Wednesday, May 8, 2013 1:00 AM
If you made it to a campaign rally for a presidential campaign last year, chances are you heard heard "Even Better Than The Real Thing" by U2 at President Barack Obama's rallies or "Born Free" by Kid Rock at Mitt Romney's rallies.
I collect political memorabilia. There is nothing collectible about a playlist. But years ago, campaigns composed their own songs and I've collected several records from Mississippi gubernatorial campaigns which provide a glimpse into the politics, issues and culture of the time.
In 1962, the Mississippi Legislature adopted "Go, Mississippi" by Houston Davis as the state song. While the words were different, the tune was the same as the campaign song Davis wrote for Ross Barnett's successful 1959 gubernatorial campaign: "Roll With Ross." When Governor Barnett released his campaign songs on a souvenir record, the A-Side featured "Roll With Ross" and an attack on one of his opponents, Lieutenant Governor Carroll Gartin, titled "Little Carroll's Last Stand." Two versions of "Go, Mississippi" are on the B-side.
While the song may harken back to Senator Jim Eastland's 1954 campaign song by the Mississippi Ramblers - "Cotton State: Roll On Mississippi, Roll On" - the anthem for Barnett in 1959 reflected the main issue of his campaign: "For segregation, one hundred per cent / he's not a moderate, like some other gent / he'll fight integration, with forceful intent / Roll with Ross, roll with Ross, he's his own boss!"
In his speeches and songs (including "Roll With Ross"), Barnett fired up the crowd by railing against his opponent and his allies: "Big Daddy" (Hugh White), "Tall Daddy" (J.P. Coleman) and "Little Boy Blue" (Carroll Gartin). Set to the tune of "The Battle of New Orleans" (Johnny Horton's number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959), "Little Carroll's Last Stand" painted Gartin a puppet of that machine: "Tall Daddy said we can take them by surprise / Just slip around behind them don't look them in the eyes / Don't tell them about the taxes on the C-I-O / Don't tell them about your bosses or your big daddy-o.... I've listened to my bosses and they told me what to do / and when they make suggestions I just say 'me, too!'"
In 1967, Barnett ran for governor again but finished fourth in the Democratic Primary. He still had catchy songs. The chorus of "Let's Roll Again With Ross" goes: "Who is the best man yet? Ross Barnett! Ross Barnett! Who is the best man yet? Ross Barnett you bet!" He takes on President Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy: "All left wingers stay away from me / we don't need your Great Society / in Mississippi we just want our sovereignty / Roll with Ross, roll with Ross, roll again with Ross....All the reds in Washington will say / they hope Ross will fall along the way / but we won't give our state to little Bobby K."
On the record's flip side, "When Good Ol' Ross Goes Rolling In" (to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In") hits a number of his opponents including William Winter: "when another man collected tax, his piggy bank, it runneth over, with that old black market tax."
Barnett lost to Congressman John Bell Williams who had his own song. "John Bell Williams is A Fightin' Man" performed by Bob Cates & the Dixie Six begins with a variation of Dixie (an instrumental of which appears on the B-side).
"All you people gather around I got a story to tell / about a man from Mississippi that they call John Bell / he was sitting up North on the Capitol Dome / watching the way his folks were treated back home. Saw those Johnson boys in the high silk hats / and wonder what they're doing to us Democrats / Saw little brother Bobby having all of his fun / he stood up and said 'you can't do that son.'"
In 1975, Cliff Finch won the governor's campaign riding another song to victory. "Riding on the Cliff Finch Train" performed by Freddie Aycock & The Country Gentlemen was a variation of the tune "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms" that Buck Owens covered in 1971 and reached the number 2 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.
"Cliff was dozer operator / he hauled his rocks and went to school / then one day he looked at his mule / said 'I'll be nobody else's fool.' Riding on the Cliff Finch Train. Riding on the Cliff Finch Train. Same old train that brought him here today's gonna carry him to Jackson to stay."
In 2003, former state Sen. Charles Pittman penned a rousing campaign song for Haley Barbour much enjoyed by the campaign staff, but rarely heard on the campaign trail.
We don't hear songs like those anymore. Maybe one day, hipster candidates will return to vinyl and we can all enjoy some old fashioned campaign songs again.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter. You can hear some of these songs at his blog: www.capstonepublicaffairs.com/blog