Watch CBS News

Candidate tribute songs: The good, the bad, and the ugly

This screenshot from the music video for "Hillary in the House" shows actor Paul McClure brandishing a sign from then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Seth Panman via YouTube

The interests of presidential candidates and musicians have, at times, collided in recent election cycles. We've seen candidates forced to stop using songs at their campaign rallies after the artists who wrote the songs objected. We've also seen candidates criticized for their association with controversial musical figures (see: Huckabee, Mike and Nugent, Ted.)

But every now and again, the interests of candidates and musicians come into alignment, and the result is one of the most unusual features of the modern presidential campaign: the tribute song.

Sometimes amateurish, sometimes catchy, and rarely inspiring, such songs are written as an expression of support for a particular candidate, though some stretch beyond mere support into something resembling obsession. They're authored by pop stars and semi-professional musicians alike, and even by ordinary folks who have a message to deliver and a tune to carry it.

Some ditties end up languishing in the catacombs of YouTube, but in this age of viral video, others can enter the zeitgeist, cultivating an aura of enthusiasm and celebrity about a candidate while helping spread a campaign's chosen message.

Here's a look at some of the more notable fan tribute songs penned about recent presidential campaigns (spoiler alert: some are better than others)

"Yes We Can"

The paradigm of political fan tribute songs, and by far the most well known, "Yes We Can" was written by musician about then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign.

The song borrows excerpts from a speech Mr. Obama delivered after he lost the New Hampshire Primary to then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in January 2008. In it, the candidate urged his supporters to take heart and not be dismayed by those who criticized his message of unity as naive.

"We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope," Mr. Obama said. "We will remember that there's something happening in America. That we are not as divided as our politics suggest. That we are one people, that we are one nation, and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea: Yes we can."

Those three words became something of an anthem for the Obama campaign, which cruised to victory on a (perhaps overoptimistic) message about transcending political differences.

The video featured performances and cameos from celebrities like actress Scarlett Johannson, rapper Common, and singer John Legend, and it quickly went viral. A copy of the video posted on YouTube has more than 25 million views.

"Hillary in the House"

Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign earned a few tribute songs of its own, but most observers agreed the efforts served only to underscore how much better Obama's tribute song was.

One song, "Hillary in the House," was produced by aspiring actor and Clinton supporter Paul McClure at an out-of-pocket cost of about $20,000. It featured McClure in a parade costume, leading a group of sign-toting Clinton fans in a sing-along. "We need a woman in the house, the White House," the song says. "Hillary Clinton is the one."

McClure has said he'd like to reboot the song as a barbershop quarter number for Clinton's 2016 campaign, and he's even given some thought to an updated ending. "At the end, we would end up at the barbershop again, and hopefully the barber chair would turn, and the newspaper would come down, and it would be Hillary saying, 'I approve this message,'" the actor told National Journal. "It would be awesome, right? Dream big."

Another song, "Hillary4U&Me," was written by Gene Wang, a technology entrepreneur. It incorporated footage from Clinton's 2008 rallies, showing supporters dancing as shots of Clinton trekking the campaign trail appeared onscreen. "Hillary for you and me, bring back our democracy," the chorus intones. "Make this country proud and free, let's stand up for Hillary."

Wang told National Journal, "I don't know exactly what possessed me, but I decided, 'You know, I'm going to write a song for Hillary. I just kind of do these kind of songs for fun."

"Stand With Hillary"

This post was updated at 10:08 a.m. EST.

Unfortunately for the authors of 2008-era Hillary Clinton songs, there's already one entrant in the contest to write the definitive song about Clinton's 2016 campaign, and it's a doozy.

"Stand with Hillary" is a country song written by media consultant Miguel Orozc on behalf of the Stand with Hillary political action committee, according to the Washington Post. The video features your standard "amber waves of grain" imagery, extolling the beauty of America and the greatness of American values.

The performer in the video is not actually the person singing the song -- he's an actor, Jason Tobias, who was chosen because he looks like a country music star. (Tobias also appeared in the music video for "Don't Be Gone Too Long" by Ariana Grande and Chris Brown.)

"I've been thinking about one great lady, like the women in my life. She's a mother, a daughter and through it all, she's a loving wife," the unknown singer croons. "Ohh, there is something about her, this great lady, caring hardworking, once a first lady, she fights for country and my family, now it's time for us to stand up....with Hillary."

Despite his appearance in the video, Tobias isn't sold on Clinton's 2016 campaign just yet. "If it comes out that Hillary Clinton ends up being the Democratic candidate in 2016, I will look at both candidates running and try to make the best decision possible," he told the Post.

Update: The version of the "Stand with Hillary" music video that was uploaded to YouTube by the PAC of the same name no longer appears to be working. The version of the video embedded on the PAC's homepage doesn't play either. We've reached out to the PAC to ask them whether they took down the video, and will update with any response we receive. In the meantime, you can still enjoy the same music video, embedded above, which had been uploaded to YouTube by someone who apparently thought it was "horrible."

