Every election season, politicians (and their spin doctors) select a song (or songs) that they hope will add some jazz to their campaigns. And as any presidential historian can confirm, the right song has the power to inspire, motivate and energize an electorate. This country’s first presidential campaign remains a case study for how a well-chosen campaign song — in this case “God Save Great Washington” (a play on “God Save the King”) — can boost a candidate’s bid for office.
Throughout this nation’s history, there have been a number of examples of how one song can make — or break — a political campaign. Some politicians commission their own original scores, while others tap into the popularity of hit songs. This listicle of the 10 most memorable campaign songs shows how picking the right music is a process that is only slightly less fraught than choosing the right candidate.
1. William Henry Harrison, 1840
“Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too”
For many, the nation’s ninth president, William Henry Harrison (whose presidency was cut short due to health complications) has receded into the dustbin of history. But his savvy choice of campaign music shows that he was a candidate ahead of his time. The song “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” helped Harrison on the trail by reminding voters of his victory in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe against Native Americans, while slyly poking fun at his competition, the fastidious Martin Van Buren.
2. William Howard Taft, 1908
“Get on a Raft with Taft”
William H. Taft aspired to be a Supreme Court judge, not president of the United States. But Taft accepted the Republican nomination at the behest of Theodore Roosevelt, who tapped the zaftig former judge as his successor. During his bid for the White House, the former White House administrator encouraged voters to “Get on a Raft with Taft.” The song featured original lyrics.
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932
“Happy Days Are Here Again”
Written three years before Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, Milton Anger and Jack Yellen’s 1929 song “Happy Days are Here Again” became the soundtrack for FDR’s historic three-term presidency. After the stock market crash of 1929, the U.S. spiraled into a dark period of economic uncertainty. On the cusp of the Great Depression, this relentlessly optimistic song reassured many rattled voters. It later went on to become the de facto anthem of the Democratic Party.
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