This week, the people of the United States of America will elect the country’s 44th President, he being either Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Or, should something go horribly wrong, a third party candidate may win. But that’s unlikely to happen. Nonetheless, the race leading up to this week has been both inspiring and infuriating in many ways. This year’s presidential race has brought out some of the best and the worst in people, and even highlighted the division that still exists in this country. In any case, the symbolic nature of the race couldn’t be clearer. On one end is John McCain, a Vietnam veteran, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Senate, and one of the oldest candidates to run for president. On the other is Barack Obama, a first-term senator, former editor of the Harvard Law Review, community organizer and Grammy-winning author, not to mention one of the youngest candidates to run for president.
While we tend not to indulge in politics, it’s hard not to get excited about the potential outcome of this race, given that Barack Obama is one of the most inspirational and empowering candidates to emerge in some time. And heck, it’s not like we feel too obligated to stay `fair and balanced,’ being that music criticism requires no political impartiality. Whether you consider yourself red or blue, however, we hope you enjoy our 90-minute tour through the whirlwind campaign leading up to this moment.
Jarvis Cocker – “Running the World”
Call it a cynical and negative way to start off the mix, but you may recall that George W. Bush is still in office, and has earned himself the title of one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Sure, he managed to win re-election in 2004, but after Hurricane Katrina, he lost the country’s faith. And going into this year’s presidential election, he has an approval rating of about 30 percent. So, rightfully so, Americans are ready to elect someone new…
Sufjan Stevens – “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!”
On the Democratic ticket, we have Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois, who delivered the Keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Though he was merely an up-and-comer at the time, he threw his hat in the ring in February of 2007, and ran a tough primary battle that lasted seemingly longer than any in history, without having a clear front-runner within the first month or so. To be fair, he was running against the very popular Sen. Hillary Clinton, but nonetheless, Obama won the most delegates, and thus, became the Democratic candidate.
Wilco – “Hotel Arizona”
On the Republican ticket, there’s Sen. John McCain from Arizona, who has served in the Senate for 26 years, and initially ran for president in the 2000 primary, during which a series of dirty smears kept him from defeating George W. Bush. Nonetheless, he gave it another shot in 2008, and ended up winning against Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani, who didn’t even seem to bother campaigning.
Sam Cooke – “A Change Is Gonna Come”
Early on in the campaign, Barack Obama adopted “change” as his mantra, a slogan that spoke to many who grew frustrated and angry with the Bush administration, and craved something new. For that matter, this anthem for civil rights seems to speak to his historic candidacy. Were he to win the election, Obama would become the first African-American President of the United States.
Aesop Rock – “Keep Off the Lawn”
Dave Barry set a humorous meme in motion early on in Primary Season when he suggested that John McCain, if elected president, would likely come out of the White House in his bathrobe during the annual Easter Egg Hunt, shouting to children “Get off my lawn!”
Jay-Z – “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
In a presidential campaign season first, Obama has talked about being a hip-hop fan, in particular Jay-Z (who recently performed at a few Obama benefit shows). Furthermore, Obama has built a reputation as being cool, able to let things roll off his back. During primary season, after taking a few attacks from Hillary Clinton, Obama referenced Jay-Z in one stump speech, pantomiming the brushing of his own shoulders.
David Bowie – “Fame”
One of the earliest attacks against Obama from John McCain came in the form of a commercial that painted the Illinois Senator as a vapid celebrity, due to his vast popularity among youth and his ability to draw huge crowds at his own rallies. He even compared Obama to the likes of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
MU – “Paris Hilton”
The celebrity accusation and comparison to Paris Hilton then led to Hilton filming her own response to the ad, as she spoke about the `wrinkly old dude’ while laying on a poolside chair. She then coined one of the most quotable phrases of this whole absurd season, “See you at the debates, bitches!”
Stevie Wonder – “Jesus Children of America”
In 2004, George W. Bush largely won re-election thanks to the support of the evangelical Christian voting bloc. In 2008, this group initially seemed to be up for grabs, as John McCain didn’t speak much of his own religion and didn’t particularly angle for a highly religiously motivated ticket. Nonetheless, as the campaign wore on, he still managed to poll the highest with this particular group, with roughly three-fourths showing support for McCain.
