The History of Political Songs and Jingles in Tennessee

A Brief Definition and History of Political Jingles

The advent of radio and television gave rise to a new form of advertising known as the jingle. Jingles are short, catchy songs that are used to advertise a product or service. In a political setting they are used to promote a particular candidate or political issue. The jingle differs from the songs represented on sheet music, broadsides, and songsters as it is a prerecorded audio or video performance of the piece that will air on radio, television, or online.  A well-crafted jingle has the power to get stuck in the listener's head and might influence a voter’s thoughts long after they have forgotten the words of a long-winded stump speech. Jingle writer Susan Hamilton commented that writing that perfect jingle requires a creative balance of “clarity of message” and “memorability in the music” as well as “frequency” or the amount of airtime the campaign has purchased to get the jingle out in front of listeners.

One of the groundbreaking moments in the history of political advertising was the jingle "I Like Ike" that was used to promote Dwight D. Eisenhower during his presidential campaign against Adlai Stevenson in 1952. Stevenson came out with his own televised jingles to counter Eisenhower’s ad. This Stevenson piece,"Vote Stevenson," uses the time honored technique of putting new words to an existing melody which in this case is "Oh Tannenbaum." (see below)

Stevenson also released a jingle with original text and melody, "I Luv the Guv." Unfortunately for Stevenson, the ads were not enough to sway the majority of the voters and Eisenhower won the election that year.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy enlisted the services of Frank Sinatra to sing a rewrite of his hit “High Hopes” for his presidential campaign.

A more recent example of the common practice of rewriting a well-known pop song to fashion a jingle was the song “I'm a Dole Man” written for Bob Dole’s unsuccessful run for president in 1996. “I'm a Dole Man” was based on the classic R&B song “Soul Man” made famous by the duet of Sam and Dave. Sam Moore came up with a clever set of new lyrics for the song and pitched it to the Dole campaign. Dole’s campaign was eager to pick up the song to try to attract younger voters despite the fact that it made gentle fun of Bob Dole’s age.

Washington Post political analyst Chris Cillizza is a big fan of political jingles. He recently asked his readers to submit their favorite jingles and the final list has some interesting examples of successful campaign songs.

Jingles are still popular and a number of interesting, creative, and occasionally odd songs have been created by the general public to celebrate their favorite candidate during the 2012 election cycle. Here is an example of a jingle for Barack Obama that is a parody of the famous 1960 Kennedy ad.

This jingle for Mitt Romney, "Early in November," uses the melody from the old sea chantey “What Will We Do With a Drunken Sailor” to praise the Republican candidate.

Early Campaign Songs for
Presidents from Tennessee

The Evolution of Political
Jingles in Tennessee


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