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  • Tony Harris

POLITICAL FORTUNES


I have no real desire to turn this blog into a forum for debate for anything other than musical opinions and so am always careful not to get caught up in politics. However, the power of music is such that politicians of whatever persuasion are always looking for musical triggers to help convey their messages.


Tony Blair's New Labour landslide was famously accompanied by the seriously lightweight but hugely catchy "Things Can Only Get Better" by otherwise limited chart botherer D:Ream from Northern Ireland. Bill Clinton had gone one better when despite his aides urging him not to use the rather uncool (to them) "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac. So all pervading and popular was the track that it succeeded in getting the classic line-up of the band which had not really been speaking to one another for several years when Lindsey Buckingham refused to tour "Tango In The Night" in 1988 not only to come together and perform but actually get back into the studio and on the road. So brightly was their light shining.


Apparently, the regularly obstreperous Buckingham was still not certain that he wanted to play with them until it was pointed out by the rest of the band that it was a the equivalent of a presidential decree and he assented.


The Republican Party has been a lot less successful with their soundtracks however, not least because of the more liberal leanings of most of rock's major figures and their desire not to be considered supportive. John Cougar Mellencamp is held in particularly high regard for his rural anthems that talk of small town middle American life but he is by his own description "about as left-leaning as you can get" and has regularly told candidates to stop using his music.


Some artists like Bobby McFerrin, had to admonish candidates - in his case, George Bush for "Don't Worry Be Happy" - for using their songs when they were active supporters of the other side.


War veteran, John McCain proved much to everybody's surprise to be a genuinely big Abba fan and used "Take A Chance On Me" for his rallies only to find that whilst saying it was a licensing issue, he too had been issued with a "cease and desist".


Not a US presidential election campaign seems to go by without some candidate taking up Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The USA" despite the fact it was always intended to be a scathing attack on the management of the country. Tom Petty (and latterly his estate) issued "cease and desist" notices to both George W. Bush and Donald Trump for using "I Won't Back Down" - do they never learn?


President Trump however, really has had more trouble than most. He could get few major performers to consider playing his inauguration ball and his campaigns are blighted with artists issuing further 'cease and desists' - aside from Petty, the Stones, Queen, Adele, Neil Young and George Harrison's estate have all made objections.


However, this week the most peculiar of the Trump camp's musical choices has emerged as they borrow from one of the most familiar canons of American Pop Music - Creedence Clearwater Revival.


Between 1968 and 1972, CCR released six (!) albums and created a catalogue of singles that continue to sell to this day. Their compilation "Chronicle" is still on the Billboard 200 and is heading for its 600th week there.


Despite their swampy sound and bayou beat, the band were actually from California but thanks to the incomparable voice and playing of John Fogerty they created a sound all their own. Although cut from the final picture, they were one of the highlights of Woodstock in 1969 when they were without doubt the world's most successful band.


You can't watch a film about Vietnam without CCR being the part of the soundtrack as their career highpoint coincided with the height of the military action and also the accompanying protests. Both sides of the debate saw much to admire in CCR's music and this comes from the everyman writing of Fogerty. They tended not to sing about hearts and flowers but much more in a folk tradition about the conditions they saw or imagined around them - the behaviours of the working men they knew and had once been.


The band were socially conscious rather than politically aligned, despite their universal acceptance but interestingly Fogerty himself had been drafted and served with the Military Reserve. He knew the conditions he was singing about and many of his songs are a powerful reflection.


However, his most dramatic and aggressive song is undoubtedly "Fortunate Son" a song he wrote as he became increasingly more outraged at the privileged classes finding ways to avoid their children being drafted while poor families were losing their sons to the War. It was released in 1969 from their third album of that year "Willy And The Poor Boys".


When talking about its emergence, he says we was inspired by David Eisenhower, the grandson of Dwight D Eisenhower who had married, then president, Richard Nixon's daughter, Julie. As it happens, David Eisenhower (after whom Camp David is named - something for the pub quiz later) did spend three years in the military but the song is an uncharacteristically savage outburst from the normally good-natured Fogerty about the inequality of military sacrifice. He would have another similar angry outpouring with "Ramble Tamble".


And this is the song that Donald Trump has started use on his campaign trail.


Fogerty sadly lost the authority over his back catalogue many years ago in a highly charged suit with his previous label Fantasy Records and so despite his reservations can do nothing more than express what all music fans feel, in one magnificent remark - "he feels confounded".


The President in case you had forgotten had five medical deferrals to permit himself to be discharged from potential call-up. I suspect that to veterans his appropriation of this song is a lot more damaging than any alleged insults he threw at them.



I have used the lyric video for you here to make your own judgements but it is a fantastically electric and angry song and you have to ask whether nobody realised. I say this not to demonstrate any political allegiance but to spotlight how a 1969 rock track can still be so powerful today - even in the wrong hands.


Undoubtedly, CCR's rootsy plain speaking has always resonated with the President's audience and so seems a perfect reflection of their own feelings; but unless the campaign has developed a previously unseen sense of irony, one cannot help but think that the legions of fact-checkers of which the President is so keen should have read the lyrics in their entirety.


As for what music the President could use, I understand Ted Nugent remains a supporter so why not play "Cat Scratch Fever"?

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