Why does Donald Trump want a campaign song about illegal drugs? – Aidan Smith
Yesterday morning I turned on the TV to be greeted by a singing dog. The shaggy mutt walked round a spotless house in a befuddled state and to, the tune of Flash by Queen, warbled: Where! The hell! Has all the mud gone?” I’m sure you can guess the brand of cleaning product being advertised.
The commercial is funny but I don’t know what it does to the sanctity of the song and Freddie Mercury smashing the sound barrier (again) due to his stone-washed jeans being too tight. Do the surviving members of the band approve of the late frontman’s “A-ahs!” being mimicked by a goofy pooch? It would appear so, but having their hits appropriated by a goofy president? That’s a different matter.
Queen are one of the many acts who’ve been severely dischuffed to find themselves turning up on the soundtrack to Donald Trump’s campaign rallies. This would make a decent pop-quiz question. One point each for: Neil Young, REM, Aerosmith, Adele, Tom Petty, Pharrell Williams and Rihanna – and a bonus of an extra two for the joke band, Nickelback.
Also, the Rolling Stones. Those “British bad boys”, as Bob Dylan calls them on his new album. Mick Jagger & Co are currently threatening to sue Trump for using their songs in his re-election bid. Brown Sugar and Start Me Up have turned up previously; now it’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
Trump is 74; his rival for the White House might have been the 78-year-old Bernie Sanders until Democrats opted for the younger man in Joe Biden, 77. You might think when the political contenders are in the mature category that it must be younger members of their retinues – think the fluffers and faffers of Veep – who’re picking the songs but apparently it’s the main man who makes the choices for Now That’s What I Call Trump.
Say what you like about him – and “erratic”, “foolish” and “irrational” are descriptions from the newest of the 742 Trump books there have been – but he seems to have decent taste in music. There’s a bizarre quote from an earlier book which goes: “Deep down, he wants to be Madonna.” As you contemplate that Blonde Ambition, remember that Republicans are like our Conservatives: here it’s Labour who traditionally have had the best tunes while the Tories could only ever really count on Lynsey de Paul singing for them. The party of The Donald tend to struggle for the backing of the coolest and hippest.
The first presidential candidate to exploit the potency of cheap music was Franklin D Roosevelt back in 1932 with Happy Days Are Here Again, a ditty also associated with the end of Prohibition, another kind of lockdown. The first musician to seriously object to being the backing track for podium promises, frenetic flag-waving and balloon bombing was Bruce Springsteen in 1984 when Ronald Reagan fancied romping back into the White House to the strains of Born in the USA.
If Reagan had listened beyond the chorus he’d have realised the song wasn’t simple jingoism, rather a lament for sad and forgotten Vietnam vets. Sceptics doubted he knew who Springsteen was, far less the possibility that he and wife Nancy of an evening bopped along to The Boss’s blue-collar anthems. Oh yes, said aides, Ron’s favourite is Born to Run. Rival Walter Mondale scoffed: “Bruce may be born to run but he wasn’t born yesterday.” That’s a quip worthy of Mondale’s earlier “Where’s the beef?” but he never got to become president.
In 1988, George Bush – HW – liked the gentle lilt of Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy, or someone in his team did. McFerrin wasn’t happy. Bush said don’t worry, come to dinner. Both meal and usage were refused. In 1996, Bob Dole tried to change the refrain of Soul Man to “I’m a dole man”. One wag reckoned that suggesting Dole had soul was akin to proposing to the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer that he sing Feelings. Co-composer Issac Hayes shafted the idea.
Hayes didn’t want people thinking he endorsed the man the song would have fanfared, which is invariably the main objection. Some musicians have a fierce political conviction but more are motivated by self-image and career longevity: “How will it play for my next album – most likely a turkey – if this guy goes and invades a small country we hardly knew existed?” Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar didn’t support John McCain but what the heck: hearing the band’s song Right Now at rallies gave him “goosebumps”.
Just because you’re a Democrat, and just because your wife looks like one of the Supremes, it doesn’t mean you’ll get the song of your choice. Barack Obama was ordered to stop using Hold On, I’m Comin’ by Sam Moore, one half of Sam and Dave, who, while “thrilled” to see a man of colour run for president, cautioned: “I have not agreed to endorse you for the highest office... my vote is a very private matter between myself and the ballot-box.”
Back to Republican McCain: by the time he’d irked Foo Fighters, Abba, John Mellancamp, Jackson Browne, Heart and Orleans, he’d earned the distinction of having notched up the most musical complaints.
So, when Trump is wrangling with the Stones over a track that Jagger reckons to be a distinctly odd choice for a US presidential rallying-cry, given it was written in 1968 as a “sort of doomy ballad about drugs in Chelsea”, the thought occurs: is he intent on beating the record?
He’s competitive enough: everything – even coronavirus statistics – is deemed fair game for a macho boast. And that makes you wonder: if the doggie ad transferred to the States, would he want to start walking out to Queen’s Flash? Bleach, after all, may have mystical powers. No mere disinfectant, this!
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