There are two ways to look at campaign playlists. The first is that it's just a bunch of songs that have a lively enough beat to keep the crowd energetic and happy. The second is that every single artist and tune is selected to subtly communicate messages about the candidate and his policies. The Atlantic Wire prefers the second option, because it is more interesting. Both President Obama's and Mitt Romney's playlists are designed to appeal to people who might be skeptical of them. Obama's tracks are meant to not scare white people. Romney's are picked to win over to people he'll never understand: the Republican base.
President Obama's campaign playlist contained a few gems, but it was shockingly safe. Sure, it has a variety of artists — neo-soul and country pop! — but within each category, the campaign made the safest selection possible. Most notably, the songs by black artists were really old — Al Green, Aretha Franklin — or neo-soul like Raphael Saadiq, whom Pitchfork described as an artist who thinks 1960s soul sounds "don't need to be revived, resurrected, retrofitted, or revitalized. They just need to be played." The country songs, on the other hand, were really new — bland Nashville pop like Sugarland, whose "Everyday America" music video literally takes place in a supermarket aisle. No country classics like Johnny Cash, who was, after all, the author of that criminal-coddling classic "Man in Black."
Romney's campaign is operating under a significant handicap — lots of musicians won't let Republicans play their songs. So his playlist is very heavy on the kind of oldies you can play at little kids' birthday parties. Still, the playlist offers some clues to the messages Romney's trying to send. There are a ton of love songs, because Romney's polls much better with women than men, and his campaign has played on that by running ads portraying the candidate as a long-married family man. And a significant portion of the songs are manly country tunes we doubt Romney actually listens to.
Soggy Bottom Boys, "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow"
The Killers, "Read My Mind" — The lead singer is Mormon.
The Four Seasons, "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" — This is the classic song about losing your virginity! A subtle hint to women where Romney falls on the birth control debate?
Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire" — This love song was written by June Carter Cash, Cash's second wife. Newt Gingrich shouldn't put this song on his playlist.
The Killers, "Somebody Told Me"
Kingston Trio, "M.T.A." — This song is anti-tax increases, which is great for a Republican crowd. But it's also pro-public transportation, which is less so.
Beach Boys, "Good Vibrations"
Clint Black, "Desperado (LIVE)"
Roy Orbison, "Crying"
Commodores, "Only You" – Long Version
Del Shannon, "Runaway" — What this says about politics, I don't know. But the video is hilarious: Shannon stands on a platform and sings while a dozen girls in crop tops dance in a circle around him. Romney should try this at a campaign rally.
Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, "It's Your Love" — So many love songs. All during the primary, Romney's campaign has tried to appeal to women by portraying him as a long-married family man.
Toby Keith, "As Good As I Once Was"
Kid Rock, "Born Free" — Kid Rock played at Romney rallies in Michigan. Yes, again, it's hard to get bands to let Republican candidates play their songs. But Kid Rock? Seriously? Put aside the taste thing — the man has had four mug shots.
Willie Nelson, "Over the Rainbow" — This song was made famous by Judy Garland, a gay icon. Is it Romney's way of saying he's not anti-gay without scaring the conservative audience? Also, it seems unlikely Obama would have included on his playlist the notable marijuana-legalization advocate.
Nat King Cole, "Stardust"
Roy Orbison, "In Dreams"
Keith Urban, "Somebody Like You"
Carrie Underwood, "All-American Girl" — This is another girl-power video, sort of, with lots of wigs.