Sweet Home Alabama - a Spotify playlist for the US presidential election
Posted on: 3 November 2016 by Stuart Wilks-Heeg in 2016 posts
American elections and soundtracks go hand in hand. The tradition of presidential candidates having their own campaign songs goes back to the 1800s.
There was Bill Clinton’s (1992) adoption of Fleetwood Mac’s 'Don’t Stop' and in 2008, Barack Obama inspired a music video, 'Yes We Can' in which will.i.am and others echoed the words of his speeches in a variety of musical styles.
It would be easy to imagine Obama chilling in the White House, listening to anything from Miles Davis to Florence and the Machine. In August 2015, Obama curated a summer playlist, with one set of tracks for day, another for night. When Obama released a second playlist in August 2016, it gave me an idea.
How about a playlist with one song representing each of the states (+ Washington D.C.) that Clinton and Trump would be contesting months later?
You can listen to my full playlist on Spotify, but here's how I arrived at this very eclectic mix...
From Alabama to Wyoming
I defined three criteria. It should be clear from the lyrics which state the song was about. It should capture something particular about that state, or be a genre associated with it. And it should be a listenable piece of music.
A few songs chose themselves. The playlist opens with Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd and ends with Song of Wyoming by John Denver. But compromises were necessary. Some states inspire songwriters more than others. As a rule of thumb, there are about as many songs about a state as it has electoral college votes in a presidential election.
It's not difficult to find songs about California (55 electoral votes) or New York (29 electoral votes). The options for Arkansas or Utah (both 6 electoral votes) are very limited, and that’s reflected in the choices.
A few choices are just personal preferences. Rod Stewart's version of What Made Milwaukee Famous appears on the list because it brings back memories of watching Bill Clinton win the 1992 presidential election in a Wisconsin bar. I’ve never been to Alaska, but the Velvet Underground’s Stephanie Says, with its repeated lyric “it's so cold in Alaska” is how I imagine it.
If it sounds country, that's what it is
There's more than a smattering of country music. Dolly Parton's 'Kentucky Gambler', Johnny Cash’s 'New Mexico' and Glen Campbell's 'Wichita Lineman' (that’s Kansas, by the way) all make the list.
If you were driving through rural West Virginia, you’d surely be singing along to John Denver's 'Country Roads'. But the American south has more musical traditions than country alone.
Black musicians have helped capture the essence of these states. 'Tennessee' by Arrested Development widens the musical reference points to include hip hop, while Nina Simone’s 'Mississippi Goddamn' reminds us of horrific racist attacks in the deep south during the 1960s.
So, which song should you tee up to mark the state that takes Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory?
With so many possible paths to the White House, it’s genuinely impossible to say.
At 11pm Eastern Standard Time, Clinton may discover she’s no longer California Dreamin’ (by The Mamas & The Papas) or Trump may hear Virginia Calling (ironically, by The Sons of Bill).
Or, in a tight race, we may all be waiting until the very early hours to hit play on Modest Mouse's Florida.
If you're currently a student at University of Liverpool, come along to our US presidential election night event at the Guild, starting from 10pm on Tuesday 8 November. We'll be following the twists and turns of the election on the big screen, there'll be American-themed food and the bar will be open late!
Or you can follow our live updates on Twitter, including commentary from our students and experts - follow @LivUniPol