(January 20, 2020). In a couple hours from now – as I begin writing this – there will be a transition of the U.S. presidency from Donald J. Trump, Sr. to Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
As this historic moment unfolded before us, the music blog took note of the songs that accompanied the outgoing president as he made his last public appearances while holding that esteemed title.
As Trump and his family departed from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland aboard Air Force One heading to his new permanent residence at their Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the late Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” blared through the speakers on the airstrip grounds where he had just spoken to a still-gathered crowd of about a hundred people, a good portion of which included his children and their significant others.
The timing of the soundtrack couldn’t have been planned better: as the plane lifted off into the sunny morning sky, Sinatra crooned the final lyrics – “yes, I did it myyyyy waaaaay.”
Aside from the few chuckles the unwittingly poignant moment elicited from the news anchors covering the historic moment, even the toughest Trump critics had to be secretly admiring the synchronization of the song’s coda with the plane’s liftoff. It was the kind of stuff the best post-production film editors strive for when making motion pictures. Yet to Trump’s supporters, and the most committed QAnon conspiracists, it had to be a tearful event.
But equally as interesting were the other songs that had earlier soundtracked the 45th president’s low-key military sendoff as he stepped off Marine One and onto the grounds where his family and dozens of faithful supporters awaited his final speech as president.
As Marine One’s doors opened to reveal Trump and soon-to-be former First Lady Melania Trump, the much overplayed song “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey was blaring through those same speakers. That inspiring pop anthem from 40 years ago (yes, it’s that old, folks!) is one of the most popular songs of the 20th century by today’s measures (streams, downloads, voter-generated lists), and it has been known to show up on a few playlists in the past decade or so – ever since it received a second life thanks to its feature in the TV series “Glee” more than a decade ago.
Think of that Journey song as a fitting selection for this president – or any president – to use as a song of optimism and hope for the future. Appropriately for today’s times, it’s both triumphant and sad, with the tales of despair about a small-town boy and a city girl accompanied by one of pop’s best melodies, some memorable guitar riffs, and Steve Perry’s most powerful vocal performance ever (despite which even he marvels at the song’s enduring success).
So far, we get Trump’s musical choices (it’s been reported that the 45th president handpicked the songs to be played and wanted them playing loudly as he made his entrances and exits at various rallies and other speeches).
But the two most notable selections in Trump’s farewell address are the ones that both preceded and immediately followed his speech – a speech, mind you, whose only surprise was its brevity (it contained several of the typical delusional boastings about how great a job he did).
First, there was “Gloria,” the triumphant (yep, I know I’ve used that word twice now) 1982 dance-pop nugget by the late Laura Branigan. It was playing to the crowd as Marine One arrived at Joint Base Andrews.
As the camera panned the crowd and shots of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner emerged – along with Trump’s two eldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, as well as second daughter Tiffany (conspicuously missing was youngest son Barron) – I was transported to a scene two weeks ago in Washington, DC, when Trump and his family waited under a tent before his now-infamous address to a crowd of would-be attackers on the U.S. Capitol.
Before he had addressed that group of his staunchest supporters, Trump and his family stood in the tent watching video footage of the crowd while the song “Gloria” blared in the background. Family members and significant others danced and celebrated as if he had actually won the election two months earlier. Trump seemed pleased with the energy of the assembled crowd, which only moments later began their insurrection at the nation’s most sacred symbol of democracy located just hundreds of yards away, following the president’s fateful, ill-advised, incendiary speech.
The association of “Gloria” with what became the most brazen attack on the U.S. Capitol in over two centuries naturally displeased the song’s creators – most notably the estate of Laura Branigan, which decried its use and its association with the outgoing president.
On the day after the incident, Kathy Golik – legacy manager for Branigan – tweeted, “No permission to use ‘Gloria,’ nor endorsement of him, past or present, was granted to Pres. Trump on behalf of Laura or her legacy management company, & we strongly & vehemently DO NOT condone yesterday’s events at the Capitol.”
She continued, “It’s absolutely appalling to hear ‘Gloria’ being played in the background of a widely-circulating video of Pres. Trump from yesterday, given the tragic, unsettling, & shameful happenings that occurred at the US Capitol.”
It was noted by one commenter that Trump regularly played “Gloria” at his rallies, to which Golik replied that she had consistently admonished the president for the liberties he took with the song previously.
So “Gloria” became somewhat of a theme for Trump over the past year, just like the song that played after his speech to the small gathered crowd on Wednesday had.
That would be the triumphant (damn, I said it again) “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People.
That disco classic’s familiar beats kicked off as soon as Trump uttered his final “thank you” and waved as he and Melania walked off the platform. It continued playing as the Trumps greeted members of his family and other supporters off to the side before he and they boarded Air Force One en route to Florida.
Trump regularly played “Y.M.C.A.” at his rallies and other high-profile events as a closing theme, particularly during his 2020 election campaign. Like “Gloria” and many of the other songs he played, its use initially drew the ire of creator and original Village People member Victor Willis (the cop), who issued demands for Trump to stop.
Willis later recanted those demands when he realized how much of a cash cow Trump’s use of the song was. As license owner, he retroactively granted the president the rights to use the song as he saw fit, with the tune’s streams and downloads likely increasing at every juncture.
For a president whose hetero-centric machismo was always on full display both before and during his presidency, neither “Gloria” nor “Y.M.C.A.” were the likeliest of themes for DJT. “Gloria” is a song about a woman by a woman set to a post-disco beat, while the Village People disco classic has long been considered a gay anthem with its double entendres celebrating the virtues of the YMCA as both a recreational center and a cruising spot for young men.
After all, the album from which “Y.M.C.A.” came was entitled “Cruising,” leaving little doubt which group of “young men” the Village People were targeting when they created it.
But those details probably escaped the outgoing president – himself not known to be a student of history or details – as he was making his musical selections.
Perhaps he was reliving his boogying days at the famed defunct NYC disco, Studio 54 (not sure if he ever went, but it’s just a hunch). He was, after all, a socialite New Yorker at the time, just sayin’.
And so it was that “Gloria” and “Y.M.C.A.” were reprised as Donald Trump’s final theme music, despite the protests of the song’s creators or artist’s representatives, along with “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “My Way.”
They will, for now anyway, serve as the final musical memories of a presidency that few could consider normal or even orthodox, and that’s putting it kindly.
But say what you will about the former president’s other choices (yes it will be “former” by the time many of you read this), at least his music selections weren’t half bad, whether they were befitting of him or not.
In fact, all of the songs are quite good, especially “Gloria” and “Y.M.C.A.,” songs whose creators and publishers are likely hoping that will outlive their current legacies as a very divisive outgoing president’s theme music.
“We The People”: As the next president, Joseph R. Biden, is sworn in, check out the song that has become his defacto theme over the past several months.
DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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Don’t Stop Believing