As our political system moves toward our upcoming elections and both major parties hold their conventions, join us as we explore some of the classic songs used for campaigns through the years. Before radio, TV, or social media ads dominated the campaign cycle, politicians selected or commissioned songs that would carry their message to voters around the United States. From classic campaign songs like “Tippecanoe & Tyler Too,” and “I Like Ike,” to “Roar,” and “God Bless the USA,” campaigns have commonly harnessed the power of music in delivering their message.
The Golden Age of Campaign Jingles
Some of the first tunes that pop into our heads when we think of campaign songs date to the 1950s to the early 1970s – pithy, bright, simple tunes that bear a striking resemblance to the commercial jingles of the time. While at the time they bore that resemblance, they were also part of the tradition of campaign songs that found a clear, simple (often rhyming) statements set to music. Songs like “Get on the Raft with Taft,” help us see where these campaign jingles came from, while the full-blown campaign pop-tunes from the late 60s and early 70s usher out the era.
I Like Ike
Perhaps the first example that popped in your head when we mentioned campaign songs was “I Like Ike,” the song that played a large role in the campaign of our 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The television commercial’s bombastic parade complete with Uncle Sam, bass drum-playing elephants, and babies in strollers with “I Like Ike” balloons could only be unified and outshined by the repeated phrase “Ike for President / Ike for President / Ike for President” sung as a bassline throughout.
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Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy
Doubling down on the repetition of the “I Like Ike” refrain, the Kennedy campaign relied on the triplet-rhythm of the candidate’s last name, creating another iconic campaign jingle in the process. Though somewhat outshone at the time by Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes,” (also below), the power of the “Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy,” jingle was commented upon by the television series Mad Men as they wondered aloud how to compete with the magnetic nature of the Kennedy Jingle.
Nixon’s the One
While Mad Men made light of the struggles had by the Nixon campaign in competing with Kennedy in 1960, the real Nixon campaign actually did have some trouble coming up with their own campaign jingle that could stand up to Kennedy’s. Eventually, they settled in on “Buckle Down with Nixon,” but it wasn’t the first seatbelt-themed jingle they tried: check out the lyrics to “Click with Dick”
Come on and click with Dick / The one that none can lick. / He’s a man of peace and reason / On the job in every season
While the two 1960s jingles didn’t lead to victory for Nixon, by the 1968 campaign Nixon’s camp transcended the humble jingle to full-blown songs extolling the virtues of his character and encouraging voters to the polls.
Below, find two songs with the same message (and title…) for 1968: “Nixon’s the One,” Echoing the sentiment of his campaign commercials, an upbeat version recorded by Connie Francis is contrasted by a more languid version recorded by the Vic Caesar Orchestra right here in Phoenix.