Style Wars – Obama and McCain Graded on Musical Taste

The wars of the future, there ladies and gentlemen, nurse will not be fought over oil, or territory, or, contrary to what you may have been told, water. The wars of the future will be fought over cool.

So – to the point. Earlier I received an email from imeem:

Dear dex digital:

Before you vote, check out imeem playlists of Barack Obama and John McCain’s top ten favorite songs:

Whoa. Both major presidential candidates had online playlists? You know I had to check this. And looking at the playlists, I realized how much these speak to the style wars of the future. Keep in mind, kids – the hypebeast electrobanger listeners will some day be running the country. What you see below is a rundown of each candidate’s playlist, with a running commentary, final grading, and suggestions on improvement.

So, because voting based on political stances is played out – here I present the official Mixtape Show guide to voting based on taste.

First – Barack Obama.

Ready Or Not – The Fugees. This is a very, very good start. A group that many adults (and younger kids, really) haven’t even heard of, but Obama doesn’t care. A brash opening move that will get respect from the hardcore. Respect.
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye. I’ve actually always hated the hook to this song, but the rest of the song is classic. Political Black soul. A strong following move.
I’m On Fire – Bruce Springsteen. Off the Born In The U.S.A record, which methinks is an appeal to the “Obama – ain’t that like Osama? I bet he’s one-a them thar A-rab queer lesbasexual terrarists” crowd. Decent enough song. I didn’t have this one in my house growing up.
Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones. This either. I am, however, noticing a rather unsubtle selection of track titles here.

Read on for the rest of the lineup…

Sinner Man – Nina Simone. Not the best title to woo the Fox News crowd, but otherwise this is a pretty good pick, politically. Elements of gospel, jazz, rock, and the careful backpacker may notice the original sample for Talib Kweli’s “Get By” at the 5 minute mark. This may be the most “impressive” cut on here, tastewise.
Touch The Sky (feat Lupe Fiasco) – Kanye West. My dad doesn’t even like Kanye West. This is clearly a reach for the younger generation. A good one, anyway.
You’d Be So Easy To Love – Frank Sinatra. For the old white folks.
Think – Aretha Franklin. Black female power? And the album is listed as Rhino Hi-Five – Black History Month Songs. Sort of a bold move here, and again, a possible reach at the crate-diggers (and junglists?)
City Of Blinding Lights – U2. You probably could have achieved a similar effect with Coldplay, but I can understand reaching for the post-quarterlife crisis yuppie vote in a slightly safer manner.
Yes We Can (YOU MUST VOTE) – Barack Obama and Will.I.Am. This is an understandable pick, but ultimately falls short of the expectations set by the previous tracks in that this song is simply not good. The Barack 2008 jam by Daedelus and Taz would have been much better – though one can understand why he wouldn’t pick that.

Overall Notes:
Musical Merit: A-. This is actually a decent playlist. Looking at it again, I think that if this guy had come in to apply as a DJ at KUCR (alma mater radio station) with this playlist on his app, we’d probably have at least granted him an interview. There’s a broad taste shown here, with a leaning toward politically conscious lyricism, and as mentioned above, the Nina Simone track, when combined with the other soul cuts, shows a pretty deep appreciation for roots and soul music. The Will.I.Am cut is an unfortunate slip, however, and calls into question his taste in hip-hop (e.g. is he just putting this there to seem hip?)- but this is balanced out mainly by his inclusion of Fugees at the top. And beyond that, the playlist actually flows properly. If this guy flunks the election, he could probably get a gig as a college DJ.
Politricks: A. This is a very, very well thought out playlist – to the point of being slightly suspicious. The songs, when presented in this context, all seem to carry some appeal to the voting audience – down to the track titles (“Gimme Shelter” = a nod to the working poor? it’s possible). The artists themselves are diverse – Blacks, whites, males, females, Christians, Muslims, and other persuasions that are probably just a Wikipedia search away, but I’m too lazy for that.

Personality Profile: Taking a look at this list, this seems like a person I would get along fairly well with – I’d actually probably ask to borrow some of his Nina Simone stuff (can you tell that that cut impressed me?) because I don’t have any. That said, it should be mentioned that I do detect a bit of a streak of self-importance in this playlist. I don’t care how many people have written songs about you – including a song with your speeches in it as your final cut is a little bold, no? That combined with his approval of Kanye and Lupe’s ridiculous swagger betrays a vain side that he doesn’t seem particularly concerned with hiding.

Recommended Amendments To This Playlist: This playlist could have been slightly better with Elton John. Really, just replace any one of the white guys on here with Elton John. If you like Kanye, you like Elton.

