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Turn up the volume and cast your vote

Songs to inspire the partisan and undecided on Election Day 2004. By Michael Ventre
/ Source: contributor

In case you haven’t heard, Election Day is almost here. They tried to keep it quiet, but word seeped out.

Candidates are campaigning down to the wire. This is because most of them feel that beating you over the head with their own virtues and their rivals’ failings doesn’t really sink in until several months have gone by.

Such a bombardment on our populace makes what happened to Dresden in World War II seem subtle. Naturally, after a while, such a highly charged and sharply polarized atmosphere can leave one with one presidential-sized headache.

You can do one of two things: Either sit there and take more punishment, or take a break. I’d advise you to try the second option.

Turn off the television and the radio. Toss the newspapers and magazines in the recycling bin. To keep any volunteers from knocking on your door, stick a “Rottweiler on Duty” sign in the yard, even if you only have a Chihuahua. Don’t even put a movie into the DVD player, because there’s a chance you could hit the wrong button and be subjected to several seconds of rancor on the cable news channels.

But you just can’t sit there alone, in the dark. Can you? Eventually, you could begin to experience cravings. Politics are like that. You don’t want anything to do with them. But then again, you can’t resist.

So treat this like a diet. Instead of having that bowl of Haagen Daas, have a banana. Instead of exposing yourself to a full-on partisan firefight, listen to some politically themed tunes.

Here are some suggestions. They all deal in some way with the topic. They’re all designed to ease your mind instead of battering it.

Oh, yes. Don’t forget to vote. Some precincts may even let you take your iPod or MP3 player into the voting booth. 

1. “Politician” by CreamIt might not seem so, given the courteous and respectful tone of the current campaign, but some politicians will stoop to anything to get what they want. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker understood that when they included this ode to the sinister public servant on their 1968 “Wheels of Fire” double album. “Hey now, baby, get into my big black car. I want to show you what my politics are.” The message isn’t literal – whoever heard of a politician using his power and influence to seduce a member of the opposite sex? – but it could be. And the slow, visceral blues beat pounds home the point that a politician with that greedy glint in his eyes can’t always be counted on to act in the public interest, or even in the best interests of his party: “I support the left, though I’m leaning, leaning to the right. But I’m just not there when it’s coming to a fight.” This could be the one song that unites all parties, and all candidates.

2. “I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician” by The ByrdsWritten by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy, this is one long campaign promise set to music. It appears on the band’s next-to-last album, 1971’s “Byrdmaniax,” which is considered by many aficionados to be the Byrds’ worst album. McGuinn is present here, but David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Gene Clark are not. And this particular cut rankled hardcore Byrds followers because it is one of two “novelty” songs on the album. Still, while not among the band’s greatest hits, it’s fun to listen to, because it’s performed with the same sort of phony earnestness that is so prevalent on the campaign trail: “And if I win election day I might give you a job, I’ll sign a bill to help the poor to show I’m not a snob.” That’s it, then. They’ve got my vote.

3. “Political Science” by Randy NewmanIn the race for president, foreign policy is one of the major areas of debate. Should we use our power and aggressively police the world to spread freedom and democracy? Or should we take a less antagonistic approach and rely instead on diplomacy? In this cut from the 1973 album “Sail Away,” Newman firmly opts for the former. But is he being serious? Or is he being a smart-ass? Personally, I’m guessing the latter, but that’s for you to decide: “We give them money, but are they grateful? No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful. They don’t respect us, so let’s surprise them. We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them.” This sounds like a hawk on a ‘roids rage, but it really appeals to both sides of the aisle. Liberals can see it as ironic. Conservatives can use it as a mission statement.

4. “American Idiot” by Green DayI feel sorry for the people of Ohio. They can’t turn on the television without being pummeled by political ads. I bet sales of TiVo have skyrocketed there in recent weeks. Swing states get it the worst, but I think all of us are sick of being fed partisan sound bytes as if they were puppy treats. Green Day’s latest album deals with this theme of media subjugation in general. On “American Idiot,” the title cut, Green Day rails against this numbing of adult minds: “Don’t want to be an American idiot. One nation controlled by the media. Information age of hysteria. It’s going out to idiot America.” Green Day’s ire isn’t limited to the political machine; it encompasses all of the nefarious consequences of big media consolidation. But if you make your decisions on election day based on information taken solely from political ads, Green Day would like a word with you.

