Bryce Weblog

Hank Williams Jr. to The Beastie Boys, election music is as diverse as the candidates

by Bryce Little
October 28, 2008

In this historic presidential election Americans are out to do whatever they can to help the candidate of their choice, and musicians are no different. Artists like The Beastie Boys, The Allman Brothers and Hank Williams Jr. have all taken sides and used their music to sway voters.

“It does influence us in a subtle way,” Matthew Buckmaster, assistant director of music, said. “Musical artists that are backing a particular candidate or particular party might influence some people and I think that is part of why both sides of the election are looking to try and get [artists] involved.”

obama1Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama have both had their fair share of presidential campaign songs, ranging from country to hip hop. With the wide variety of music used by candidates, there is something in each campaign for everyone.

Obama, the Democratic candidate, has had the broadest selection of artists supporting his campaign. For the past year, artists from all over the nation have put on concerts and benefits to raise money for Obama.

On Oct. 16, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel played a concert in New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom where the tickets ranged from $500 to $10,000.

“This close to the election, it seems like every band is throwing out endorsements,” junior Kelly Parshall, who attended the Obama concert in Greensboro, said. “I saw Broken Social Scene just last [week] and they threw out several plugs for Obama.”

Alternative artists like the Decembrists, who opened for Obama at a Portland, Ore. rally, and Arcade Fire, who played benefit concerts in North Carolina, have helped Obama become a champion with the younger voters.

“I was impressed with the amount of support Obama garnered from the Greensboro community,” Parshall, who also attended the Arcade Fire concert in Greensboro, said. “Going to a concert surrounded by people who liked similar music and shared similar political views as me was very empowering.”

Concerts like these could give the upper hand to Obama. More than 6.5 million new voters under the age of 30 showed up to vote in this election primary, the vast majority supporting Obama.mccain

But while these numbers may seem staggering, musical backing for democrats has not always led to success at the polls.

In the 2004 presidential election, artists like Sheryl Crow, Ben Harper and Moby all supported Democratic candidate John Kerry in his attempt at reaching the White House. Even with the backing of all these musicians, George W. Bush won the election by 35 electoral votes.

McCain, Republican presidential candidate, has not received the same variety of artist support that Obama has. In fact, he has had numerous artists condemn his campaign for playing their songs without their consent.

John Mellencamp is one of the artists that has criticized McCain for using his music. McCain used “Our Country” and “Small Town,” two of Mellencamp’s most popular songs, during his rallies.

The Foo Fighters is another band that filed complaints against the McCain campaign, and lead singer Dave Grohl said in a statement that “My Hero” was not used with his permission.

“It’s frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property,” Grohl said. “The saddest thing about this is that ‘My Hero’ was written as a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential.’”

These kinds of complaints have continued to pile up for the Republican candidate.

Artists like Heart, whose song “Barracuda” was used as Sarah Palin’s theme song at the Republican National Convention, as well as Van Halen and Boston have condemned the use of their music at McCain rallies.

While having received bad publicity from his music choices, McCain has also swayed various artists to help him campaign.

When Sarah Palin came to Elon University Oct. 16 she brought with her country legend Hank Williams Jr., who is known for the Monday Night Football theme song. He played several of his most popular songs and ended his time on stage with his new song, “McCain-Palin Tradition,” a new take on his hit “Family Tradition.”

Music can be a powerful motivator and having these endorsements by musicians can help sway voters, but their celebrity often does not change the minds of voters, Parshall said.

“While I think their message is worthy, I have made up my mind based on party issues rather than who my favorite band is backing,” Parshall said. “Some voters who don’t have a clear understanding of the candidates or who are undecided could be swayed by political music.”

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