When it comes to political playlists, lyrics matter. That’s not always apparent to the politicians themselves, though, who can be tone-deaf about the themes of the songs they bring out on the campaign trail. Latest example: Just before Donald Trump introduced Mike Pence at an appearance Saturday (July 16), his campaign played a Rolling Stones song over the speakers — “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” maybe not the tune you want to blast when you’re trying to convince people that you really, really did get your first choice of vice presidential contender.
Republicans are famous for employing Democrat and/or liberal rockers’ hits at rallies, only to have it pointed out that “Born in the USA” is not actually a patriotic anthem but a bitter antiwar song and “Rockin’ in the Free World” was an indictment of George Bush more than an anti-commie celebration. Clearly, the GOP would be on safer ground just sticking with the music of Republican rock stars… if there are any.
Funny you should mention that! Although the Lee Greenwood vs. Lady Gaga deficit between the talent pools available to the respective parties continues apace, there are a number of well-known acts playing at the Republican convention in Cleveland this week, and not even all of them are country acts. Mind you, most of them are maintaining a slight distance from the polarizing presumptive nominee by emphasizing that they’re playing ancillary charity gigs after hours that aren’t officially part of the convention proceedings. “There’s no connection to the RNC for Journey‘s show. It’s a private event,” says a rep for that classic-rock band. Similarly, a publicist for country’s Rascal Flatts says, “They are playing a private charity event that isn’t associated with the convention and won’t be doing any interviews.”
Still, the shows that Kid Rock, Bret Michaels, Rick Springfield and others are doing would seem to mark them as at least willing to be associated with the Republican agenda (at least Joe Walsh thought so, when he pulled out of one of the gigs). And they may need to think about how their song choices do or don’t fit the platform that’s being celebrated in Cleveland. Even GOP-sympathetic acts have hits that could be taken the wrong way, in a politicized context. So we’ve looked through the catalogs of some of the acts playing these after-hours events, to point out some of the hits that could get the biggest cheers or run into some trouble among partying delegates:
Four years ago, the libertarian, Republican-leaning rap-rocker managed to rhyme “Obama is lyin’” with “Romney and Ryan.” Who knows whether he’ll be able to come up with a Clinton insult to rhyme with “Pence” this time, but at least he’s got plenty of tunes in his back catalog to fit the convention. There’s no need to explain why “Welcome 2 the Party (Ode 2 the Old School)” would be perfect for a conservative celebration. Brash oldies like “American Bad Ass,” “Cocky,” “Fist of Rage,” and “You Never Met a Motherf—er Quite Like Me” would all be a good match for the macho Trump ethos. “I’m Wrong but You Ain’t Right” is a potential anthem for party stalwarts who don’t love Trump but hate Hillary more. If Melania stops by the gig, he could launch into “So Hott” in her honor. Kid Rock could also consider throwing in “Half Your Age,” the song he wrote to diss his ex-wife, Pamela Anderson, when he was taking up with a much, much younger woman. But maybe the math there renders the song inappropriate for the Trumps, since Melania is only 21 years younger than Ivana.
Did you know that the televangelist Politico called Trump’s “God whisperer,” Paula White, is the wife of Journey member Jonathan Cain? That might help explain Journey’s appearance near, if not at, the convention, although the band is officially nonpartisan. In honor of all those evangelicals being courted, maybe GOP party-goers can pretend “Don’t Stop Believin’” is about belief in God, instead of lonely kids trying to get laid. “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” is a ballad of betrayal, so delegates from the Trump camp could send that one out with a dedication to traitors like George Will and Glenn Beck. If there’s enough alcohol at the gig to put everyone in a big-tent mood, “Open Arms” could strike the right inclusive chord. But the folks who’ve been fighting to make the platform less LGBT-friendly could be suspicious of “Any Way You Want It,” with all of the malleability and moral relativism implied in that title.