"Set it on Fire"

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been courting the Republican Party's Christian conservative base since he kicked off his 2016 presidential bid in March, and Christian rap group "We Are Watchmen" is returning the love.

The group released the song "Set It On Fire" last month, praising Cruz's uncompromising conservative approach and urging listeners to support the firebrand senator's presidential bid.

"When power is concentrated centrally and federally, it creates dependency that's medically like leprosy," one lyric reads. "Select Ted Cruz and let's get through this, the movement. Reignite the promise, if you're conservative, then prove it."

The website for We Are Watchmen, Politico notes, explains the band's mission to "reestablish Christian theism as the dominant worldview in the United States of America today."

"Just as many churches in Germany sang louder on Sunday mornings to drown out the sounds of wailing Jews in boxcars on the way to the concentration camps," the website says, "the majority of pulpits and pews in the American churches have been willfully ignoring the stench of blatant evil rising in this once godly nation."

"Game On"

During his 2012 presidential campaign, former Sen. Rick Santorum earned a musical tribute from Haley and Camille Harris, two young sisters who formed the band "First Love" and wrote a song called "Game On" praising the Pennsylvania Republican.

The video accompanying the song shows the sisters smiling and playing guitar while waving Santorum signs.

"Oh, there is hope for our nation again. Maybe the first time since we had Ronald Reagan, there will be justice for the unborn, factories back on our shores, where the constitution rules our land. Yes, I believe...Rick Santorum is our man!"

The song even earned a shout-out from Santorum, who tweeted, "Wow! I love this #GameOn song and video."

And now that he's running for president a second time, Santorum's campaign has a new official theme song called "Take Back America." The country rock anthem was uploaded to Sound Cloud shortly before Santorum's campaign announcement, but it was eventually taken down and replaced with a shorter teaser that can be found on BuzzFeed.

"Isn't it time to take back America?" the singer asks. "Isn't' it time to unleash the pride? Open our eyes and take back America."

"Stuck on Huck"

As Mike Huckabee was waging his 2008 presidential campaign, an unknown musician uploaded a fan tribute song called "Stuck on Huck" that urged voters to cast their vote for the former Arkansas governor.

"Agree with me, join this force, endorse the next pres, like Chuck Norris," the mystery artist rapped in the song. "I'm stuck, stuck, stuck on Huck, stuck on Mike Huckabee. I like Mike, like a lightning strike, an American epiphany."

When Huckabee announced his 2016 bid last month, a tribute band that specializes in personalized Huckabee adaptations was jubilant. According to Politico, some of its works include reworking "Breakfast at Tiffany's" into "Breakfast at Huckabee's," changing "Take it Easy" into "Huckabeasy," and so on.

It's worth noting that Huckabee is a musician himself. He plays bass guitar in a band called "Capitol Offense," which he and members of his gubernatorial staff formed in 1996. And it's not just a vanity project: they've opened for artists like Willie Nelson, REO Speedwagon, and the Charlie Daniels Band.

"It's Raining McCain"

The producers of the music video "Raining McCain" by the "McCain Girls" made a splash in 2008.

Set to the tune of the 1982 Weather Girls hit "It's Raining Men," the lyrics were twisted into this:

"In the 2008 election, the forecast calls for rain; the first time in history, it's gonna start raining McCain!"

The video showed the McCain girls trio singing out of key in a campy production, and when the video was released, not all viewers could figure out whether it was a bona fide expression of support for Sen. John McCain's presidential candidacy or whether it was a parody. McCain said he had watched the video several times and thought they were "wonderful."

The video earned the "McCain Girls" no shortage of notoriety, receiving millions of views online and netting them some air-time on ABC's "Good Morning America," but it did turn out to be a parody, modeled on the "Obama Girl" videos.

The creators were part of a comedy team that ran 23/6, a short-lived site owned by an affiliate of IAC/InterActiveCorp, according to the New York Times.

"We wanted to parody the campaign-song phenomenon," one of the group's members told the paper.

"Answer to No One"

Rick Perry has run for president once before, in 2012, but his 2016 campaign announcement came with a little more flair, thanks to a rousing song modified for the former Texas governor.

The song, "Answer to No One" by Colt Ford featuring JJ Lawhorn, has a rock-and-roll vibe with an unmistakable country twang.

The artists tweaked a few of the lyrics to accompany the former governor onstage as he announced his presidential bid last month.

One verse reads, "See I'm a flag flyin' bible totin' son of a gun. Shotgun toter, Republican voter, Rick Perry supporter, let's protect our border. To hell with anyone who don't believe in the USA. Rick Perry all the way."

It was, to put it simply, very Rick Perry.

The video embedded above is the artists' original version, not the Perry-themed iteration.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.