Throughout the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions, one through-line began to reveal itself. It wasn't a recurring phrase or motif, but rather a string of kick-ass tunes. Both convention halls entertained their attendees and marathon-session watchers at home with house bands as well as DJs. It was a great time, and not just because the musical selections gave us GIF after perfect GIF of people dancing adorably to classic rock or inoffensive pop hits from the '80s and '90s.
Both conventions had house bands that eventually won me over after several days of immersion therapy. Both had random, inappropriate, or just plain weird-ass cues, from both the band and the DJ, and both had live performances.
After two weeks of convention-watching, I can safely say that the most important question facing America is this: Which convention had the better music? Which party threw the best party?
Let's break it down.
House Band: Who Ya Got?
Rickey Minor and the DNC house band
Former "Tonight Show" bandleader Minor and his squad got things got off to a hot start on Thursday evening.
At one point, the house band played The Brian Setzer Orchestra's classic "Jump Jive An' Wail," a song singlehandedly responsible for the movie Swingers. (Don't @ me.)
Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth walked out to "Who's That Lady."
That's pretty weird. What else do you have for weirdness? For some reason, Rep. James Clyburn came out to "Carry On My Wayward Son," Kansas' AM dial staple. Clyburn represents South Carolina.
When the 12 Democratic women serving in the Senate came out, they were introduced with a snappy marimba number and left the stage to an instrumental version of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll."
After a video about new citizens voting (which was good!), Rep. Joaquin Castro came out to "Jenny (867-5309)" for some reason. That was a big song at the convention.
Theory: perhaps the singer from Tommy Tutone was part of the DNC band?
Colorado governor John Hickenlooper came out to '70s groove "Vehicle" which is exceptional because that is a song about trying to pick up a beautiful stranger without getting out of your car.
Well, I'm the friendly stranger in the black sedan
Oh won't you hop inside my car?
I got pictures, got candy, I'm a lovable man
I'd like to take you to the nearest star
I'm your vehicle baby
I'll take you anywhere you wanna go
I'm your vehicle woman
By now I'm sure you know
That I love you (love you)
I need you (need you)
I want to, got to have you child
Great God in heaven, you know I love you
That is genuinely weird!
Other artists played by the band included Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Curtis Mayfield, U2, Journey, the great band Chicago, and Phil Collins.
GE Smith and the RNC band
Former "SNL" bandleader GE Smith and his crew at the Quicken Loans Arena have been out of sight, but not out of mind, for the last week. But they were really great and weird, too!
The RNC band focused a lot on dad rock and soul, the sort of things you'd hear a good cover band play at the Wisconsin State Fair in the early 1990s. And since it was Cleveland, they played the theme song from The Drew Carey Show.
Are these people jamming to "Domino" by Van Morrison or Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’?" Maybe "It's Your Thing" by the Isley Brothers? It's impossible to tell.
Here's more people grooving to Stevie Ray Vaughan's "The House is Rockin'," which, false.
They also played Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." Every. Single. Day.
As the A.V. Club points out, GE Smith and the boys may have been trolling the GOP and the attendees. Why else play REO Speedwagon's "Roll With The Changes?"And, like, they're pros. They know what "Born in the USA" is really about, right? They didn't play it only because Chris Christie loves the Boss, right? And they also played David Bowie's "Station to Station" which is about (and probably was written on) a bunch of cocaine. And The Clash's "Rock The Casbah?" Get under a bridge, troll!
Oh yeah, they played Face's "Stay With Me" and AC/DC's "You Shook Me." That was great because those songs are about one-night stands. Who says the GOP's not sex-positive?
In summation: the RNC band would slay at a wedding.
Verdict: The house bands should go on tour and charge a lot of money for tickets that I'd buy, but GE Smith's guys are bonkers and great.
We'll Do It Live
The Republicans had better live music.
That's the "Make America Great Again" song!
A country artist by the name of Chris Janson reworked one of his songs to be about Donald Trump.
The Democratic party? It was a cavalcade of stars!
Alicia Keys slayed on the opening night.
The next night, Paul Simon ironically played "Bridge Over Troubled Water," a song about unity, written with a man he has not spoken to in years!
There was an all-star tribute from Broadway luminaries to victims of gun violence. They performed Burt Bacharach's "What The World Needs Now Is Love."
Lenny Kravitz did something, too!
Night four of the DNC was like the MTV Music Video Awards, and not just because Shonda Rimes said something about squad goals.
From my notes: "6:18pm: "Superstitious"(?) to introduce Carole King." King did "You've Got A Friend" and at one point ad-libbed "Hillary’s got so many friends…and Bernie, too!" It was spectacular.
But that was all a precursor to Sheila E and the E Family. RIP, Prince. Here's video of their soundcheck.
I don't know what former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm came out to, but she sing-spoke a bit of "Your So Vain" about Donald Trump. She was great.
Finally, Katy Perry was there and did her Olympics song "Rise" as well as "Roar."
This guy was feeling it.
Verdict: DNC. The RNC didn't book any slay queens at all!
Candidate Intro/Outro Music
This is one of the most important categories in this study. A candidate's intro music can make or break a campaign! Let's start with the DNC.
Chelsea Clinton walked on stage to "Can't Stop The Feeling" by Justin Timberlake. "Rock Your Body" wouldn't have made any sense, but it would've been better.
Hillary Clinton came out to "Fight Song" because of course she did. She is "Fight Song" at this point, sorry not sorry Rachel Platten.
After she ended her speech: "Fight Song," "Brave," and Jessica Sanchez's (who?) "Unity Together." "Firework." 75% genuine club bangers.
On the other side of the aisle, things were appropriately weird.
Donald was introduced by his oldest daughter, and they used a good Beatles song. However, the band got in trouble for playing "Here Comes The Sun." Strike one.
Trump himself came out to the score from the 1997 action-thriller "Air Force One" where rebels are thwarted by a sandy haired politico who doesn't want to give them a free ride. (I think, it's been a while.) Trump's move was lazy shorthand for "presidential."
When the balloons fell in Cleveland, Donald Trump and his supporters were greeted by 1970s rock song "All Right Now" by Free. Let's have a listen.
Then The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" played. Fitting?
Verdict: Trump's outro song is 100% about fucking, that's a disqualification.
Lawsuits And Other Legal Ephemera
Finally, a section the Republicans win handily (spoilers). From the A.V. Club:
As we noted earlier this week, Rodgers definitely isn’t alone there. The RNC has been pissing off musicians on a daily basis with its unauthorized usage of songs like Queen’s “We Are The Champions,” The Turtles’ “Happy Together,” The Ojays’ “Love Train,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” the aforementioned “Here Comes The Sun,” The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (more on that later), and even Luciano Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma”—the writers and estates behind which have all voiced their loud objection at being associated with Trump, some of them even saying he’ll be hearing from their lawyers.
That is so many threats of legal action.
That woman is probably still waiting.
Verdict: You don't want to win this one, Republicans
RESULTS: It's a tie!
There you have it, a definitive accounting of the music at this year's conventions. BYE.
Vote GE Smith 2020
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org