The Confederate flag that Skynyrd sometimes takes out on tour will probably stay under wraps in Ohio. But the Republican rockers’ 2009 song “Guns and God” will be a sure-fire hit with the Second Amendment crowd: “Well, we might as well give up and run / If we let them take our God and guns.” What song could possibly be more appropriate for a gathering in which Ohio’s NRA-pleasing open-carry laws are in effect, with pistol-packing allowed by law even within the convention center? “Saturday Night Special” seemed to be a pro-gun control song back in the ‘70s, but since Johnny claims his late brother Ronnie would be a Republican now if he had lived, maybe he can claim this song is pro-handgun in the 2010s, too. Meanwhile, if things really loosen up at the after-hours gig, Skynyrd could bust out “That Smel,” and dedicate it to the Cuyahoga River… Just kidding, Cleveland!
Look what the committee dragged in: a registered Republican hair-metal vet who, even if he’s already had his day elsewhere, Fox and Friends still can’t get enough of. At the convention, Michaels could revive Poison’s 1993 single “Until You Suffer Some,” in homage to Trump’s plan to bring back “waterboarding… and worse” in the war on terror. As for the immortal “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” — well, isn’t that what every primary voter in 2016 thought about his or her preferred flawed candidate?
Just listen to the lyrics of “Hard to Love,” Brice’s platinum 2012 single: “I am insensitive / I have a tendency to pay more attention to the things that I need… / I am a short fuse / I am a wrecking ball / Crashing into your heart like I do.” Is it not as if these words were written by Donald J. himself, to tell us just how sorry he is for not being more sensitive and reflective? Another big hit, “I Don’t Dance,” is about a guy who never thought he’d be persuaded to get on the dance floor, but true love persuaded him to get out there — the perfect metaphor for a #NeverTrump crowd that has finally assented to reluctantly cut a rug with the nominee. “Drinking Class” is all about blue-collar conservatism, which is just the wave Trump hopes to ride into office, even if Brice seems to want the Alcohol Party to supplant the Tea Party.
Nobody doesn’t love “Jessie’s Girl,” right? But coveting thy neighbor’s wife could prove problematic with the evangelical faction Pence was drafted to help keep in Trump’s fold. On the other hand, “Don’t Talk to Strangers” will be on-message when it comes to reminding convention-goers that little good can come of granting interviews to the lamestream media. It’s hard to predict what kind of battle might break out on the dance floor if Springfield revives “I’ve Done Everything for You,” because everyone who ever felt aggrieved within the party — whether it’s down-ballot swing-state candidates tarred by association with Trump, or the anti-establishment nominee himself — will feel like they should have the ownership of “…you’ve done nothing for me.”
With nostalgic odes to the good old days like “Mayberry” and “Rewind,” maybe Rascal Flatts is the band to reestablish that this is your father’s Republican party after all. “Bless the Broken Road” is a beautiful way to bid farewell to the half-year of endless torture that was the primaries. A more cynical band would bust out “Winner at a Losing Game” as an acknowledgement that Trump might have won the primary battle but lost the war; we don’t think Rascal Flatts is that band.
It’s a sure thing that McBride will sing “Independence Day,” especially since it provides eternal bumper music for Sean Hannity’s radio show, even if it is a song about a woman murdering her husband and not patriotism. “Where I Used to Have a Heart” may describe the feeling that old-school compassionate conservatives have about the party’s Trump takeover, but she probably doesn’t want to go there. After all those polls showing Trump trailing badly among women, “This One’s for the Girls” should make the ladies of the GOP feel righteously feminist for three and a half minute. But “Broken Wing,” McBride’s usual show-closer, seems like it could get McBride in hot water: exactly which wing of the party does she see as crippled?
The Band Perry
When the group performs its 2011 hit “You Lie,” South Carolina House member Joe Wilson will surely jolt to attention and exclaim, “I know, right?” since those are the exact words he blurted out as President Obama addressed to Congress in 2009. “Done” should go over like gangbusters with people who are ready to see eight years of Obama be just that. The band’s signature song, “If I Die Young,” isn’t exactly a party tune, but a ballad in which a young woman imagines being okay about dying a virgin could ensure some misty eyes and slow dancing among pro-abstinence delegates. “Better Dig Two” could sound a little ominous in this context, though, since nervous veteran Republicans hope their impulsive candidate isn’t digging a grave for the Republican establishment as well as himself.