BARACK OBAMA, like many of his generation, tracks his moods to the tune of mid-20th-century rhythm and blues music, those sometimes sad, often joyful hits by renowned black artists. As Obama’s presidential campaign gained momentum against the heavily favored Hillary Clinton, his campaign workers revved up crowds in Iowa and New Hampshire with the Aretha Franklin anthem “Respect.’’ Then, after the election, the new president and his first lady danced to “At Last,’’ the Etta James classic, reproduced by Beyonce.
Now, as Obama prepares to launch his reelection drive, his campaign is playing “Let’s Stay Together,’’ by Obama supporter Al Green, and the president himself even sang a bar at a recent event. The song conveys the idea that “good or bad, happy or sad,’’ the president and the American people have shared a journey, and don’t want to turn back. But it promises to be a rough campaign, and the White House iPod needs to be prepared for what’s likely to come.
For instance, after the Republican race settles down, and the focus is back on Obama, liberals will surely air their anger over his extension of the Bush tax cuts and other concessions. Campaign organizers need to have “Backstabbers’’ by the O’Jays (“They smile in your face / all the time they want to take your place’’) ready to play as a warning to the president whenever he speaks before highly partisan Democratic crowds. Then, when the Republican convention dominates the airwaves, with conservatives thundering about how the president’s big spending and EPA regulations are choking the economy, Obama’s team should be ready with Marvin Gaye’s medley of “What’s Going On’’ and “Mercy Mercy Me,’’ to convey both his dismay and a determination to recover.
As the president starts to rebound at his own convention, with his message of how hard work is slowly, surely, bringing America back, he might consider entering campaign rallies to the pulsating sounds of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’’ by Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Michelle Obama can hit the trail to the Diana Ross version.
Win or lose, the Obamas will need another soulful ballad to mark what’s sure to be another big turn in their fortunes. Luckily, Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes’’ covers all contingencies, with a useful reminder that life can always surprise you. Beyonce should start rehearsing now, even if it’s not clear whether she’ll be performing at an inaugural ball - or a farewell fundraiser to pay off those big campaign bills, especially for sound systems.