Obama vs. McCain: Rock Showdown!

A&E dictates whose iPod you should vote for in ’08

Jay Boller

If you wouldn’t trust someone to pick out a playlist for a party, would you trust them to lead the free world?

Logically, policy questions trump most others in the lead-up to any major election. That’s wise and fair. But an exorbitant amount of coverage is devoted to some of the most pointless, arbitrary and benign topics known to man. Barack Obama didn’t wear a flag pin on his lapel! John McCain’s wife is frightening to look at! Who cares?

Good people can like awful music. But doesn’t the media’s message that consumption defines a person’s character still matter? Surely, the consequences are not as pronounced as the angry parents who point fingers at Marilyn Manson every time there’s a school shooting would like you to believe, but there are implications. That said, it’s a bit disconcerting that the two presumptive presidential nominees have remained largely candid about their musical tastes.

At face value, Barack Obama and John McCain would appear to have starkly different tastes regarding all things cultural. One is relatively young and in stupendous shape; the other has to seriously question whether he can maintain a pulse for the next four years. Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia; McCain was a wandering Army Brat. Essentially, it comes down to Young Black Guy vs. Old White Guy. In theory, one would imagine that Obama would take the musical-taste cake outright, with that equation in mind.

Not so fast. For all that the American people know, Obama is a giddy Jonas Brothers fan and McCain is a devout Johnny Cash worshipper. It’s equally possible that Obama is a Ghostface Killah appreciator (not a wise choice, in the wake of his wife’s phantom “whitey” crack), and that McCain can’t get enough Bob Denver.

These are difficult questions with evasive answers. But after much scouring, the historically moderate A&E department is set to endorse a nominee based on what matters most: taste.

Barack Obama

Let’s start with the bad. Not necessarily his fault, but the music most associated with Obama is surely will.i.am’s schmaltzy “Yes We Can” video. Apparently, will.i.am believed the only way young people could possibly digest a passionate Obama speech was with the help of Scarlett Johansson and Nick Cannon talking over it.

But, on to the more assuring: In an interview with Rolling Stone, Obama divulged the contents of his iPod and the results were widely encouraging. Singer/songwriter legends Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan were among his favorites, along with the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and Howlin’ Wolf. Not an objectionable one in the bunch. On top of that, Obama is also a fan of some exceptional jazz: Miles Davis, Charlie “Bird” Parker and John Coltrane.

Sheryl Crow was a vapid pop misstep, but he redeemed himself by professing his admiration for Jay-Z. Overall, Obama’s tastes are safe, but also – for the most part – indisputable in terms of overall quality. Not that it reflects on his tastes, in particular, but The Decemberists, Arcade Fire and Wilco have all voiced their support of Obama.

If only he could entice the influential Toby Keith of “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)” fame Ö

John McCain

Apparently, John McCain’s tastes can be summed up in four letters, and/or one crappy Swedish pop group: ABBA.

According to The Austin American Statesman, McCain fiercely defended the ’70s group, stating that “ABBA was the largest selling (recording act ever). Nobody likes them, but they sold more records than anybody in the history of the world, including the Beatles. But everybody hates them. (But) you’re a no-class guy if you like ABBA. Why does everybody go see ‘Mamma Mia?’ Hypocrisy! Rank hypocrisy! I’m not embarrassed to say I like ABBA.”

If you’re still puzzled over what to make of this, note a major inconsistency in McCain’s quote. According to non-rambling-old-man sources, ABBA has sold 370 million records. Compare that to more than 500 million by The Beatles, and you have either a diluted ABBA mega-fan or a liar.

In separate interviews, McCain has advocated that ABBA be played in the White House elevators, and it was reported that, upon entering a hybrid SUV equipped with a voice activated iPod, McCain barked, “Play ABBA!”

You cannot make this stuff up, people.

On a somewhat redeeming note, McCain’s suspiciously hot daughter claimed to have found a Lauryn Hill CD in her dad’s car. Speaking of Meghan McCain, she routinely posts her playlists on her blog and has impressive musical tastes (Elliott Smith, The Stooges, The Cure).

Still, Daddy McCain’s unnerving fixation with all things ABBA – combined with the fact that his own senior aid claimed “there are many things I admire about John McCain, but not his taste in music” – make McCain an iffy choice, at best.

The verdict: Unless McCain is secretly hoarding a pile of Belle & Sebastian records (the guy obviously takes to Swedish music), Obama will at the very least reign musically supreme come October.