The Best and Worst Political Campaign Songs (But Mostly the Worst)

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With presidential campaigns already gearing up for 2020, candidates are beginning to rally their bases, retool their talking points, and select their campaign songs—those upbeat little ditties that play at rallies, speeches and pretty much whenever a candidate walks on stage.

The art of choosing the right campaign song is not as straightforward as it may seem. For hundreds of years now, U.S. presidential candidates, world leaders, and even a few dictators have found themselves flummoxed, mocked, and, more often than you’d think, sued for selecting the wrong tune.

Here’s a list of a few of the most notable, scandalous, ridiculous, or downright brilliant campaign songs ever used.

1. Saddam Hussein: "I Will Always Love You"

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s selection of Whitney Houston’s "I Will Always Love You" for his sham campaign in 2002 is perhaps the most wonderful, if nonsensical, choice of a campaign song in political history. Syrian pop star Mayyada Bselees’ Arabic cover of the soaring love ballad (written and originally performed by Dolly Parton) was broadcast on dawn-to-dusk radio spots from Baghdad to Basra endorsing the mustachioed autocrat—just before the U.S.-led bombing campaign began in 2003.

2. Ronald Reagan: "Born in the U.S.A."

When Ronald Reagan chose Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” as his campaign song in 1984, a collective gasp echoed across the nation. Anyone who has actually listened to the lyrics knows it’s a seething anti-war anthem, delineating, among other things, U.S. military failures in Vietnam: “I had a buddy at Khe Sahn/Fighting off the Viet Cong/They’re still there, he’s all gone.”

3. Hillary Clinton: "Captain Jack"

Hillary Rodham Clinton hasn’t had much better luck choosing her campaign ditties. In 2000, she used Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” at a rally—a song her opponent, Rudy Giuliani, gleefully pointed out is about things like getting high and masturbating.

Eight years later, during the Democratic presidential primary, Clinton let her fans go online and vote on her campaign song—a nice, democratic idea that turned into a bit of a debacle when conservative pundits began offering their own suggestions. David Brooks of The New York Times offered Hall & Oates’ “Maneater.” Jon Sanders of Townhall.com suggested R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” and Rush Limbaugh struck below the belt with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s booty-lovin’ “Baby Got Back.”

Clinton ended up going with Celine Dion’s travel-themed love song, “You and I."

4. Silvio Berlusconi: "Thank Goodness for Silvio"

For nearly a decade, Italy’s playboy-president, Silvio Berlusconi, had been campaigning to an original tune, the title of which loosely translates to “Thank Goodness for Silvio.” Anyone familiar with Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga debacle won’t be surprised to find out that “Thank Goodness for Silvio” comes with a series of campaign music videos, which have played regularly over the years on Italian television, and feature beautiful women hanging out in beauty salons, walking on treadmills, and performing water aerobics, while singing longingly into the camera about how great Il Cavalere really is.

5. John Quincy Adams: "Little Know Ye Who's Coming"

George Washington also went with an original tune, “God Save Great Washington,“ a rather thinly veiled knock-off of “God Save the Queen”—an interesting choice for the Redcoat-vanquishing general. But Washington’s vaguely pro-royalist jam is nothing compared to John Quincy Adams’ campaign song a few decades later, which unlike most campaign songs that try for a more positive approach, actively threatened voters if they didn’t vote for him: "Fire's a-comin', swords a-comin'/pistols, guns and knives are comin'/...if John Quincy not be comin'," the singer crooned. Despite the threats, Adams lost the 1828 race to Andrew Jackson.

6. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "Happy Days Are Here Again"

It wasn’t until 1932, during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential campaign, that a pre-existing campaign song was used—and it happened rather by accident. At a campaign rally one day, the man charged with introducing Roosevelt did such a terrible job, the soon-to-be president’s advisors wanted to play something—anything—to get the bad taste out of the audience’s mouth before FDR took the stage. The chirpy ditty, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” from the 1930 musical Chasing Rainbows, just happened to be lying around. The jangly tune was such a hit, Democratic candidates used it for the next few decades, forever associating it with the party.

