Blogs > Cliopatria > listening to the election

Jul 26, 2004 2:21 pm

listening to the election

Can you predict the winner of the fall elections by watching the pop charts? I am not sure but my completely unscientific research sample gives an unqualified maybe. First, a note on methodology. Billboard makes you pay for access to their information, so I went to the RIAA website and found out what records went Gold and Platinum in the six months before each election since 1980. Then I had to rely on my memory for which albums were actually from that year as opposed to catalog sales. Party music and middle of the road dominated the 1980, 1984, and 1988 elections cycle. Christopher Cross, the Xanadu soundtrack, Rick Springfield, the Pointer Sisters all sold well during Reagan’s big triumphs. 1984 might appear to be more complicated as Bruce Springsteen and Prince both put out major albums that on the surface seem unrelated to or even hostile to Reagan. But although Prince’s album was musically revolutionary it was decidedly apolitical. The political lyrics of Springsteen’s Born in the USA were lost amid the triumphalist music. The depressing title song, originally an acoustic blues number for his Nebraska album, became the Reagan theme song despite mentions of unemployment and failure in Vietnam.

In 1992, the Bush camp should have known they were in trouble when Nirvana was going multi-platinum. It did not really matter what Kurt Cobain was saying, the howl (and the tattooed cheerleaders in the first video) spelled (or screamed) electoral disaster.

While it is always difficult to tell if pop culture is a marker of change or a contributing force, I’m guessing that if the Roots angry new album, the Tipping Point tops the charts, it will be bad news for the current Bush team.

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David Haan - 7/27/2004

The irony-switchback of Springsteen's "Born in the USA" in 1984(!?) is recapitulated by Langston Hughes' "Let America Be America Again" -- I have no idea what this portends.

David Lion Salmanson - 7/26/2004

I have heard the talk about fractured markets, downloads, pirates etc. But if it plays on MTV it hits a pretty significant segment, ditto VH1 and CMT.

David Lion Salmanson - 7/26/2004

It doesn't tell you anything if no one hears the CD. If songs get picked up, it's more important how they are listened to and what listeners think is going on. I don't see the Beasties having a big effect on the Free Tibet movement. They are just too much of a party band. Beds are Burning and Blue Sky Mine by Midnight Oil were too obscure. The sound is as important here as the lyrics. I guess I am leaning more towards pop culture as articulation than shaper.

Manan Ahmed - 7/26/2004

If you look at the lineup of acts on theMoveOn PAC cd, you will see that a broad spectrum of hiphop, emo, rock and roll crowd is gathered. CDs by The Roots, Beastie Boys, JadaKiss and Dead Prez are openly anti-Bush.
These are not artists on arty labels - these are mainstream acts.
that tells me something.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/26/2004

It's harder than ever to figure out what people are actually listening to. Radio listenership is down, so playlists (which rarely take into account the 'classics' stations of various ilks anyway) aren't much help. RealPlayer and AppleTunes downloads aren't figured into 'best seller' lists. The fragmentation of the music markets makes it harder than ever to really pick out a theme or even a tone, I think.