Battle of the playlists: Obama's 'Let's Stay Together' vs Romney's 'Born Free'

Washington — The Globe and Mail

Barack Obama sings Asleep at the Wheel's "Boogie Back to Texas" with Austin musicians during his fundraiser at the Austin Music Hall in Austin, Texas, Thursday night Feb. 21, 2008. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/AP/Ricardo B. Brazziell/AP)

In politics, music matters.

The duelling soundtracks of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are more revealing as branding devices than mood-setters at rallies aimed at keeping impatient supporters entertained while they await their inevitably late candidate.

The U.S. President released the official playlist of his 2012 re-election campaign on Facebook and Spotify this week, demonstrating once again the Obama team’s superior social media sensibilities and ability to capture the essence of cool.

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If Mr. Romney’s playlist is the antithesis of cool – and proud of it – so are the voters he is counting on to propel him to victory in November.

The songs played at rallies for Mr. Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, evoke a blue collar lifestyle at odds with that of the patrician former corporate buy-out mogul. But the odes to freedom and small-town values are in keeping with his campaign message of restoring American greatness.

Yes, Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” made Mr. Obama’s playlist.

After all, if there is any song that can rekindle some of the Obamamania of 2008, this is it. Campaign operatives no doubt picture rallies with ecstatic voters of the fairer sex pleading for a bit of the famous Obama falsetto.

The song’s message – sticking it out in times good and bad – is an apt one for a candidate trying to reassemble the splintered coalition of young, liberal and minority voters that fuelled his victory in 2008.

Indeed, the themes of loyalty, forgiveness and sticking it out permeate the 24 titles on the list, which includes Canadian content in the form of Arcade Fire’s We Used to Wait and the Robbie Robertson-penned The Weight.

The Obama campaign uses Aretha Franklin’s 1969 cover of the Robertson song, which implores the listener to “put the load right on me.”

The Arcade Fire song might also be seen as a nod to the “We Can’t Wait” campaign launched by the White House, with the President signing a series of executive orders aimed at implementing his agenda in the face of an obstructionist Congress.

Other songs on the list include Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” Wilco’s “I Got You” and Montgomery Gentry’s “My Town.”

Country star Darius Rucker, one of only a few well-known African-American artists to embrace the genre, is the only singer to get two titles on the list with “This” and “Live to Learn.” The latter – with its avowal of mistakes made, risks taken and lessons learned – suggests obvious parallels with Mr. Obama’s first term.

The anthem of Mr. Romney’s campaign is Kid Rock’s “Born Free.” It is a fitting cri de coeur for a candidate who calls Mr. Obama’s rocky first term “a detour, not a destiny.”

Mr. Romney has taken to performing a cappella renditions of “America the Beautiful” at his rallies. And while he can’t match Mr. Obama’s pipes, he does tug on the patriotic heart strings of his supporters.

But there are also darker themes in the music Mr. Romney’s supporters – not to mention the reporters who hear it more than anyone else – are exposed to at his events.

Consider the lyrics of Toby Keith’s “Made in America”, which evokes the angst of the baby boom generation Mr. Romney is wooing in his bid for the White House.

“It breaks his heart seeing foreign cars filled with fuel that isn’t ours and wearing cotton that we didn’t grow,” Mr. Keith sings.

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