Personal Recommendations: Jay Electronica, probably. I think he’d probably dig it. Looking at this playlist, he might already have some Dilla, but I’d pass him some of that, and recommend probably some Outkast, and maybe even UGK (he could keep it in his car, he doesn’t have to let the voting public know he likes it). Also probably some funk (he may well listen to it, but there’s not much in here – and that Will.I.Am song worried me), and by logical extension, soultronica. Probably some Sa-Ra. Really, I’d actually just tell him to listen to this show.

Next – John McCain.

Dancing Queen – Abba. It’s still a little too early to like this song. Maybe in 2015 or so. Not enough time has passed for this to be an ironic hipster favorite song. Not the best start, but the energy is there.
Blue Bayou – Roy Orbison. This isn’t such a bad song, I guess.
Take A Chance On Me – Abba. As decent as this song is, two Abba songs in the same 10-song playlist? That’s not fandom, kiddo, that’s just a lack of creativity. And “Take A Chance On Me”? That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, fam.
If We Make It Through – Merle Haggard. What, dude, were you afraid to pull out a country track? This might actually be the best cut on here.
As Time Goes By – Dooley Wilson. The first Black dude on here, and it’s from a somewhat unfortunate era. I don’t know, this one makes me think Blackface and shucking and jiving.
Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys. Stoner.
What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong. The second Black solo artist on here. Legendary song, but come on, man. Similar era to Dooley…this is starting to look suspicious.
I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Frank Sinatra. Next to Good Vibrations, the second edgiest song on this cut. He’s clearly trying to appeal to the youngins with this happening tune. I’d make a heroin joke here, but I think that might be reaching a little far.
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond. Neil Diamond actually inspires rage in some people. This might not have been a good pick.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – The Platters. I’m really starting to think that maybe McCain was/is into psychedelics. Too many of these songs make me think about drugs.

Overall Notes:
Musical Merit: C. This is a lazy, narrow playlist. There’s no tension, no release, no peaks or valleys, just dredge. The songs themselves aren’t necessarily all bad, but there’s no understanding of how to tell a story here, which is unfortunate. As mentioned above, the Abba shows either a lack of taste or an artistic laziness – neither of which are good signs. There’s not much that differentiates this playlist from a drivetime oldies station lineup, with the exception of the Merle Haggard cut.

Politricks: B-. McCain truly dropped the ball here – with such an easy method to display an appreciation for diversity, there’s no sense of even a proper effort. There are no female solo artists on here, and the only Black people here are from the Jim Crow era. And what’s the matter, McCain, with all the thousands of disco records made by Black people, you only dig the white guys (if this is indeed the case, you really should have gone with the Bee Gees – anything but Staying Alive and you would have been good)? To his credit, though, McCain speaks to his audience – if only his audience – by including a lot of songs that make old red-state white folks feel good.

Personality Profile: This is going to sound scarily like Bush PR (and perhaps for good reason), but this guy is clearly a straight-shooter. He doesn’t really listen to music made by Black people or women, and doesn’t really mind letting you know that. He is clearly nostalgic for the Jim Crow era, and he doesn’t mind letting you know that, either. This is a good person to watch the game with at a sports bar over a beer. Or five. He is what he is, and he’s not pretending to be anything else. This is a good thing, because he’s apparently bad at hiding things – things, for example, such as his apparent affinity for drugs. A lot of these songs seriously make me think about drugs. Uppers and downers – he may not be diverse with the company he keeps or the people he cares about, but he appears to know his drugs.

Recommended Amendments To This Playlist: Seriously dude, the only thing that would even partially offset the damage you’ve done here would be to replace the first Abba song with the something from The Last Poets.
Personal Recommendations: I’d have to take it pretty easy on this guy. I’d probably recommend some of the less heard Johnny Cash. Maybe some Muddy Waters. Maybe slowly introduce him to rappidy-raps, possibly using M.C. Hammer as a gateway and then slowly working up to maybe Common, but that could take a while.

The Conclusion

I’ve already said this before, and you pretty much knew what was going to happen before you read this, but unfortunately or unfortunately, McCain isn’t as cool as Barack, so he can’t win. That’s the way it goes.

The lists, of course, aren’t perfect. What artists/songs would you recommend to either of the presidential candidates?

Assuming, you know, you’re still reading this.

More music soon, promise.

9 thoughts on “Style Wars – Obama and McCain Graded on Musical Taste

  1. Kind of interesting. Not sure how much input they actually had on the music but Obamas playlist seems like it reaches a wider variety of people and is more oriented with what he says and does. Mccains just seems like it was tossed together in one strip of acid. The guys roboticness(if that’s a word) really freaks me out too.

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