The Best and Worst Campaign Songs By Presidential Candidate

Theme Music from the Modern Day Campaign Trail

Dancing at Donald Trump's nominating convention
Republicans dance to campaign music at the RNC in 2016.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Anyone who's been to a campaign rally recognizes that sound coming from the speakers: a modern pop tune, maybe a familiar classic from yesteryear, played to get the crowd's blood flowing before the main event, a stump speech by their candidate of choice. It's the campaign song—a carefully chosen, catchy, uplifting and occasionally patriotic tune meant to inspire and energize. Here are a few of the most memorable campaign songs used by presidential candidates.

We the People by The Staple Singers

Four singers standing side by side at four separate microphones

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

During the 2020 campaign, Democratic nominee Joe Biden ran on a platform emphasizing unity, stability, and equality. His campaign playlist, full of musical icons, was evenly divided between white artists such as David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and Lady Gaga, and Black artists like Bill Withers, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder.

Biden's most frequent walk-on song, "We the People" by The Staple Singers, has lyrics that call for unity and helping one another, a resonant message for 2020 and one that helped propel Biden to eventual victory:

You may have the black blood
Or you may have the white blood
But we are all living on blood
So don't let nobody slip into the mud

We're Not Gonna Take It, by Twisted Sister

Twisted Sister
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump blared Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" at campaign rallies in 2016.

Mark Weiss / Getty Images

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose 2016 campaign was propelled by voters who were angry with establishment politicians and the ruling political class, used an appropriately angry campaign song: "We're Not Gonna Take It." The heavy-metal song was written and performed by the 1980s hair band Twisted Sister.

The lyrics tapped into the anger felt by many of Trump's supporters:

We'll fight the powers that be,
Just don't pick our destiny,
'Cause you don't know us,
You don't belong.
We're not gonna take it,
No, we ain't gonna take it,
We're not gonna take it anymore.

Trump won the presidency with the help of disaffected working-class white voters who fled the Democratic Party because of Trump's promise to renegotiate trade deals with countries including China and levy stiff tariffs on goods imported from these countries. Trump's position on trade was seen as a way to stop companies from shipping jobs overseas, though many economists pointed out taxing imports would drive up costs to American consumers first.

Believer, by American Authors

American Authors in concert
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton used the American Authors song "Believers" on the campaing trail in 2016.

Bryan Bedder / Getty Images

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, whose campaign was more positive and uplifting than Trump's, released a Spotify playlist for her rallies in 2016. Many of the songs reflected the tone of her 2016 presidential campaign, including the first one on the list, "Believer," by American Authors.

The lyrics include:

I’m just a believer
That things will get better,
Some can take it or leave it
But I don’t wanna let it go.

Don't Stop, by Fleetwood Mac

Lindsey Buckingham
Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac performs in Anaheim, Calif., in 2009.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton adopted the 1977 Fleetwood Mac hit "Don't Stop" for his successful campaign for president in 1992. The band reunited in 1993 to play the song at the inaugural ball for Clinton. Clinton perhaps chose the song for its inspirational lyrics, which include the lines:

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

Born Free, by Kid Rock

Kid Rock
Kid Rock performs in Homestead, Florida in 2012.

Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee, chose the song "Born Free" by rapper/rocker Kid Rock. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, explained what many thought was an odd choice by saying the two shared a geographic connection: "He loves Michigan and Detroit and so do I." The song includes the lyrics:

You can knock me down and watch me bleed
But you can't keep no chains on me.
I was born free!

I Won't Back Down, by Tom Petty

Tom Petty
Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performs in 2012.

Samir Hussein / Getty Images

Former Texas Gov. George W. Bush picked Tom Petty's 1989 hit "I Won't Back Down" for his successful 2000 campaign for president. Petty eventually threatened to sue the campaign for its unauthorized use of the tune, and Bush stopped playing it. The song includes the lines:

Gonna stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won't back down

Barracuda, by Heart

six members of the band Heart
American rock group Heart, New York, February 1978.

Michael Putland / Getty Images

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin chose to play the 1970s hit "Barracuda" at campaign events as a play on Palin's high school nickname. But the band Heart, the musicians behind the tune, objected and got the campaign to stop playing it. "Sarah Palin's views and values in no way represent us as American women," band members Ann and Nancy Wilson told Entertainment Weekly.

Crazy, by Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline
American country singer Patsy Cline is pictured here in 1955.

Frank Driggs Collection / Getty Images

Independent Ross Perot, an eccentric billionaire, was one of the most unconventional presidential candidates in American political history. So his choice of a campaign song, Patsy Cline's 1961 love song "Crazy," raised a few eyebrows, particularly among the critics who had dismissed him as such. The lyrics included the lines:

Crazy, I'm crazy for feeling so lonely
I'm crazy, crazy for feeling so blue
I knew you'd love me as long as you wanted
And then someday you'd leave me for somebody new

We Take Care of Our Own, by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen performs in New York City in 2012.

Mike Coppola / Getty Images

Barack Obama, a Democrat who served two terms as president, chose everyman rocker Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own" to play following his acceptance speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Like Obama's speech, the Springsteen tune deals with the issue of social responsibility. It includes the lyrics:

Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own

This Land Is Your Land, by Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie
American folk musician Woody Guthrie is picture at right in 1961.

John Cohen / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Guthrie, who was associated with communists, dealt with the issues of liberty and property ownership in the song.

Fortunate Son, by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival
American country rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival consisted of Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook and John Fogerty.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

John Kerry, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, was one of the wealthiest presidential candidates in history and facing scrutiny from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth over his military record. For his 2004 campaign, he chose the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic "Fortunate Son," about politically connected Americans who were able to avoid combat duty in Vietnam. The lyrics include the lines:

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand,
Lord, don't they help themselves, oh.
But when the taxman comes to the door,
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes.

Dole Man, by Sam and Dave

Sam and Dave photo
The American soul vocal duo Sam and Dave featured Sam Moore (left) and Dave Prater.

Frank Driggs Collection / Getty Images

Here's a clever take on the campaign song: If you can't find one that suits your tastes, just make up your own words and set it to a catchy tune. That's what 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole did with the classic Sam and Dave song "Soul Man." One half of the duo, Sam Moore, rerecorded the 1967 hit and used the words "Dole Man." Instead of the lyric "I'm a soul man," the new campaign song went "I'm a Dole man."

America, by Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond
Singer Neil Diamond performs in California in 2012.

Christopher Polk / Getty Images

With lyrics like "Everywhere around the world, they're coming to America," Neil Diamond's "America" was practically begging to become a campaign song, and in 1988 it did. Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis adopted it as his own.

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Murse, Tom. "The Best and Worst Campaign Songs By Presidential Candidate." ThoughtCo, Jul. 26, 2021, Murse, Tom. (2021, July 26). The Best and Worst Campaign Songs By Presidential Candidate. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "The Best and Worst Campaign Songs By Presidential Candidate." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).