What campaign songs tell us about Canadian political parties

Though both songs promise a better future, their lyrics emphasize different perspectives, said Edmonton Journal music critic Fish Griwkowsky.

Pay attention to pronouns in party anthems, Edmonton arts critic says

The Liberals are using "One Hand Up" by The Strumbellas as their official campaign song. (Matt Barnes)

Canada's Liberal and Conservative parties have both embraced upbeat and optimistic tunes by local musicians, but the similarities between their official campaign songs end there.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asked Toronto folk-pop band The Strumbellas for permission to use One Hand Up off Rattlesnake, their latest album. According to a recent statement from the band, they agreed "because we think this election is an important one."

The Conservatives commissioned a rock song, Get Ahead, from Jim Vallance, who has penned songs for Bryan Adams, Michael Bublé and Aerosmith. Singers in Montreal and Vancouver provided vocals.

For the assignment, Vallance said he relied on his experience writing music for radio and television commercials in the '70s and '80s.

"I wanted it to be melodic, memorable, maybe anthemic," he told CBC.

Pay attention to pronouns

Though both songs promise a better future, their lyrics emphasize different perspectives, said Edmonton Journal music critic Fish Griwkowsky.

The Strumbellas' chorus most often uses the first-person-plural point of view:

We can hold one hand up for tomorrow
We can hold one hand up to the stars
We can be the change that we wanna see
Just don't give up on me, yeah

The Conservative chorus, on the other hand, uses the second-person perspective:

A brand new day, a better way
It's time for you to get ahead
It's your choice, let's hear your voice
It's time for you to get ahead

While not a Strumbellas fan, Griwkowsky said he thinks the Liberal campaign song better connects with listeners because of its repetitive use of the pronoun "we." The word appears 36 times in the song.

"If you happen to be singing along with it, you feel like you're actually the person who's singing it," he said.

When songs backfire

A good campaign song rallies a crowd before the leader arrives, Headspace Marketing president Eric Blais told CBC's Vassy Kapelos earlier this month.

"They matter less when they don't offend anyone," he said.

The Liberals have already seen their song draw negative attention during the campaign. The party decided to record a new French version of the Strumbellas song after it was criticized for having confusing lyrics.

The Conservatives had their songs designed around both English and French slogans: "It's time for you to get ahead" and "Plus. Pour vous. Dès maintenant." The French slogan lent itself well to melody and phrasing, Vallance said. 

"That was quite easy to work with and I just fleshed out the rest of the lyrics around that."

With files from Julia Lipscombe


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