Don't Stop Thinking about the Music: The Politics of Songs and Musicians in Presidential Campaigns.

Author:Sellnow, Deanna D.
Position:Book review
 
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Don't Stop Thinking about the Music: The Politics of Songs and Musicians in Presidential Campaigns. By Benjamin S. Schoening and Eric T. Kasper. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012. 289 pp.

In Don't Stop Thinking about the Music, Benjamin S. Schoening and Eric T. Kasper provide an interdisciplinary account of the role of music in American political campaigns. Their book makes a valuable contribution to research by integrating scholarship of music history with that of presidential campaigns.

The book is organized into three parts. Part One focuses on what the authors call the traditional era (1789-1916). Here, they show that music has been used as a negative campaign strategy for centuries. They also point to the 1840 election as a significant turning point in its use of "singing campaigns" (p. 44) to paint candidates as down-to-earth and, simultaneously, to demean opponents (e.g., "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" set to the tune of "Little Pigs"). Moreover, technological advances made it possible to mass produce songbooks more efficiently, thereby making these singing campaigns accessible to voters. This use of what the authors call "parody," or applying new words to a familiar tune (p. 76), would be replaced in the twentieth century with songs written expressly for the campaigns.

Part Two (the mass media era) extends from about 1920 to 1984. During this period, women won the right to vote and campaign music began to reflect their issues and experiences. Moreover, radio technology brought campaign music into homes across the country. Consequently, people stopped relying as heavily on songbooks and, instead, focused on slogan songs such as "Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge." In addition, as part of the Works Progress Administration program that began in the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Federal Music Project. Through it, folk singers such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger found work by composing and singing prounion songs with progressive social messages. By the 1950s, television and campaign music sound bites began to play a central role in campaigns as well.

Part Three focuses primarily on post-1984 campaign music, which is now a staple in campaigns (whether or not the musicians actually endorse the candidate). Notable early examples include Ronald Reagan's use of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A" and Bill Clinton's use of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)." By 2000, pop songs were being used...

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