7. George W. Bush and Others: "Right Now"

For a few years, beginning in 2006, Van Halen’s rousing jam “Right Now” became the unofficial theme song of the Republican party, with George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and John McCain all rocking out to the hit that was MTV's 1992 Video of the Year. That is, until someone pointed out that the song comes from an album entitled For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which refers to criminal sodomy, and features a not-so-family-values acronym. The video laments, "Right now oil companies and old men are in control."

The Van Halen kerfuffle was just one of many problems Republican candidates in the U.S. have faced in recent years. In 2008, for instance, John Mellencamp, Boston, Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne, Heart, and a composer named Christopher Lennertz all asked the McCain/Palin campaign to stop grooving to their tunes. In 2012, Tom Petty asked GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann to quit blasting “American Girl.” (He also balked when George W. Bush co-opted his defiant anthem, “I Won’t Back Down,” in 2004.)

8. Angela Merkel: "Angie"

German chancellor Angela Merkel ran into similar trouble in her reelection campaign in 2005, when she chose the Rolling Stones’ break-up song, “Angie,” as her theme song—without the band’s permission, and apparently without actually listening to the lyrics, which aren’t ideal for an incumbent: “With no loving in our souls, and no money in our coats/You can’t say we’re satisfied … /All the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke/…Ain’t it time we said goodbye?”

9. Bob Dole: "I'm a Dole Man"

In 1996, Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole also went with the name-related theme, changing the lyrics to the 1960s classic “I’m a Soul Man” to “I’m a Dole Man.” A representative for the original song, which was written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, performed by Sam & Dave, and at the top of the charts in 1967, demanded that the Dole campaign pay $100,000 in damages for every time the song was played on the campaign trail. A settlement was later reached—and Dole never played that song again.

10: Barack Obama: "Hold On, I'm Comin'"

When Barack Obama's campaign used Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'" in 2008, the Sam half of the R&B duo (Sam Moore) told them to stop because he had not endorsed the candidate. As the Washington Post reported at the time, Moore had other problems with the use of the tune: "When the song was first recorded by Dave and myself, it was pulled off the market because it had such sexual orientations. I don't want to get graphic with this, but how do you take a song about getting girls and turn it into a political thing? Somebody's really desperate!"

11: Hugo Chavez: Impromptu Hillary Clinton ditty

The melodramatic former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, didn’t have a campaign song, exactly, but he did interrupt one of his own speeches to sing a little ditty to Hillary Clinton. “I’m not much loved by Hillary Clinton,” he crooned. “And I don’t love her either, lada da da!” The song was short, but it was a crowd-pleaser—the assembled students cheered him on for several minutes afterward.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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8 Surprising Facts About Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1977.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1977.
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Rarely has anyone been more driven to succeed than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Austrian came to America in the 1960s and became a champion bodybuilder. Refuting advice that his accent was too thick, his body too developed, and his name too confusing, he became the biggest box office attraction in the world thanks to films like 1982’s Conan the Barbarian and 1984’s The Terminator. That would satisfy most ambitious people, but Schwarzenegger then went a step further and became governor of California in 2003.

With the “Austrian Oak” celebrating his 73rd birthday on July 30, we’re taking a look at some of the most interesting facts of his life and career.

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger went AWOL in the Austrian military.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Born July 30, 1947 near Graz, Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s family did not lead a comfortable life. Their home had no plumbing and no telephone. Schwarzenegger’s father, Gustav, was the village police chief and also a member of the Nazi party, which his son didn’t learn until much later on in his life. His father also pitted Schwarzenegger against his older brother, Meinhard, in various athletic contests, but it wasn’t until Arnold discovered bodybuilding that he found his calling.

