Vote For Me… I Love Oxygen, My Family, Apple Pie, And The Beatles

Do political leaders follow a set of rules when publicly listing their favourite music?

    This is a well-rehearsed ritual in my own life. You meet someone you’re romantically interested in, and immediately attempt to maneuver the conversation towards taste in music. Hopefully you’ll learn something about what this person’s actually like, and even more, you can usually offer to make them a mix CD. Because of the fun I get from thinking about music in this way, ‘Desert Island Discs’ was the perfect radio show for me. It’s a once-a-week programme on BBC Radio 4 where celebrities list the 8 records they’d want with them if stranded on a desert island.

    Why is this relevant? Basically because politicians often appear on the show, and seem to use it less as an opportunity to honestly list the art that means the most to them, and more as an opportunity to make a mix CD for the electorate. By choosing one song from each of the most significant genres, they make what I consider to be a classic mistake. When you’re making a CD for someone, don’t attempt to cover everything in your collection, don’t attempt to say too much. If you flip from rap to reggae to classical to metal, the person on the receiving end won’t be impressed by the breadth of your knowledge, they’ll be put off by your attempts to show off.

    But politicians seem to believe that by covering everything, they can increase the quantity of their support (Whereas I think they should use it as an opportunity to increase the quality of existing support). Want to see what I mean? The table below shows the 8 choices made by several recent prominent leaders. I’ve ordered them by the categories that seem relevant to me on first impression:

Tony Blair (Lab)

David Davis (Con)

David Cameron (Con)

Alan Johnson (Lab)

Diane Abbott (Lab)

Obligatory Classic Rock

Wishing Well – Free

Brothers in Arms – Dire Straits

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

Drive in Saturday – David Bowie

Ain't Too Proud To Beg – Temptations

Obligatory Classical Music

Clair de Lune – Debussy

Canon in D – Pachelbel

On Wings Of Song – Mendelssohn

Adagietto – Mahler

Reflections In The Water – Debussy

Obligatory Beatles Song

In My Life – Beatles

Another Day in Paradise – Phil Collins

Perfect Circle – REM

And Your Bird Can Sing – The Beatles

Things We said Today – The Beatles

Obligatory Vaguely Political Piece

4th July – Bruce Springsteen

Stealing my Democracy – Mundy-Turner

Tangled Up In Blue – Bob Dylan

A Man Needs A Maid – Neil Young

Things Can Only Get Better – D:Dream

Obligatory Desperate Appeal To The Youth

Cancel Today – Ezio

Get the Party Started – Pink

All These Things That I've Done – Killers

Cityscape Skybaby – Super Furry Animals

Exodus – Bob Marley


Adagio for Strings – Barber

Main Theme from Schindler's List

This Charming Man – Smiths

You Little Fool – Elvis Costello

Scarlet Ribbons – Harry Belafonte


Crossroad Blues – Robert Johnson

Un Bel Di from Madame Butterfly – Puccini

Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead

Friday On My Mind – Easy Beats

Nkosi Sikelel ‘Iafrika – Ladysmith Black Mambazo


Recuerdos de la Alhambra – Tarrega

Ashokan Farewell – Ungar & Mason

Ernie – Bernie Hill

Beneath The Sun – Halima

Driver A – Buju Banton

 I had to look a lot of the pieces up, and so there are three rows at the end that are effectively uncategorized. There may also be a few mistakes – is Ezio really an appeal to the youth? Are the Temptations really close enough, thematically, to classic rock? Who on earth is Halima? Why did two people stray from the golden rule of picking at least one Beatles song?

I'll admit that clear patterns are not as obvious, straight away, as I'd thought they would be. I was expecting a more definite attempt to 'always include at least one song by every significant musical genre'. Still, I think we can draw the conclusion from this that most politicians are mostly just looking to appeal to their listeners. The Radio 4 demographic is not particularly representative of Britain as a whole and I think the politicians behavior reflects this. Still, there’s a lot more data to collect – I was going to add Vince Cable but the table was getting a bit too big. He disobeys all these rules though, instead making a much more thematic selection sticking mostly to romantic classical music and the closest he got to ‘appealing to the youth’ was Pat Boone!?

   But this list leaves me with a lot of questions about how politicians can use music to appeal to certain demographics, as well as how I myself can improve my mix-CD-making-abilities.

About Ben Farrer

Ben is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Knox College. He received his PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2014. Ben was previously a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and previously held a research position in the Department of Political Science at Fordham University. His research and teaching interests are centered around parties and interest groups, particularly those from under-represented constituencies. A great deal of his work deals with the political organizations of the environmental movement. He studies both American and Comparative politics.

One Reply to “Vote For Me… I Love Oxygen, My Family, Apple Pie, And The Beatles”

  1. i guess this highlights what many would consider to be wrong with politicians and politics today. By trying to appeal to demographics through what should be a personal choice politicians errode confidence in the truth content of their statements. I think this kind of pandering rarely sits well and politicians who come out looking insincere, would the general public not prefer and respect honest answers? is it so vital in a parliamentary democracy that voters must feel connected personally to the private lives of politicians?

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