Obama Rescues Campaign Tradition: Vote for President…with the Best Music

In the eleventh hour President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign for a second term seems to have unwittingly saved the grand tradition of campaign music from oblivion. At Obama rallies in Virginia, Ohio and Iowa this week and last, Bruce Springsteen initiated what is described as an “acoustic” and “off-the-cuff campaign song.” Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney‘s campaign has no song or music it regularly uses and until the Springsteen effort, neither did Obama’s. It means that 2012 will not mark the first presidential campaign in history without a sound of some sort (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/bruce-springsteen-obama-rally-virginia-imitation-song_n_2008387.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment).

Meanwhile, Americans will turn out to the polls and vote for President on Tuesday, November 6….but you can vote here and now for President….with the best campaign music.

From the 1896 to the 2008 campaign, 19 candidates have been elected president using campaign music in genres from rap, ragtime, show tune, southern rock, march, country-western, and ballad (a 20th, Gerald Ford lost).

Drawing from the range of a over a century’s worth of national talent, these songs have been performed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Stevie Nicks, Al Jolson, Scarlett Johansson, Irving Berlin, Carmen Miranda, will.i.am, Ethel Merman, Eubie Blake, Connie Francis, Woody Guthrie, Carol Channing and Billy Ray Cyrus.

Over the course of these twenty-four presidential election campaigns, four distinct periods can be defined, affected by technology, social and political events, the candidates’ personalities and the evolution of popular music.

To streamline the  process, voting here is for one candidate within each category. You can hear each song here, on this page and also get the full story on how each song came about by clicking the link beneath the corresponding President’s name.

You have until next Monday, November 5 to cast your ballot  for “President with the Best Campaign Music.”

The President and his song with the highest percentage will be posted here the next day, Tuesday, November 6, Election Day.

The Originals: McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover

The Originals,” 1896-1928. From the turn of the 20th century until the Jazz Age, each winning presidential candidate had an original piece of music written specifically for them as a campaign song, some created by noteworthy composers.

William McKinley, “Hooray For Bill McKinley!” 


Theodore Roosevelt, “We’re Ready For Teddy Again! 


William Howard Taft, “Get On the Raft With Taft”

(link to story is same as the one for Roosevelt above)

Woodrow Wilson, “Wilson, That’s All!” 

(link to story is same as the one for Roosevelt above)

Warren G. Harding, You’re the Man for Us!


Calvin Coolidge, “Keep Cool & Keep Coolidge


Herbert Hoover, “Hail Herbert Hoover! 


The Adapters: FDR, Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ

The Adapters,” 1932-1964. From Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson, through the Depression to the Age of Aquarius, the lyrics of popular Hollywood and Broadway tunes were adapted to the messages and personalities of the candidates.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Happy Days Here Again!”


Harry Truman, “I’m Just Wild About Harry!


Dwight D. Eisenhower, “They Like Ike.”



John F. Kennedy, “High Hopes” 


Lyndon B. Johnson, “Hello Lyndon!


The Revivalists: Nixon, Ford, Carter

“The Revivalists,” 1968-1976. For a brief period, covering the elections of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, there was a revival of the originally-composed presidential campaign song.

Richard Nixon, “Nixon’s the One!” 


Gerald Ford, “I’m Feeling Good About America”


Jimmy Carter: “Why Not the Best?”


The Appropriators: Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama

“The Appropriators (& One Originator),” 1980-2008. From 1980 through 2004, presidential candidates adopted contemporary popular music but had to frequently drop the songs under threat of legal action by its composers. In 2008, Obama – who reportedly wanted to have his own unique campaign song, adopted a non-commissioned contribution.

Ronald Reagan, “California, Here I Come!” 


George Bush, “This Land is My Land”


Bill Clinton, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow!


George W. Bush, “We the People”


Barack Obama, “Yes, We Can!”


Categories: Barack Obama, Campaign Music, Franklin D. Roosevelt, History, Hollywood, Pop Culture, Presidents, The Obamas

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

14 replies »

  1. Two comments, if I may: I took care of a wonderful lady, Elizabeth Underhill, who at the age of 19, was scheduled to be a passenger, along with her family on the ill-fated Titanic. She was a 1921 graduate of NYU Law School (one of her classmates was Benjamin Harrison’s daughter Elizabeth Harrison Walker), three trips around the world, 49 times across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first woman bank director in county history. But, first and foremost, she was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. She’ll be gone 30 years next month (Elizabeth was 2 weeks from turning 90), when she died in the 21 room mid-Victorian home that she was born in). I can still vividly recall singing ‘Get on the Raft with Taft,’ as she sipped her daily martini.