5. “President” by Wyclef Jean
The year 2004 marks the 200th anniversary of Haiti becoming the first black republic to gain independence from slavery. With that in mind, Jean – the heart and soul of the Fugees – drew upon influences from his heritage to record his new album, “Welcome to Haiti Creole 101.” The track “President” has already gotten some mileage on this year’s campaign trail; Howard Dean, when asked by Chris Matthews for his favorite artist, replied “Wyclef Jean.” (Music artist, of course; his favorite artist is probably Edvard Munch, who did “The Scream.”) On this cut, Jean speaks about the futility of reigning in the current political atmosphere: “If I was President, I’d get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday and buried on Sunday.” Wow. Now that’s what I call a one-term president.

6. “Funky President” by James BrownThe President of the United States has a difficult job, to be sure. So why not give it to the Hardest Working Man in Show Business? I can just see the press conferences. Sweat pouring off his face. Soulful backup singers doing damage control. Helping him off after he crumples into a heap from exhaustion. That’s the kind of commander in chief we need. James also seems to have a clear understanding of the current economic situation: “Stock market going up. Jobs going down. And ain’t no funking jobs to be found. Taxes keep going up. I changed from a glass – now I drink out of a paper cup. It’s getting’ bad. People, people, we gotta get over before we go under.” Of course, there’s the little matters of Brown’s frequent run-ins with the law. But they can always spin those and make them sound like they never happened.

7. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
It’s sad that both presidential candidates are running campaigns that together could total a billion dollars. What’s sadder is that they can probably afford it, even without  outside contributions. These days, only the privileged few can make a run at our nation’s highest office. “Fortunate Son” appeared on the 1970 “Willy and the Poorboys” album, at the height of Vietnam War protests. But it wasn’t about a campaign. Rather, it pointed out how those with connections avoided military service, while the children of the working class were pressed into duty: “Some folks inherit star-spangled eyes, Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord. And when you ask them, ‘How much should we give?’Ooh, they only answer more, more, more!” John Fogerty said he was inspired by watching Julie Nixon hanging around with David Eisenhower, “and you just had the feeling that none of these people were going to be involved in the war.”

8. “Won't Get Fooled Again” by The Who
“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” Both parties naturally want you to think that their candidate will create a brighter future. Pete Townshend isn’t so sure. He felt whichever leaders inhabit office are likely to go bad. Instead of the optimism that comes with a regime change, he took a more cynical look on this selection from 1971’s “Who’s Next” album: “There’s nothing in the streets, looks any different to me. And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye. And the parting on the left, are now parting on the right. And the beards have all grown longer overnight.” Supposedly, this is no longer one of Townshend’s favorite songs. He probably doesn’t like the fact that Howard Dean does a better scream now than Roger Daltrey did then.

9. “November Rain” by Guns ‘N RosesLet’s face it, somebody’s going to lose. And that will not be pretty. People will be crying and hugging. Expletives will be spewed. Then a deep sense of melancholy will set in as the reality hits that the other guy and his supporters are dancing joyously to some cheesy pop song. Guns N’ Roses didn’t exactly have politics on the brain when they released this cut from their “Use Your Illusion I” album in 1990. But losing an election is a lot like being jilted by the perfect mate, and the same feelings abound: “I know it’s hard to keep an open heart. When even friends seem out to harm you. But if you could heal a broken heart. Wouldn’t time be out to charm you.” Just like there are plenty of other fish in the sea, folks, there’ll be another presidential election four years from now.

10. “It's The End Of The World As We Know It” by R.E.M.
Again, since the electorate is so polarized, half the country will be reaching for the Kool Aid after Tuesday. Michael Stipe wrote this after having a dream in which he was at a birthday party and everybody there had the initials L.B. instead of him. Lenny Bruce, Leonid Breshnev and Leonard Bernstein were there, which makes as much sense as his free-form style of songwriting. But somewhere deep down there’s a gem of wisdom amid the rubble: “World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed dummy with the rapture and the revered and the right-right. You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.” I guarantee that after the election, there will be people on the streets babbling incoherently about the apocalypse, so this song will seem optimistic by comparison.

Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to