Grizzly Bear – “Colorado”
The Electoral Map for 2008 has changed somewhat significantly from its color pattern in 2004, revealing new swing states, one of the most prominent of which is Colorado, which went for Bush in both 2004 and 2000. Yet, Obama has made inroads here, consistently showing good polling in the Centennial State. Add this to the net gains in New Mexico and Iowa, and a path to victory becomes easier to comprehend, without even getting into the shenanigans previously seen in Ohio and Florida.
Morphine – “Mile High”
In a party convention first, Barack Obama chose to give his nomination acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium in Denver, to an audience of more than 80,000. Some thought it arrogant, even ridiculed the roman columns in the background. Still, it’s hard to argue against the excitement that the setting inspired.
Modest Mouse – “Trucker’s Atlas”
The Straight Talk Express has traveled to basically every state mentioned in Modest Mouse’s “Trucker’s Atlas”: California, New York, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, etc. Yet it’s hard not to imagine Isaac Brock’s lyrics “I’m going up to Alaska, gonna get off scot-fucking free” running through McCain’s head as he announced his choice of running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. She turned out to be more of a liability than an asset, but as of the time of this feature, the race hasn’t been won or lost just yet. Meanwhile, Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, has the highest favorability ratings out of all four candidates.
Buzzcocks – “Lipstick”
And, you know, the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull is…ah, forget it.
Bloc Party – “Price of Gas”
One of the biggest issues on the campaign trail this season is how high the price of crude oil has skyrocketed, and, in turn, has sent the price of gas up to a peak of more than $4 per gallon. While Obama has emphasized alternative fuels as a solution, McCain proposed more offshore drilling. And in a truly confusing and laughable moment, McCain even released an ad that blamed Obama, a first term Senator from Illinois, for the price of oil being so high.
Stereolab – “Ping Pong”
While this wasn’t covered in major media outlets (primarily because it’s not all that important and truthfully, Stereolab isn’t a household name like Joe The Plumber is), Meghan McCain posted a blog entry after the first debate, including a post of her song of the day, “Ping Pong.” Funny thing about that: McCain must not have been aware of Stereolab’s frequent use of Marxist ideals in their lyrics. “Huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery” doesn’t exactly sound like an endorsement of the party platform, but hey, it’s catchy.
Black Flag – “Six Pack”
In campaigning with John McCain, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin stated that she represented `Joe Six-Pack.’ Patronizing term? Perhaps. And that could account for why the term may have been officially retired this season, in favor of (groan) Joe the Plumber. And for the record, we’re not posting any songs from his soon-to-be-recorded country album.
LCD Soundsystem – “Us v. Them”
An unfortunate side effect of this long and drawn out campaign season is that the rhetoric and divisiveness has gotten uglier and uglier as Election Day has drawn closer. There has been talk of a “real” Virginia, as opposed to the one that’s likely giving its electoral votes to Barack Obama, and suggestions that politicians and citizens should be investigated for `Anti-American activity.’ This sort of thing particularly doesn’t go over too well with the public, but suffice to say, post-Election, there may be some wounds that need healing.
The Who – “The Kids Are Alright”
All signs seem to indicate that the 2008 Presidential Election will have record turnout, and one side effect of this may include record turnout from youth voters. Youth vote during the Democratic primary this year broke records, and Obama appeals overwhelmingly to youth voters. Should the kids show up at the polls this year, that could only turn out to be a net plus to Sen. Obama, though McCain is not without some young republican supporters of his own, just not enough to compete in that particular demographic.
The National – “Mr. November”
The National ramped up their political game this year, not only playing fundraisers for Barack Obama, but marketing for him as well. The band sold shirts depicting Obama with the phrase “Mr. November” underneath (taken from their excellent song), with proceeds going toward the campaign.
On Tuesday, we’ll find out decisively if he is, indeed, the winner.
Congratulations to President-Elect Barack Obama!
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.