Every reporter has their habits and rituals while on the campaign trail chasing candidates and stories.
One of mine — and I’ve been doing it for years — is to build a short playlist of songs to listen to in my rental car that somehow relate to the place I’m in. I made one last year as I crisscrossed Iowa and earlier this year for New Hampshire’s primary.
Now that we’re in the final weeks of this election, NPR’s Weekend Edition asked what I’m listening to while on the road now.
Call this my “2016 Homestretch Playlist.” And because we’re no longer hopping from primary state to primary state, these days I include songs to mark some big battleground states, as well as tunes that speak more broadly to the themes of democracy and American elections.
Here we go:
1. “Vote for Mr. Rhythm” / Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb and his Orchestra
There are few things more joyful than the voice of Ella Fitzgerald singing in front of a swinging big band.
This is from the earliest years of her remarkable career and you can hear the youth in her powerful voice.
This song came out in an election year (1936), and I love it when she says:
And vote for Mr. Rhythm
I’m voting twice!
2. “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” / The Temptations
One of the great Temptations’ Motown classics, a big hit that came out a year and a half after the 1968 presidential election, which was one of the most divisive the country had ever seen. The song spoke to the tensions of the day. It resonates in the current political climate when racial tensions have become an issue in the campaign, and when deep divisions separate the body politic.
3. “My House” / Flo Rida
A popular hip-hop song for the ride across battleground state Florida. Flo Rida is a south Florida native. From 2015, it’s the most contemporary song on the list, and the artist and sound speak to the changing nature of the Sunshine State, which is younger and more diverse than ever — a fact that is changing the state’s politics as well.
4. “Whip It” / Devo
Devo makes the list because its members hail from the city of Akron, located in the all-important battleground state of Ohio. No deep meaning here. Just a fun song for the road. A good one to sing along to. And even a little playful nonsense from the guys who performed in hazmat suits and made bizarre music videos over the course of their career.
5. “Debate Highlights Songified” / The Gregory Brothers
Even with the presence of Devo, this is the weirdest song on this list. The Gregory Brothers — consisting of three brothers and one of their wives — have taken the presidential debates, auto-tuned the voices of the candidates, and turned them into wonky, policy-oriented duets. This one features the duo of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney — both baritones, I believe — squaring off in debate during the 2012 campaign.
6. “Democracy” / Leonard Cohen
Cohen is one of our greatest songwriters. The Montreal-born singer and poet has written such classics as “Hallelujah,” “Bird on the Wire” and “Suzanne.”
Now 82 years old and featured in a terrific New Yorker profile, he’s stopped touring but he’s still writing and recording — and making us ponder big questions. This is his 1992 song that pays tribute to American democracy. It manages to be both dark and optimistic at the same time.
It’s coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay,
From the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of Chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the USA
7. “I Will Survive” / Gloria Gaynor
Disco! OK, I’m not a big fan of the genre, perhaps because I was in college when Saturday Night Fever came out and those songs drowned out just about everything else in the dorm and at parties. But I consulted with some colleagues on the NPR Elections Desk, and we decided this 1978 hit is the perfect song to power us through the final weeks of the campaign.
I will survive, indeed. How many days till election day?