We look at former presidential candidates and their theme songs

By Ethan Smith
Updated October 18, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Between Bob Dole’s high-profile headaches over the rights to the tune ”Soul Man” and the unprecedented 26 references Bill Clinton made to the title of his campaign theme song (REO Speedwagon’s lame ”comeback” single, ”Building the Bridge”) at this year’s Democratic convention, it’s evident that the ’96 race really hinges on the candidates’ choice of soundtrack music. Herewith, a guide to MTV-era presidential hopefuls and the mood music that has inspired them.

Campaign Bob Dole ’96

Song Elton John’s ”I’m Still Standing”

The tune was meant to put a playful spin on Dole’s nasty on-camera tumble at a Chico, Calif., rally last month.

The song actually sounds like wishful thinking in light of his underwhelming performance in the first debate. ”Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is more like it.

Campaign Ross Perot ’92

Song Patsy Cline’s ”Crazy”

The tune was meant to allude, facetiously, to the Establishment’s view of the pint-size libertarian.

The song actually reflected with uncanny accuracy on the wisdom of waging a $1 million-a-day, no-chance campaign out of sheer orneriness.

Campaign Bill Clinton ’92

Song Fleetwood Mac’s ”Don’t Stop”

The tune was meant to reinforce Clinton’s mantra, ”It’s time for a change.”

The song actually encourages the forgive-and-forget philosophy (”Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”) that Clinton’s supporters cling to when rationalizing his vigorous flip-flopping.

Campaign Al Gore ’92

Song Paul Simon’s ”You Can Call Me Al”

The tune was meant to bestow a genial, easygoing image on the wooden Gore.

The song actually did a fine job of describing a Vice President: a middle-aged man desperate for media attention.

Campaign Ronald Reagan ’84

Song Springsteen’s ”Born in the U.S.A.”

The tune was meant to arouse jingoistic sentiments in New Jerseyites and other red-blooded Americans.

The song actually irked the Boss, who called Reagan’s use of the song just ”another manipulation.”

Campaign George Bush ’80

Song Kenny Rogers’ ”The Gambler”

The tune was meant to acknowledge the long odds ”The Gambler” (Bush) faced in defeating ”The Gipper” (Ronald Reagan) for the Republican presidential nod.

The song actually proved prophetic as a busted Bush settled for the VP slot.