The (semi) Official Barack Obama Mixtape

Feb. 12, 2008
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I ducked out of the office for a couple of hours today to catch Barack Obama’s afternoon town hall appearance in Waukesha. The candidate was running a bit late—apparently an auto factory tour in Janesville went long—so I had plenty of time to take in the music his campaign broadcast before his rally.

Anybody who’s ever seen a presidential candidate knows the type of music I’m talking about: up-tempo, optimistic soul songs, or pop hits with an inspirational or patriotic bend. Usually these mixes are pretty predictable, dominated by artists like U2, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and laden with unmistakable metaphors for campaign, but the mix at this rally was better than most. It was so good, in fact, that it dawned on me that it would actually make a pretty cheer-yourself-up mixtape—an uplifting set of familiar songs akin to Jack Black’s Monday tape in High Fidelity (only without “Walking on Sunshine.”)

So for anyone who might actually want to make themselves a (semi) official Barack Obama mix, I jotted down the tracklist:

1.    “Get Ready” – The Temptations
This Temptations hit is one of my favorite Smokey Robinson-penned songs, mainly because it hints at a sinister side. “Get ready, I’m gonna try to make you love  me” always seemed like a delusional threat to me, but the Obama campaign probably just viewed it as a pledge of determination.

2.    “Move Along” – The All-American Rejects
No surprise why the campaign picked this one: The lyrics are packed with yes-you-can feelgoodness. “When all you got to keep is strong/ move along, move along like I know ya do/ And even when your hope is gone/ move along, move along just to make it through.” It’s an especially clever choice, since like a chunk of Obama’s stump speech, it’s directed toward those cynics who feel hopeless to affect change (not that it’s naming names).

3.    “Shining Star” – Earth, Wind and Fire
Who could this titular star be?

4.    “Unwritten” – Natasha Bedingfield
With its sunny message of empowerment, this Top 40 hit is as well suited for political rallies as it is women’s beauty product commercials.

5.    “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” – McFadden and Whitehead
Ironically, for a song about momentum, this track sucked all the energy out of the auditorium—especially once it reached the seven minute mark, and especially when it somehow got played a second time. Anybody actually making this mix would be well advised to opt for a shorter singles or compilation edit of this track.

6.    “Long Train Running” – The Doobie Brothers
Say what you will about the Doobies, but this song is funky as hell.

7.    “There’s Hope” – India Arie
Anyone who accuses Obama of empty platitudes has never heard this crappy India Arie song, a stale bowl of chicken soup for the soul and the only inclusion on this mix I really can't stand.

8.    “Everyday People” – Sly and the Family Stone
A choice cut, although a more astute chair of the campaign music-mix committee—is there such a position?—would have subbed in Arrested Development’s “People Everyday” remake for Milwaukee-area stops.

9. “Sir Duke” – Stevie Wonder
This track was presumably selected to underscore how Obama’s campaign is a movement and “you can feel it all over.”

10.  “Takin’ It to the Streets” – The Doobie Brothers                    
Another Doobie Brothers cut? A bold choice, Barack, but ultimately one that pays off. Grassroots organization and Michael McDonald are an unstoppable combination.


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