Political Campaign Songs Part 2

One of the truly wonderful things about the political campaign season is the amazing amount of political entertainment that comes about. This includes commercials, giant rallies and the focus of this article, political campaign songs.

During this particular campaign season everything seems magnified by the presence of candidate Trump, especially when it comes to campaign songs. A couple of dust-ups occurred when the Trump campaign used one of Neil Young’s songs at some campaign rallies. Apparently Young took some exception to that and asked Trump to stop. Next Steven Tyler got into the act by asking Trump to not use Arrowsmith’s song, “Dream On,” which seemed to be more of a theme song since it wasn’t really written for the campaign. After that mini tempest Trump has decided to use glam band Twisted Sisters song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

But there are plenty of unofficial Trump songs; Mac Miller comes to mind. Trump himself did not really endorse the song as the lyrics are pretty crude, however Trump did voice his opinion that the song only had 30 million views on YouTube, which was apparently below The Donald’s standard Abiola . No sooner had Team Trump uttered those words than the view total climbed over one hundred million, thus getting into an area that can share The Donald’s rarefied air. But other humbler Trump songs that are very excellent and are not in the least vulgar are out there such as the “Mr. Trump Song.”

While Trump mixes theme style songs with songs actually written about him other candidates generally stick to theme style songs for their campaigns. The most memorable is probably Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign theme song, “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Harry Truman used “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” which was actually written in 1921 for a Broadway Musical.

But the campaign songs that are best are the songs that actually name the candidate and are no longer theme type songs. The first and best of these types of efforts has to be Frank Sinatra’s John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign song in which the Sinatra reworked the lyrics to “High Hopes” by sticking Kennedy’s name in it. It was a lark, but with that amazing big band behind Sinatra’s voice, well it sounded fantastic! The song had all the vitality and fun that we associate with the Kennedy campaign and presidency. Sinatra seemed to have done the impossible combining politics with pop music without sounding cornball.

Lyndon Johnson tried to follow in the footsteps of the Kennedy song by having Ed Ames rework the “Hello Dolly” song by Louis Armstrong into “Hello Lyndon.” This rendition was not very good, very cornball, and unfortunate in the light of LBJ’s failed presidency.

This brings up to some better attempts in recent years at political song writing, most notably John Lennon’s “Come Together,” which he started to write for Timothy Leary’s gubernatorial campaign in California. That effort came to an end when Leary was arrested, however John Lennon was able to rework Come Together into a great hit for his band The Beatles, which came out on the hugely successful album Abbey Road.

You know what they say about rules? Actually they say lots of things about rules but here’s two – rules were made to be broken, and you have to know what the rules are before you can break them. While Judge Dredd may not agree with the first, the second is certainly true and nevermore so than in writing a song.

The song structure may not be the first thing you think about when you start writing. You probably work on the verse or chorus, or maybe you have a good riff that you want to expand into a song. So you get that down and then you start to think about the other parts – the intro, how many verses, middle eight, do you want an instrumental, the ending…

Some song genres have a fairly rigid format, others are more flexible, and you need to know where you can bend the rules and why you may not want to do so in order to make your song stand out from the others. Let’s look at the sections you’ll find in most songs and the part they play in song construction.

Song parts

Intro. Yes, this leads you into the song. It may be two, four or eight bars long or longer. Some songs don’t have any intro at all. A pop song intro will often be reminiscent of the chorus or the hook. In a club song, it’s often a good idea to have eight bars of rhythm to help the DJ to mix match your song. They say that music publishers typically only listen to the first 20 seconds of a song before deciding whether to reject it so if you’re sending material to a publisher, keep the intro short and get into the song as quickly as possible. Save the 5 minute intros for the CD version.

Verse. This is the preamble to the chorus. It sets the scene, certainly lyrically, and as the verses progress they often tell a story or recount episodes from a situation although that’s by no means essential. They are typically eight or sixteen bars long and melodically not usually as strong as the chorus although, again, that’s by no means essential. However, it often seems as if the songwriter ran out of ideas when writing the verse. One of the strengths of The Beatles’ songs is that verses and choruses are equally strong and most people could hum or sing their way through most Beatles hits. Not so with many songs where the verses are little more than fillers to get you to the chorus.

Chorus. This the bit everyone remembers, whistles and sings along to. It should be the strongest part of the song and generally is or contains the hook. It’s usually eight or sixteen bars long.

Middle eight. As a song progresses, there’s a danger of boredom setting for the listener. The middle eight offers them a break and typically comes after a couple of verses and choruses. Some people think of it as an alternative verse and that’s one way to look at it. It often modulates to a different key or introduces a new chord progression and it usually doesn’t include the song title. However, all too often it’s simply an excuse for waffling on for a few bars. Although it’s called the middle eight it could be four or sixteen bars long.

Bridge. Many people use the terms ‘middle eight’ and ‘bridge’ synonymously and so popular is this usage that it would be churlish to disagree. However, among those who prefer to note the difference, a bridge is a short section used to bridge the gap between verse and chorus. It may only be two or four bars long and it’s often used when the verse and chorus are so different from each other that a ‘joining’ phrase helps bring them together.