without a song

Analysis of yesterday’s provincial election in our daily paper talks of Tim Hudak driving a tank into battle while Andrea Horwath tried to get “her claws” into Kathleen Wynne.

How quaint. Must be part of that effort to return the newspaper to what it was in 1845.

Yet, amid the now-routine expressions of shock at the unreliability of those polls that are the life’s blood of contemporary political commentary, no mention is being made of what was truly lacking in this campaign.

No, not a viable plan to rescue Ontario’s healthcare system. Though, that too was lacking.

I’m talking about campaign songs. Time was (back in 1845, for example), no one stumping for election would have dared to bear her claws or drive his tank without first securing a proper soundtrack with which to rouse the rabble. It is a reality still common in other nations — notably the U.S. — but once required listening for undecided voters in Canada as well. (Though, admittedly, our prime partisan songwriters evidently never came up with something as memorable as Get On a Raft with Taft.) Today, while leaders invariably enter and leave the room to the strain of some crowd-pleasing hit, the notion of crafting a song unique to a candidate is no longer considered. Cutbacks, perhaps. Laziness, definitely.

Not that Americans, who rather like their traditions, are putting much more effort into it these days. True, no presidential campaign is complete without an inspiring Democratic anthem, or a demand that the Republicans cease and desist from the unauthorized use of an inspiring anthem. But even in America, the campaign song ain’t what it used to be. Oh, for the glory days when great men like William Henry Harrison or Benjamin Harrison could get the country singing as one, all the way to the White House. Full credit to the latter in particular, for the surprisingly frank rallying cry: He’s All Right.

Alas today, as with film soundtracks, the commissioned campaign song has given way to the licensed recording. Or, again in the case of Republican contenders, the unlicensed recording.

It’s a relatively recent development. Political campaign songs were still being penned Stateside in the days of Buckle Down With Nixon. It was Ronald Reagan, perhaps as part of his austerity plan, who opted instead to use an existing song, California Here We Come, rather than throwing a few pennies the way of a pinko performer. Since then, we’ve had Clinton copping Fleetwood Mac, Bush the Younger siding with Van Halen (the Sammy Hager Van Halen, natch) after a stern warning from Tom Petty over the unauthorized use of I Won’t Back Down (perhaps Free Falling would have been more acceptable.) And, the slippery slope being what it is, Americans have since had to endure Take a Chance on Me (McCain), Crazy (a shrewd choice for Ross Perot) and, of course, Dole Man.

Canadians? Well, who can forget how in 1993 Céline Dion’s Love Can Move Mountains helped the federal Progressive Conservatives move from 169 seats all the way to two? The power of no love, people.
Did Céline sour Canadian politicians on tying campaigns to singalongs? Not entirely. As our prime minister — a pianist of some renown — could tell you, we need only look to Alberta for our salvation. The Alberta Party, for example, has managed to score an original theme song courtesy of songwriters Cindy Church and Sylvia Tyson. (You’ll know Sylvia, of course, as the veteran singer-songwriter whose ex-husband went out to Alberta because the weather is good there in the fall. She, for the record, did not follow.) Prior to the song’s arrival two years ago, the fledgling provincial party boasted but a single MLA. Today, that MLA (who came to the party via election as a Liberal and a brief stint as an independent) is still in the Alberta legislature. Something to sing about.

As is Ontario. I mean, A Place to Stand! You’re probably singing it as you read this. (Unlike the regrettable There’s No Place Like This.) Running for premier? Try bringing back A Place to Stand. Heck, I’ll vote for you. Unless, you know, you’re Tim Hudak or something. I mean, there is a limit. Or try The Black Fly Song. (OK, maybe not. For one thing, it mentions northern Ontario, which is generally frowned upon at Queen’s Park.) True, enterprising songwriters have tried to fill that gap with unsolicited odes to individual leaders. Satirical songwriter Nancy White, for example. did offer Tim, We Did the Math for this campaign; unfortunately, it was as amusing and entertaining as a Nancy White song.

Federally, the leader most prone to inspiring odes of support appears to be Elizabeth May. (You were expecting someone else, were you?) Even Randy Bachman, Shari Ulrich and Chilliwack‘s Bill Henderson joined forces to pay homage to the Green Party leader in song. Yes, her party may, like the Alberta Party, have but one representative where it counts, but if the Greens have a secret weapon, it may well be the power of song. Take a look at the party’s likely crop of candidates and you’ll find a wealth of musical types, from Toronto-based singer-songwriter Chris Tindal to a member of the PEI Symphony Orchestra. The Greens’ hope for the June 30 Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election, meanwhile, is a bass player. (Yes, a bass player. After all, the Greens aren’t going to sacrifice a violinist for Fort McMurray.)

Having said that, Green Party players have yet to join forces to come up with a proper theme song. And they’d do well to get on it sooner than later. Don’t forget, the NDP already have two ace MPs with musical tendencies in Andrew Cash and Charlie Angus. The Liberals? Well, provincially they did once try to put Hagood Hardy into the Ontario legislature. (Trivia: the late great pianist ran against Bob Rae! What? Oh yes, I suppose this is all rather trivial.) Federally, well, Ashley MacIsaac has expressed interest in one day leading the Liberal Party. But when you invite Ashley to your party…

Meanwhile, and more credibly, Alberta-based country singer George Canyon has stated his intention to run for (wait for it…) the Conservatives. Perhaps a good test for the crooner would be to pen a poppy partisan party piece. Unless, of course, the PM is already at work on one — perhaps something inspired by The Beatles. Hey, it’s a lot cheaper than trying to obtain the rights to With a Little Help From My Friends for the 2015 campaign. Plus, there’s all that SOCAN money to consider.

For the moment, our leaders continue to offer words without music. Or, without original music. And let’s face it, many of those words would benefit from a toe-tapping distraction. After all, we in Ontario are now struggling to recover from weeks of daily spoken-word reminders of all that is wrong with our political landscape. The least our politicians could have done was to make it something to sing about.

For, if we expect anything from our leaders, it’s that they will do the least they can do.

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