped and 2 faces added or 2 faces were dropped and 1 face was added or there were two posters.

    I can send you JPG’s of the two posters if you are interested and may be you can identify the changes.

    Thank You,

    • First of all thanks for writing Kent and sorry for the delayed response. Very interesting – I don’t know much at all – nothing really – about the details of how some of these historic political memorabilia items are adapted and evolve. That said, I might recognize those other two mystery faces. You can send the jpegs to me at carlanthonyonline@gmail.com. I do know that often faces were added or changed on campaign buttons to target market either state or municipal candidates to pair them up with presidential candidates. Perhaps that happened here. Anyway, many thanks – I appreciate you writing.

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