Schwarzenegger, who made his own weights at a local metalworking shop, trained while performing a compulsory one-year tour of duty in the Austrian Army beginning in 1965. (Thanks to the balanced meals and protein offered by the military, he also gained 25 pounds.) During his time there, Schwarzenegger fled the base without permission so that he could enter a bodybuilding competition in Germany. He won, then spent seven days in military prison for the offense.

2. Arnold Schwarzenegger learned how to drive a tank.

While serving in the Austrian military, Schwarzenegger was given instruction on how to operate a tank. The vehicle apparently held some sentimental value for him, as he later acquired it and brought it to America. In 2000, he loaned the tank to the Motts Military Museum in Ohio, then had it returned to him in 2008 with plans to offer rides to disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles as a reward for working hard in school.

3. Arnold Schwarzenegger used psychological warfare to defeat his bodybuilding opponents.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron (1977).Getty Images

Schwarzenegger arrived in the United States in 1968 to pursue his bodybuilding career and enjoyed tremendous success, eventually winning seven Mr. Olympia titles. But it wasn’t solely due to his physique. In 2015, Schwarzenegger told podcast host Tim Ferris that he purposely engaged in psychological warfare to distract and shake the confidence of other competitors. He might, for example, ask a bodybuilder if they had a knee problem. “And they say, ‘Why are you asking?’” Schwarzenegger said. “I said, ‘Well, because your thighs look a little slimmer to me. I thought maybe you can’t squat or maybe there’s some problem with leg extension.’” The contestant would then feel self-conscious, and Schwarzenegger—always possessed of immense confidence—would capitalize on their insecurity, upstaging his opponent in front of the contest judges.

4. Arnold Schwarzenegger was already a millionaire before he got into acting.

Though he was successful in his bodybuilding career, Schwarzenegger wanted to have a reliable source of income beyond prize purses. He invested the money he won in competitions in California real estate, profiting immensely off the rise in property values in the 1970s. In doing so, he was able to be selective about the opportunities he chose to pursue in acting.

5. Mark Hamill told Arnold Schwarzenegger to lose his accent.

When his bodybuilding career began winding down, Schwarzenegger started looking to acting as his next challenge. Getting the title role in 1970’s Hercules in New York (where he was billed as Arnold Strong) did little to advance his ambition, as the movie was poorly-received and his heavy Austrian accent was dubbed over by an American actor. Later, after 1977’s Star Wars became a hit, Schwarzenegger asked Mark Hamill for advice. Hamill told him to lose the accent and his last name to give himself the best chance for success. Schwarzenegger obviously ignored the advice. He later said that he ultimately felt the accent was a benefit, since it made him a more distinctive commodity in Hollywood.

6. Arnold Schwarzenegger almost starred in a Hans and Franz musical.

Schwarzenegger had a sense of humor about Hans and Franz, the over-pumped Austrian bodybuilders played by Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon on Saturday Night Live. According to writer Robert Smigel, the actor was even interested in appearing in a big-screen Hans and Franz movie musical in the early 1990s. The characters would have been depicted as heading to California to pursue stardom, with Schwarzenegger appearing as both a version of himself and as the duo’s grandmother. The film was never made.

7. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s childhood home is now a museum.

As the pride of his tiny hometown of Thal, Austria, Schwarzenegger’s childhood residence is now a museum. The announcement came in 2011, with visitors able to go inside the first-floor flat and view Schwarzenegger’s old bed, a motorcycle from The Terminator, weightlifting equipment, and a copy of the desk he used while he was governor of California.

8. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be president (in a movie).

Because he was not born in America, Schwarzenegger is ineligible to run for the office of the President of the United States, which is something the actor said he would have done if he had been able. (And no, he couldn’t become vice president, either.) But there is no such law barring him from playing one in a movie. The actor will appear as the U.S. President in Kung Fury 2, a sequel to the 2014 short film parody of 1980s action movies directed by and starring David Sandberg. A release date has not yet been announced.