Atlanta (CNN) – Camp Gingrich plays the theme song from "The Karate Kid." Mitt Romney? He's wrapping himself in the long-haired high octaves of Kid Rock. Really.
Why? Strategy. Music, in fact, may be the least-criticized and least-analyzed piece of subliminal campaign strategy. So, this week American Sauce looks the melodic and political reasons politicians pick their rally songs.
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Campaign songs typically make headlines only when politics or controversy come into play. The band Heart made news in 2008 when they condemned the use of their song at the GOP convention. More recently a member of the group Survivor filed a complaint against Newt Gingrich over the use of "Eye of the Tiger."
But, given the highly orchestrated nature of the modern campaign, what do the songs played at campaign stops say about the candidates? As the co-founder of a popular tribute band, Nick Niespodziani has some unique insights into the question.
"Kid Rock was an interesting choice for [Mitt] Romney," he said of "Born Free," a track the GOP frontrunner frequently plays. The song features an acoustic guitar which conjures up images of middle America and old-fashioned hard work. High octaves mean Kid Rock's voice breaks a little as he works to hit the notes, a common feature of many popular campaign songs because "they evoke "a feeling of really putting your best forward just to get up to this high note."
Niespodziani pushes for some high notes himself, taking the badge of "Atlanta's most hated singer" seriously. He fronts the Yacht Rock Revue, a tribute band that specializes in the soft rock of the late 70s and early 80s. Niespodziani describes his on stage persona as, "somewhere in between Ron Burgundy and Ron Swanson, without the mustaches." He's played on cruise ships, at the world's largest 10K race and at election night parties. "I was once asked to change the words in Eric Clapton's 'Cocaine' to McCain," he recalled. The suggestion went unheeded.
Campaigns rarely use word changes. Instead they often rely on not-so-subtle allusions to struggle or fighting in order to get supporters fired up. Niespodziani said that explains the appeal of two songs favored by Newt Gingrich: Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" and "You're the Best Around" by Joe Esposito. Both use something called the pentatonic scale, also known as the blues scale.
According to Niespodziani, that scale has a specific emotional impact.
"When you hear the pentatonic scale your brow kind of furrows and you're just kinda ready for a rumble," he told CNN Radio.
The lyrics also drive home the image of a difficult fight. Though the candidate may have a different fight on his hands if he wants to continue to use "Eye of the Tiger." The complaint against Gingrich from the song's composer was of copyright infringement.
As for President Obama's musical choices, Niespodziani said his 2008 campaign favored aspirational sounds like U2's anthem "City of Blinding Lights." By employing the major scale, the most common scale in western music, Niespodziani explained, the song summons hopeful imagery. The band also uses heavy reverb and echo in their songs.
"This sonically creates a feeling of scale," he pointed out, "a really grand feeling of scale and…that's something that I think Obama is trying to use to his advantage.
No matter the campaign, no matter the goals and policy positions, candidates can benefit from creating good energy.
For that, Niespodziani insisted, you have to get people on their feet. Which helps explain the popularity of "Celebrate" by Kool & the Gang even thirty years on. "Celebrate" is probably the easiest song to dance to that was ever written," Niespodziani said. "It is at 120 beats per minute which is the ultimate dance tempo that the person with the least amount of dancing ability can dance to."
Niespodziani had another suggestion for coaxing even the most staid supporters to shake it: "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins. Not only will this tune ensure movement but also, he maintained, what could be better than a group of politicos doing their best Kevin Bacon impressions?
To hear Niespodziani and to listen to the rest of this week's American Sauce, click here.
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- CNN's Dan Szematowicz and Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.