Every now and then, a writer will attempt to grab stupidity by the tail but succeed in grabbing brilliance by the horns. Screenwriters Chris Mattheson and Ed Solomon did this with “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” in 1989. I did this while explaining the Trump phenomenon through the lens of professional wrestling in 2018. Recently Politico Magazine did this in a piece attempting to compile the top 20 songs of the various individuals running for president.
In a fluffy kind of way, this kind of piece is nice. It’s delightful to catch a waft of humanity from people whose personalities all seem to have been sandblasted away and repainted with the generic brush by public relations consultants years ago. It’s also nice to discover that people who have drastically different visions for our country can still share our musical tastes — a reminder that art can still trump ideology in the era of Trump.
I imagine that’s what Politico was aiming for in this piece. Instead, it gave us a clearer look into the minds of these POTUS-hopefuls than any pre-election exposé or post-election memoir could offer. While only a handful of the presidential candidates responded, those who did respond offered playlists that are a perfect crystallization of their respective weaknesses and strengths. Let’s look at some of their selections:
Thunder Road — Bruce Springsteen
Gimme Shelter — Rolling Stones
Pressure — Billy Joel
Livin’ on a Prayer — Bon Jovi
Pink Houses – John Mellencamp
Run to You — Bryan Adams
Finish What Ya Started — Van Halen
Who is Chris Christie? A pugnacious, occasional truth-spewing blowhard shouting instantly memorable chorus-y catchphrases but ultimately undone by his terminal New Jerseyness. It’s all too much — Springsteen, Joel (Piano Springsteen), Bon Jovi (Hair Springsteen), Mellencamp (Farmer Springsteen). Add “Gimme Shelter,” the hallmark of a half-dozen Scorcese movie soundtracks still blasting from the speakers of a thousand late ’80s Mustangs in Hackensack, and you see the problem.
There was a time when the Garden State grittiness was charming. But then “The Sopranos” faded from our cultural memory and all that stood before us was Bryan Adams schmalz and Van Hagar hackery. We see you, sir. All bluster, no backbone.
I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll — Joan Jett
I Want You To Want Me — Cheap Trick
She’s A Beauty — The Tubes
American Girl — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Take Me to Church — Hozier
Check it out, a chick who rocks! And a chick who rocks wholesomely! Cheap Trick? Tom Petty? The one inoffensive jam from proto-shock-rockers The Tubes? She’s like the girl version of a friend! This works! There’s no reason this won’t work.
Well, except “Take Me to Church.” What’s this sacrilegious screed doing in this list of Red State medium-rock classics? Has she not paid attention to the lyrics? Has she not seen the “Christians are all gay bashers video” music video? Something feels off here. What’s going on, Governor? What mysterious, malevolent corporate overlord is paying you to push Hozier on the American people?
Lose Yourself — Eminem
Rondo Alla Turca — Mozart
Centuries — Fall Out Boy
Believer — Imagine Dragons
Thunder — Imagine Dragons
Jolene — Dolly Parton
Dream On — Aerosmith
Pastures of Plenty — Woody Guthrie
Vivek Ramaswamy enters his room of mirrors and stares into the Venetian looking glass. He adjusts his necktie. Pulling his gaze away from his reflection, he stares at the candlelit icon in his alcove — Guy Smiley, Muppet game show host, mouth agape, eyes lifeless. He is one with Guy Smiley. The Smiley he shall become.
“Ever since I was a child,” Vivek Ramaswamy chants like a hyperactive honors student, “I have loved music that people listen to. The songs I cherish so much are the ones that you have no doubt also heard at an unhinged Nashville bridal shower or encountered in a thrilling Madden game of football. Like you, I have always been drawn to music of soaring beauty that proclaims everlasting truths, truths like those found in the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Imagine Dragons, free-market cultural icon Woody Guthrie, and once again, the Imagine Dragons.”
I Gotta Go — Robert Earl Keen
My Way — Steve Aoki, Aloe Blacc
Award Tour (feat. Trugoy the Dove) — A Tribe Called Quest, Trugoy the Dove
Doowutchyalike — Digital Underground
Boyz-N-The-Hood — Eazy-E
One Day — Matisyahu
Sorry Not Sorry — Demi Lovato
Shake It Off — Taylor Swift
Will Hurd’s list of retro deep-cuts and semi-ironic grooves outs the Texas ex-congressman as a too-clever-by-half geek-chic millennial promising, “Just give me a shot. You’ll really like it.” You don’t want to give him the satisfaction of getting your vote, but dang it, he might be right.
At least that’s what you think until Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato remind you that the former CIA officer is an obvious deep-state plant.
My Girl — The Temptations
Midnight Train to Georgia — Gladys Knight and the Pips
A Change is Going to Come — Sam Cooke
I’ll Take You There — Staple Singers
End of the Road — Boyz II Men
The Twist — Chubby Checker
Crying — Roy Orbison
Pure, crisp, wholesome, and familiar, Larry Elder shares much in common with these silky-voiced singers your grandmother would love to support if only she could remember their names.
Get the Party Started — Pink
When I’m Sixty-Four — The Beatles
Friends in Low Places — Garth Brooks
Sweet Caroline — Neil Diamond
A nice collection of pop hits from the five-dollar bin that Hutchinson has deeply and steadfastly loved since the moment Walmart execs told him to.
Love Supreme — John Coltrane
The Caravan of Love — The Isley Brothers
Respect — Aretha Franklin
Mississippi G-dd-m — Nina Simone
Politico asked for 20 tracks. West gave them four — four quite beautiful songs, fitting for a man who speaks quite beautifully on about four issues. West’s playlist reflects a presidential candidate you would definitely like despite not liking anybody else who likes him.
Unfortunately, that’s where Politico’s list ends, with no submissions from three of the biggest-name candidates. Fortunately, thanks to the power of personality-playlist-reverse-engineering, I’ve managed to figure out one of each man’s favorite tunes.
The Tears of a Clown — Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
This classic reminds President Biden of the summer he spent jamming in Detroit with the Funk Brothers at Motown Studios. Pops took him down to the studio, and he was laying down some fat bass tracks, a little too hot for Flattop Tony and the rest of the boys. “Hey Joe,” Smokey said. “Cut that out. You’re playing like a lady in a dress out there.”
“Hey Jack, listen up,” the future president told Smokey. “Trans rights are human rights. Get with the picture.”
That’s how they stopped the Tet Offensive.
Rich Men North of Richmond — Donald Trump
An enormous fan of Oliver Anthony’s lament against the corruption of America’s political class, President Trump recently recorded his own cover version. As soon as “Disloyal” Oliver agrees to waive the licensing fee, the former president plans on selling his cover version of the working man’s anthem for 20 bucks a pop as a fundraiser. What a great way to let impoverished coal miners pay for the legal fees of a billionaire!
I Was So Much Happier Before Everybody Told Me to Smile — Morrissey