Paste has tried hard not to turn our magazine or website into a platform for our own various political opinions. We recognize that people look to us for cultural guidance but generally think there are better places to find political commentary than a music magazine. For the sake of full disclosure, I'll be voting for Obama/Biden, but beyond that, I'll just refer you to The Economist. But music at the conventions is fair game, and it's hard not to note that last week in Denver featured pro-Obama concerts from Death Cab For Cutie, Stevie Wonder, Nada Surf, Black Eyed Peas, Cold War Kids, Jenny Lewis, Kanye West and Alejandro Escovedo, who blogged for us from the Democratic National Convention. And the Republicans have, well, John Rich, Gretchen Wilson and Rachael Lampa.
Talking with Cold War Kids' Nathan Willet yesterday, I had the sense
that despite his band's presence at the DNC, he wasn't the most
comfortable of musicians to be in such a pep-rally atmosphere. "I've
been thinking a lot about whether a band should even be there using
their name for a politician," he said in hindsight. "I guess in many
ways I think now more than ever they really shouldn't be. They should
be expressing their thoughts, and they can encourage you outside of the
music to think well and to think through things. But they really
shouldn't be encouraging you to vote for a candidate, and I think
something is lost when that happens. The entertainment industry kind of
wanted to be involved for good reasons and it's a very popular time to
be there and a lot of fist-pumping and ra-ra-ing, and I'm not sure a
lot of people know that much about some of those issues, and I'm not
sure if it's an artists job to know as much and to be leading people in
I respect his sentiments, but the overwhelming majority of musicians who
bring up politics at all fall on the left side of the political divide
and do so unequivocally, like Conor Oberst, who recently told me, "I
think that you just gotta believe it can be better and, at this point,
[Obama] is by far the best thing that’s come along in such a long
time." Right now, it's probably not in right-leaning musicians' best
interests to get too vocal about their politics, unless maybe they're a
country or Contemporary Christian act. But even Toby Keith came out in
support of Barack Obama recently. I have Republican friends who love
music just as much as I do, and probably find the lopsided realities
of this list incredibly frustrating. They should take solace in the
fact that we don't elect our leaders based on the artistic merit of
their supporters. So, without further ado, here are the 5 Democrats and
5 Republicans who've done all they can in recent years to support their
5 Biggest (or most committed) Democratic Musicians
1. Bruce Springsteen
a career of tackling politics only thematically in his songs,
Springsteen came out in support of John Kerry, calling the 2004
election, "the most important election of our lifetime." He and manager Jon Landau helped organize the Vote for Change tour with Dixie
Chicks, Dave Matthews, James Taylor, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt, John
Mellencamp, and R.E.M. This year, he played the Democratic National
Convention in support of Barack Obama.
2. Black-Eyed Peas
changed the face of politics online with his Barack Obama YouTube video
"Yes We Can," which has been viewed more than 10 million times. He
followed it up with a performance with John Legend at the DNC in Denver.
3. Dixie Chicks
one has been shunned more for their vocal anti-Bush beliefs than The
Dixie Chicks who were boycotted from radio after Natalie Maines told a
London crowd, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the
United States is from Texas." They've since been involved with the Rock
the Vote campaign and other politically active initiatives and inspired
the founding of Music Row Democrats.
4. Neil Young
may be from Canada, but Young pulled no punches with "Let's Impeach the
President" off Living With War, an album rushed out the door for the
express purpose of chronicling his problems with the Bush
administration. [Editor's note: sorry for assuming anti-Bush meant pro-Democrat. Neil is actually a self-described libertarian. I guess I need a third category. Just imagine R.E.M. here in Neil's place.]
5. Death Cab For Cutie
with Conor Oberst, Death Cab has led the way for indie rockers
everywhere to embrace Obama. As part of the Future Soundtrack For
America, put out by their then-label Barsuk before the 2004 election,
they helped energize young voters and this year played The Concert For
a Cooler Planet at the DNC.
5 Biggest (or most committed) Republican Musicians
1. John Rich
most visible Republican musician this year (and the most successful country writer this year) is the writer of "Raisin'
McCain," which he played at the Republican National Convention this
week in Minneapolis.
2. Ted Nugent
Nuge has become one of the most vocal Republican musicans, especially
when it comes to guns and Iraq. He's referred to a Fund for Animals
official as a "worthless whore" and offered Barbara Boxer and Diane
Feinstein the chance to "suck on his machine gun." Mike Huckabee was
his man in the primaries, and he's been critical of McCain. But not as
critical as he is of Barack Obama.
3. Johnny Ramone
The lifelong Republican gave the Grand Ol' Party a smidgen of punk.
4. Kid Rock
Republicans have wondered about the value of having Kid Rock—who noted
that he'd refrain from sex in the Oval Office but he'd install cameras
in the Lincoln Bedroom—on their side.
5. Ricky Skaggs
Lee Greenwood might be an obvious pick, but I freakin' hate that song.
Bluegrass rules. Skaggs is my pick for the coolest Republican musician.
And for the sake of all you Ron Paul/Bob Barr fans out there, here are the 5 Biggest Libertarian Musicians. So who am I missing?