    Secondly, I once attended a concert with Oscar Brand who, on stage, was singing presidential campaign songs. I started chiming in from my seat in the audience. He was atonsihed that there was anyone who knew any of these songs, so, he invited me up on stage, where we sang a medley of presidential campaign songs.

    Also, I wanted to tell you that I will be the guest of Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner’s radio program (which can also be heard online) WVOX on Friday, Nov. 9 from 10-11am, est.
    I will be speaking on the history of unsuccessful presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

    • What a great story. Who knew there was a time and day when people really did sing Get on the Raft with Taft – pretty clumsy lyrics I”d have to say. Fascinating to have been around someone who didn’t merely touch a bygone era like that but lived through it so thoroughly as an adult. Oscar Brand is a pretty extraordinary musician and historian – and amazingly modest I’d have to add. How great that you could delight someone as generous as him. He’s the “father of campaign song history.” Thanks for writing!

  2. Okay, McKinley wins hands down for me in the first group. All the other songs are REALLY scary, though the lyrics to some are a total kick. I’ll refrain from quoting, but some are really unbelievable. At first I mistook the gesticulating Al Jolson for a particularly enthusiastic candidate–perhaps he should have run.

    • Haha – not sure what Jolson could have run on except his voice. Well, I hope you cast a vote for “Mack.” Truth be told, I find that middle era, when so many familiar songs from films and plays were adapted, to be the best time for campaign music – 1932 to 1964. Thanks for the observations though…

  3. Carl–Thanks for this update and the voting opportunity. Another addition to the original song resurrection by the Obama campaign would be the recently recorded song FORWARD. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2012/10/26/ne-yo-obama-song/1661139/.

    I will be singing a program of campaign songs Tuesday, October 30th at Georgia Southern University and talking about the significance of such throughout history – https://news.georgiasouthern.edu/viewArticle.php?id=2328.

    Thanks for your work.

  4. Carl,

    Thanks for bringing some levity..and history to a tough election season. Your breadth of knowledge and your entertaining and informative posts make for great reading!

    • Wow….now that’s incredibly kind of you to say and gives me a definite boost – always welcome. I’m always on the verge of quitting this endeavor but when I know its being read, it helps a lot. make sure you vote for the best one in each category – then on Wednesday will have to final – and please share it with everyone and anyone you think might enjoy it. Regardless – thanks for taking the time to write that.

      • Fantastic Carl! I have to say, Bill Clinton’s is my favorite of all the President’s election song themes. (Kenndey’s also)

        • Well thank you! And I assume you got a chance to vote? Its been interesting to see how people have responded in voting to different President – thus far, for example, that clunky tune of “Get on the Raft with Taft” seems to be gaining over the others in his category. I appreciate your writing and opinion.

      • Don’t quit! Your posts are always a delight I look forward to. I can’t imagine how you find time to do it all, but the rest of us learn so much. Most of all, you give us things to think about, and new angles from which to think about them. What you said about trying first to understand why someone believes what he does is first rate. Always the first and best step to take in my book, however hard this lesson can be to learn. Do you have a favorite period in American history? The span and breadth of topics and eras you discuss so well is astonishing.

  5. This was so much fun: wish all elections could focus on the “lighter” fare sometimes. Your positive spin trumps all the media blitz of negative ads here in PA on election eve. The robo calls have been relentless too. Thanks for your research and giving us all a touch of positive nostalgia, Carl. You’re a scholar, gentleman and superb columnist. I think both sides of the aisle have been covered quite well. Now if Congress could learn to do the same, no matter who wins. In the end we Americans should be the real winners.

    • Wow – well thank you very much DH. It never fails to help encourage me to continue on with this just a little bit further when readers and subscribers enjoy the work but also perhaps pick up on what you did. I, too, like everyone else have my personal opinions but as trying as it can often be, I think we end up benefiting most when we try first and foremost to understand people – be they alive today or long gone, famous and powerful or anonymous and powerless – as humans above all else, and not as caricatures. It has never hurt me to make the effort to at least understand “why” those I might disagree with politically hold the views they do – if there are threads of commonality with them, these are first found by understanding why they believe what they do. You know who told me how important that process is? Hillary Clinton. Again – thank you very much, it has impact – and please sign up as a “follower” to be alerted when new stories appear…and share the links with those you think might also enjoy them. Cheers.


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