They're not writing campaign songs like these any more

WAY BACK WHEN

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October 26, 2008|By FREDERICK N RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N RASMUSSEN,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

There is nothing musical that has a shorter shelf life than the custom-written presidential campaign song, unless it's one the anointed party candidate has copped from the popular music world and adopted as his campaign theme without altering lyrics.

Examples of the later would include "Don't Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)" by Fleetwood Mac, which was used by Bill Clinton in 1992, or "This Land is Your Land," the classic Woody Guthrie tune employed by George H.W. Bush in the 1988 campaign.

This year, Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" and "Better Way" by Ben Harper have been used in the Obama campaign. His Republican counterpart John McCain prefers ABBA's "Take A Chance on Me," which has taken on a new meaning, given what's happened to his quest for the White House during the past several weeks.

Apparently it got under the skin of John Mellencamp, a devoted Democrat, that McCain's campaign was playing his "Our Country" and "Pink Houses" at rallies earlier this year. The singer asked McCain to stop.

Ah, whatever happened to the dear dead days when "Get On The Raft With Taft" swept the country and was on everyone's lips during the 1912 campaign, or 48 years later, when the Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen tune "High Hopes," rewritten and sung by Frank Sinatra, became the campaign song that Americans still associate with John F. Kennedy's presidential 1960 campaign.

'Cause he's got high hopes,/ He's got high hopes. / 1960's the year for his high hopes, / Come on and vote for Kennedy, / Vote for Kennedy, / And we'll come out on top.

In his 1971 book, Songs America Votes By, Irwin Silber wrote that the campaign song for years was a piece of "political paraphernalia" whereby political parties hoped to "sing their presidential candidates into office."

The late Lester S. Levy, the noted Baltimore sheet music collector, wrote in a 1980 Sunday Sun Magazine piece that it wasn't until the election of 1840 that the American public was "given a taste of campaign music." That year, William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate and frontier warrior who was called "Old Tippecanoe," ran against the incumbent, Martin Van Buren.

After selecting John Tyler as his vice presidential candidate, songwriters went to work and came up with a 13-verse campaign ditty, "Tip and Ty," which "captured the hearts and minds of the majority of the public," wrote Levy.

Tin Pan Alley employed standard melodies such as "Dixie," "Yankee Doodle" or "John's Brown Body" when writing campaign songs. A popular songs of the day, "The Sidewalks of New York," originally written by Charles B. Lawlor and James W. Blake in 1894, was adapted by Al Dubin and became Al Smith's campaign song in 1928.

"Happy Days Are Here Again," which was used in the 1930 film Chasing Rainbows, became Franklin D. Roosevelt's campaign song in 1932, and since that time, the Democratic Party's theme song.

Silber wrote that by 1948, the spirited campaign song was well on its way to extinction because TV and radio were replacing campaign rallies, torchlight parades and booming bands.

However, that didn't stop a campaign version of the Noble Sissle and Baltimorean Eubie Blake's "I'm Just Wild About Harry" hitting the campaign trail.

In 1952, Irving Berlin wrote an original song for Dwight D. Eisenhower's campaign - "I Like Ike." But does anyone remember 1960's Richard Nixon campaign and "Click With Dick" or "Here Comes Nixon"?

Four years later, Jerry Herman adopted the theme song from Hello, Dolly, for the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign:

Hello, Lyndon, / Well, hello, Lyndon, / We'd be proud to have you back where you belong.

That same year, Baltimore native Otis Clements, a lyricist and pianist who graduated from St. Paul's School in 1945, composed the music for "Go With Goldwater" for the Barry Goldwater campaign.

"I was hired to do the music and Tom McDonnell did the lyrics. It was a catchy ragtime tune," said Clements, now retired, in an interview from his Key West, Fla., home the other day. "It never made it into the jukeboxes but it was played on the radio at the time, and not long ago, I got a royalty check for $100. It had been used in a PBS documentary."

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