#16 – “Tippecanoe And Tyler Too” (2004)

Venue Songs
L.K.: I was just thinking about this song all week, because I’ve been going back and listening to a bunch of political and presidential-themed music
A.S.: It’s pretty nutty how all these songs keep conveniently popping up. This has to stop soon.
L.K.: It’s too convenient. It’s eerie.
A.S.: We can’t keep lucking out like this.
L.K.: But yeah, this is an actual, anti-Van Buren campaign song.
A.S.: Oh yeah. “Van is a used up man.”
L.K.: Ah, the olden days of politics, before attack ads, swift-boating, the Stephen Colbert Super PAC…
A.S.: The Cain Train, and whatever ridiculous song was used in that.
L.K.: The original version of this song was in a major key, but I like TMBG’s uh… minorification of it.
A.S.: TMBG’s reggaefication of it.
L.K.: Originally done for a MoveOn compilation organized by John Flansburgh himself, because he really, really hates George W. Bush. Remember 2004, when every liberal was freaking out like it was the end of the world?
A.S.: Ah yes, except now, everyone is freaking out like it’s the end of the world. But anyway, that compilation has a lot of other great artists on it – Tom Waits, Sleater-Kinney, R.E.M., Flaming Lips, David friggin Byrne…
L.K.: A lot of stuff from people I like that came out during that era is horribly dated now because of all the doom-and-gloom Bush terror (i.e. Sarah Vowell’s books from that time). Flans totally rounded up a lot of great bands for that compilation though. I guess they made a bunch of cold calls and got a really good turnout, again, because everybody hates Bush so much.
A.S.: Man, if you want a dated anti-Bush compilation, check out those dumb Rock Against Bush comps. With the MoveOn comp, even some of the stuff that was in direct response to the Iraq War – notably Waits’ “Day After Tomorrow” still sounds great since even though it dates in accordance with that war; the themes of homesickness, fear, vulnerability are timeless. I can’t speak for a lot of the other music on there though, since I haven’t heard the whole thing, but I digress. TMBG were smart not to do a generic anti-Bush thing either.
L.K.: Yeah, this is much more interesting. And the lyrics are so hilariously over-the-top – CIDER, CIDER. This is tame stuff compared to some of the other songs though! People really hated Martin Van Buren for some reason!
A.S.: Other anti-Van Buren songs?
L.K.: Oh absolutely. I was listening to a great piece on NPR sometime last decade about campaign songs, and they played a clip of one, whose lyrics can be seen here. “Of the avalanche of Whig songbooks that descended in 1840, none rivaled in unmitigated malignity the anonymous collection called A Miniature of Martin Van Buren. Some of the songs were a distillation of Ogle’s “Omnibus of Lies”; others set to German tunes-derided Van Buren’s Dutch derivation; still others lampooned Van Buren’s Democratic henchmen nearly as mercilessly as they did the president. A Miniature of Martin Van Buren may very well represent the nadir of sung political abuse.” There are so many of these songs from that campaign.
A.S.: “Who never did a noble deed / Who of the people took no heed / But followed worst of Tyrants’ creed? / Van Buren.”
L.K.: I like the “deserves the lowest place in Hell” line myself.
A.S.: “Who moves at Satan’s beck and nod.”
L.K.: Of course, the really funny part is that after all these angry songs, William Henry Harrison died after 30 days in office.
A.S.: Yeah really, that must have been a pretty awful/confusing time in its own right. Imagine if John Kerry beat Bush in 2004 and died 30 days later.  That’d mean Joe Lieberman would’ve been president! Flansburgh, is that what you hoped for in covering this song?
L.K.: Don’t you mean Gore?
A.S.: Wait, shit… OH, JOHN EDWARDS.
L.K.: John Edwards would’ve been pres if Kerry won and died.
A.S.: Point still stands.
L.K.: Flans’s enthusiasm for this tune is kind of hilarious: “John Flansburgh of They Might be Giants has remarked on the song’s historical success as “the ‘Rock Around the Clock‘ of campaign songs”[8] and “the ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand‘ of campaign songs.”[9]
A.S.: Would that make “Happy Days Are Here Again” the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of campaign songs?
L.K.: I’d like to know what that would make “Get On A Raft With Taft.” If Wikipedia is a reliable source, then TMBG’s adaptation also used verses 1, 8, and 2 from the original. (Eight verses of this song? Oh god.)
A.S.: I wonder what led to the decision to turn it into a reggae tune, but it was a wise one.  The bass pulse at the beginning starts things off perfectly. Musically it’s quite similar to “Moving to the Sun,” at least to my ears.
L.K.: Oh yeah, I really like what they did to it. This falls somewhere in the middle between their straighter covers and their more radical reinterpretations. The core of the song is at least still recognizable.
A.S.: They really just do such wonderful things to other people’s songs – from all eras too. I don’t think it’s possible to create such fascinating mutations without a deep admiration for the original material, which is why it works so well so often.
L.K.: Oh yes, which we brought up when discussing their nearly unrecognizable Prince cover earlier on this blog.
A.S.: It’s just great that they can approach both a (then-)one year old song and a song that’s over a century and a half old with the same sort of respect and absurd creativity.
L.K.: Agreed.
A.S.: Part of me wishes campaign songs still existed, although I’m sure they would mostly be terrible.
L.K.: See: Herman Cain’s campaign.
A.S.: Or I guess they do, but I’d love to hear one today that’s as nasty as some of these Van Buren ones.
L.K.: Attack ads seem to have replaced the attack song in presidential elections since the invention and proliferation of the television. There’s nothing to stop people from writing their own crazy songs for a presidential candidate though. I am eagerly awaiting the first person to try to find something that rhymes with “Gingrich”. Let’s sing a song about Rick Santorum, something something something…decorum. I got nothing. Obama, llama, drama, mama… yeah, nothing.
A.S.: Well I can certainly think of a word that rhymes with “Mitt”.
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