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'A Whole Lotta... Wrong?' - The Troubled Relationship Between Music And Politics

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Much like those of Ike and Tina, Sid and Nancy and, err... the members of Bucks Fizz, the relationship betwixt music and politics seldom runs smooth. This has been made ever plainer to see in the past few weeks. First, owl haired guitar guru Johnny Marr reiterated his earlier comment that he 'forbids' David Cameron from liking the Smiths. Radiohead front man Thom Yorke then added to Cameron's musical maladies declaring that he would "sue the living shit" out of him if he used one of Radiohead's songs to promote the conservative cause during the next general election campaign

"Sue the living shit"? A bit strong Thom. Coincidentally that phrase is also the title of a chapter in Sooty's soon to be released and candidly written memoirs* . Maybe Thom Yorke is a big puppetry fan; it would certainly explain his dancing. That or he has ingested a cattle prod. Or some bees.

For some reason music and politics, or more specifically politicians and music, just do not seem to fit, but not through want of trying. It is now the norm to see politicians of all ilk's' bounding on and off hustings with music blaring, much like when a wrestler or boxer enters the ring before a fight. I can sort of see the logic. Amongst the reasoning must be that it gives them the opportunity to use music to reach out to the electorate, the voters, in order that they can be identified themselves as just a regular Joe who mows the lawn on a Sunday and gets a bloody groove on to Daft Punk like everybody else does.

The trouble is, most of the time, musicians, such as Yorke and Marr and countless others would rather pass a kidney stone than have their work associated with a political person or a party, especially if it is one that has conflicting views to their own.

In the build up to the last few elections in America there were numerous instances of musicians kicking up a stink about their songs being played in a political context without permission. Eventual White House 'also ran' Mitt Romney got into hot water for playing Waving Flag by Somali-born rapper K'naan at a political rally. Mr Naan said of the issue "I got a flood of messages from people who assumed that I was now a supporter of Mitt Romney's campaign...I'm for immigrants. I'm for poor people, and they don't seem to be what he's endorsing. My song being his victory song didn't seem quite right."

Similarly, Lego haired and amphibiously named former Republican nominee Newt Gingrich had legal action taken against him by the band Survivor for use of Eye of the Tiger at his speeches. Soon after the Republican's rejected Gingrich's candidacy and he skulked back to whence he came, less 'eye of the tiger' and more 'eye of newt and toe of frog'. Time and again the mixing of music and politics results in decidedly troubled waters. Rather than striking a chord with the public or potential voters, politicians such as Gingrich and Romney, get struck with a messy (quite literally if Thom Yorke had his way) lawsuit.

A famous example of a politician making a cod eyed musical choice is when Ronald Reagan co-opted Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA for his re-election campaign in 1984. Despite the song being interpreted lyrically as largely anti-American in sentiment, being about the breakdown and divide in society and lamenting the state of the nation after the Vietnam War. Reagan and his advisers misinterpreted it as a bullish ode to patriotism and because of its repetitive and catchy refrain blared it ad nauseam on the campaign trail. Springsteen has since had a troubled relationship with his own song and is dismissive of those who see it as a nationalistic anthem, when he does play it live it is often re-jigged and almost indecipherable from the original version.

In Britain, any attempt by Cameron, Clegg, Blair or Brown to try and integrate themselves with music has largely ended in ridicule. Whether it be Gordon Brown declaring that the Arctic Monkeys "really wake you up in the mornings" or Tony Blair turning up to Number Ten with a guitar under his arm and inviting Noel Gallagher round for tea. More recently many have enjoyed George Osbourne visibly squirming to the music here on the Andrew Marr Show. In fairness to him he could also be wondering whether the lead singer of Keane is actually the result of an unholy union between David Cameron and a beef tomato.

Barack Obama is the one politician who bucks the trend by actually having musicians scramble over themselves to perform for him or with him. Springsteen, REM and Jay Z are just a few of many that have performed at Obama rallies. The National dedicated their song Mr November to him and sold t-shirts adorned with his face. At his inauguration James Taylor finger picked his guitar, Kelly Clarkson warbled and Beyonce boshed out the Star Spangled Banner in front of the great man and a collective audience of millions. Obama has even flirted with singing himself with some success.

So, Obama is seemingly the solitary rose amongst the thorns when it comes to politicians mixing with music. Not even Hitler could dabble in music without scorn, his mix tapes mainly consisted of audio recordings of a Messerschmitt's engine, the sound of the SS marching and endless Wagner, which is only ever going to bring the vibe down at a house party or on a road trip. Most politicians would do well to just stay away completely. That means you too Lembit Opik. You may not be a politician any more, but this is terrifying.

*Completely true. Said chapter: 'Soo, the living shit!' is a harrowing recollection of the day in 1992 when Sooty suffered his first on set drug fuelled breakdown. Highlights of his tirade include calling Sweep an "incessantly squeaking cloth eared cockhead" and culminate in him thrusting his furry hand up Mathew Corbett's posterior tract and yelling "See! How do you like it?! How do you like it?!" through uncontrollable sobs. Chilling.
Sooty: The Hand that Feeds RRP £14.99
Available in no good bookstores as of next month.

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