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Arts Desk

Campaign Songs Through the Years

FDR in 1932

Ever since supporters of George Washington changed the words of “God Save the King,” music has played a part on the American political stage. WRTI’s Susan Lewis looks at a sample of songs from the catchy to the corny to the cathartic. 

Radio feature script: 

Music: “God Save George Washington,” performed by Lost Radio Rounders

Songs about George Washington and, later, Herbert Hoover, both went the regal route. 

Music: “Hail Herbert Hoover”

By the mid-20th century, upbeat pop music and Broadway became fodder for both parties; an Irving Berlin song from Call Me Madam...

Music:  “They Like Ike”

...became “I Like Ike” for Eisenhower...

Music:  “I Like Ike”

...and Frank Sinatra changed the words to one of his hits for Jack Kennedy.

Music: “High Hopes” (Jimmy Van Heusen, music, Sammy Cahn, lyrics), from the 1959 film A Hole in the Head

More recently, it’s common for candidates to play a pop or rock song as written when the musical and political messages converge. In 1988, for example, both sides tapped into love of country—one using a 1940 Woody Guthrie song...

Music: “This Land is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie (used by the George H. W. Bush campaign)

...the other, a 1981 Neil Diamond hit.

Music: “Coming to America” (used by the Michael Dukakis campaign)

But using a song as written actually dates back to the 1932 Democratic convention, when campaign advisers made a sudden switch of music to be played before FDR’s speech. 

Music: “Happy Days are Here Again” (Milton Ager, music, Jack Yellen, lyrics), featured in the 1930 film Chasing Rainbows

The songs may change with the political winds. What stays the same is the power of music to move us—to make us believe in the best version of ourselves, and to have high hopes that one candidate will get us there.