Obama’s Campaign Mixtape

Soundtrack for this post: ‘I Got You’ by Wilco, ‘The Weight’ by Aretha Franklin and ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. & the MGs.

*Note: from now on the above link will be to a playlist containing all soundtrack songs.

Obama’s campaign team is stepping things up.  Last week they published a 28-song 2012 campaign playlist on free online music library Spotify, a service which is not currently available outside the US and western Europe.  The complete list is at the bottom of this post.

As with the list of desired endorsements released a month ago (see this post), if nothing else, the playlist demonstrates admirable eclecticism.  There are a few correspondences with the endorsement list – No Doubt/Gwen Stefani, Wilco, James Taylor, Ricky Martin and Al Green – but Obama’s staffers have somewhat freer rein here given the likelihood of an individual declaring support is not a constraint (though an artist’s political persuasions aren’t completely irrelevant:  they can kick up stinks at their music being used without permission, particularly if they aren’t politically sympathetic).

Still, the Spotify list feels very much like a pragmatic collection of music, intended presumably to create rousing atmospheres at campaign events, rather than a collection of songs anyone would be passionate about (a true mixtape).  None of Obama’s favourite artists, as listed on his facebook page, are present.  (Those artists are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Johann Sebastian Bach (cello suites) and The Fugees).

Obama’s home town Chicago is represented by the funk of Earth, Wind & Fire and soul group The Impressions.  The latter’s ‘Keep on Pushing’, an early civil rights movement anthem, is the only overtly political song on the list. The song was also a commercial success on its release in 1964.

Although light on explicitly political songs, there are a number of songs that easily lend themselves to political interpretation.  Two concern increasing elevation – Ledisi’s ‘Raise Up’ and Sugarland’s ‘Stand Up’ – and two more deal with physical movement – Raphael Saadiq’s wonderfully retro ‘Keep Marchin” and ‘Roll With the Changes’ by arena hair rockers REO Speedwagon.

Obama’s 2008 clarion calls hope and change are largely absent.  REO Speedwagon’s song is more about resilience than transformation.  Electric Light Orchestra introduce an upbeat aspirational note with ‘Mr Blue Sky’, but Obama as visionary for positive change is definitely not the story told with this playlist.

Obama’s cool youth credentials are covered (for me, unsatisfactorily) by Portland hand-clappers AgesandAges and Brits Arcade Fire.  Any cred earned is however more than spent by the proliferation of contemporary country on the list.  There’s Sugarland (twice), the Zac Brown Band, Dierks Bentley, Montgomery Gentry and Darius Rucker (also twice).  This selection really doesn’t do country any justice, and must surely have been compiled by someone with zero fondness for the genre.  And yes, Darius Rucker looks familiar because he was the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish.

The cringe-worthy patriotism award goes to Dierks Bentley’s ‘Home’.  There’s a nice and non-obvious Aretha Franklin: a cover of The Band’s ‘The Weight’.  A surprising number of non-American artists found their way into the list: Florence + the Machine, E.L.O. and Noah and the Whale (the UK), Arcade Fire (Canada) and progressive totems U2 (Ireland).

The Ricky Martin song is interesting.  For a start it’s from 2011 – who knew he was still releasing music?  It features Joss Stone and is pointedly mature.  The Latino dance anthem stylings he made his career on are wholly absent.  In fact Latino music, along with other major genres like hip-hop and hard rock, is conspicuous by its absence from this list.

It was only a matter of time before a politician misused Bruce Springsteen’s new single, ‘We Take Care of Our Own’, a cynical take on post-Katrina America’s priorities.  It is a bit surprising it happened this quickly.  Obama and Springsteen have a history, with the latter appearing at the former’s campaign events in 2008.  Interestingly, The Boss is not on Obama’s dream endorsement list for 2012.

We could give Obama’s aides the benefit of the doubt and surmise that the inclusion of ‘We Take Care of Our Own’ was due not to a misreading, but was instead a conscious ploy to give the list some edge, or even to appropriate the song’s anger and signal the incumbent’s sympathy for the Occupy movement.  Still, such a bitter song sticks out sorely on a list dominated by light, upbeat pop and safe Americana.


The list:

‘Different People’ by No Doubt
‘Got to Get You into My Life’ by Earth,Wind & Fire Experience feat. Al McKay Allstars (live)
‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. & the MG’s
‘I Got You’ by Wilco
‘Keep On Pushing’ by The Impressions
‘Love You I Do’ by Jennifer Hudson
‘No Nostalgia’ by AgesandAges
‘Raise Up’ by Ledisi
‘Stand Up’ by Sugarland
‘This’ by Darius Rucker
‘We Used to Wait’ by Arcade Fire
‘You’ve Got the Love’ by Florence + the Machine
‘Your Smiling Face’ by James Taylor
‘Roll With the Changes’ by REO Speedwagon
‘Keep Marchin” by Raphael Saadiq
‘Tonight’s the Kind of Night’ by Noah And The Whale
‘Keep Me in Mind’ by the Zac Brown Band
‘The Weight’ by Aretha Franklin
‘Even Better Than the Real Thing’ by U2
‘Home’ by Dierks Bentley
‘Everyday America’ by Sugarland
‘Learn to Live’ by Darius Rucker
‘Let’s Stay Together by Al Green
‘Mr Blue Sky’ by Electric Light Orchestra
‘My Town’ by Montgomery Gentry
‘The Best Thing About Me is You’ by Ricky Martin feat. Joss Stone
‘You Are The Best Thing’ by Ray LaMontagne
‘We Take Care of Our Own’ by Bruce Springsteen

%d bloggers like this: