Music delivers political message

By Mark Caro

Chicago Tribune

The musical battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney heated up recently as Stevie Wonder released a funky new pro-Obama song called “Keep Moving Forward,” while Meat Loaf celebrated his support of Romney by belting a goofy “America the Beautiful” practically into his face, thus demonstrating that, yes, there can be ham in Meat Loaf.

Each presidential candidate also has his own theme song — Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” for Obama; Kid Rock’s “Born Free” for Romney — as well as respective Spotify playlists of tunes to represent each campaign’s theoretical soundtrack.

We’ve come a long way since “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

Presidential hopefuls have been associating songs with themselves from the very beginning, often with new lyrics set to commonly known music. Oscar Brand’s album “Presidential Campaign Songs: 1789-1996” includes “Follow Washington,” a Revolutionary War song that followed George Washington into the White House.

But songs took on new importance in the early to mid-19th century as property qualifications for voting were eliminated during the Jacksonian era, vastly expanding the electorate to include many illiterate voters.

“The song became a really great way to send out the message among a class of voters that wouldn’t be able to read a pamphlet otherwise,” said Eric Kasper, coauthor of “Don’t Stop Thinking About the Music: The Politics of Songs and Musicians in Presidential Campaigns” and a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin at Barron County.

So it was that “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” — which celebrated the 1840 Whig candidacy of William Henry Harrison (who had led U.S. forces against Native Americans in the Battle of Tippecanoe) and running mate John Tyler and ridiculed incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren - was credited by newspapers with singing the ticket into the White House. The song, written by an Ohio jeweler named Alexander Coffman Ross, included multiple verses and a chorus that went: “For Tippecanoe and Tyler too/For Tippecanoe and Tyler too/And with them we’ll beat little Van, Van, Van/Van is a used up man/And with them we’ll beat little Van.”

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