Martha & the Vandellas on 1964 record sleeve, from left: Martha Reeves, Annette Beard,and Rosalind Ashford.
One of the 1960s’ more renowned “girl groups” coming out of Berry Gordy’s Motown music center in Detroit, Michigan, was named “Martha and the Vandellas.” Between 1963 and 1967, this group — consisting initially of Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford — laid down a string of hits that helped define the popular music of that day. Their sound was distinctive, and it would become one of the hallmark musical identities to be associated with Motown for years thereafter. But in the 1960s, this music also distinguished Motown as a rising power in the pop music business. For at that time, Motown was just beginning to be noticed on the national music scene.
One of the first big hits to come from Martha and the Vandellas was “Heat Wave”– a key song released in July 1963; a song that helped send this group, Motown, and its songwriters into the realm of big business. At the time, leading-edge baby boomers, with their significant buying power, were moving through their high school years. “Heat Wave” hit the streets precisely as millions of these kids were coming of age. A buoyant, hard-driving rock ‘n roll tune, “Heat Wave” captured the spirit and optimism of its time — along with the energy of its young listeners — as well as well as any song of that era. Even to this day, “Heat Wave” is an irresistible dance tune. In 1963, it quickly scaled the pop charts.
Music Player “Heat Wave” – 1963
The song’s full title is actually “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave,” with lyrics about teen love describing a young girl’s heart burning with desire — “like a heat wave.” As Martha and her ladies ask in the singing: “Has high blood pressure got a hold on me, or is this the way love’s supposed to be?” Their answer: “Can’t explain it, don’t understand it, ain’t never felt like this before.” But in 1963, the power of this song was not in its lyrics. Rather, this tune aroused its listeners with buoyant hand-clapping, an unyielding drum beat, and pure musical drive. Its “message” was its energy and its vibrancy. “Heat Wave” offered its coming-of-age charges pure possibility. To them, the song’s optimistic musical assessment suggested wide-open horizons with few limitations — especially in those more innocent, pre-JFK-assassination days of September 1963.
A 45 rpm of Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Heat Wave’ on the Gordy label from Motown, 1963.
“Heat Wave” became a million seller, and by late September 1963 it had risen to No. 4 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts, remaining in those spots for about five weeks. “Heat Wave” was produced by a famous three-person team at Motown — a team consisting of the two brothers, Brian and Edward Holland, along with Lamont Dozier. This talented trio — “Holland-Dozier-Hol- land,” as they came to be known, or H-D-H — wrote and arranged a number of the songs that came out of Motown, producing a distinctive sound that helped define American popular music in the 1960s. During their tenure at Motown, from 1962-1967, Dozier and Brian Holland were the compo- sers and producers, while Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals. Thus, “Holland-Dozier-Holland” was the credit line that often appeared on many of the Gordy and other record labels coming out of Motown in that period.
Cover of a 2009 U.K. remastered CD with 'Come & Get These Memories' & 'Heat Wave,' plus four bonus tracks. Universal/Island.
“Heat Wave” was the second hit collaboration between the Vandellas and the H-D-H team. “Come and Get These Memories” had been Martha & the Vandellas’ first hit, released earlier in February 1963. “Memories” rose to No. 29 on the Billboard singles chart, and No. 6 Billboard R&B chart. But it was “Heat Wave’s” success that helped propel the “Vandellas-HDH-Motown” sound to new heights. The song also garnered the group’s only Grammy Award nomination — Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for 1964. “Heat Wave” was followed shortly by another song in the same vein, as HDH turned out “Quicksand,” released in October 1963. “Quick- sand,” like “Heat Wave,” was another very “danceable” tune. In its lyrics, the lover this time was bringing his lady “closer and closer” — into a love that was like “quicksand,” causing her to fall “deeper and deeper in love” with him. This tune rose quickly on the charts, reaching No. 8. It was the third hit for the Vandellas and the HDH team.
Getting Their Start Young Artists Rising
1960s photo of Martha & The Vandellas – from left: Annette Beard, Martha Reeves, and Rosalind Ashford at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford formed a singing group in high school called the Del-Phis. They recorded one single with the Check-Mate records, a subsidiary of Chess Records. Martha Reeves had also sung on her own under another name. However, in 1961, Reeves took a secretarial job at Motown working for recording producer Mickey Stevenson. On one occasion in July 1962, Motown’s head, Berry Gordy, was in need of some back-up singers for a recording session, and Reeves and her friends were called in to sing behind Marvin Gaye on two songs — “Hitch Hike” and “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.” Now under contract with Gordy and Motown, the three young singers soon recorded their first song, “I’ll Have To Let Him Go.” By then they adopted their new group name, Martha and the Vandellas — “Vandellas” being a word combi- nation made from Detroit’s Van Dyke Street and Martha Reeves’ favorite singer, Della Reese. By February 1962 they released “Come and Get These Memories,” their first song to chart, and with that, they were one their way.
European record sleeve for 1964's ‘Dancing in the Street’ single.
“Dancing in the Street”
In July 1964, came perhaps the crowning gem of Martha & The Vandellas’ career — “Dancing in the Street” — another signature Motown tune and one of the Vandellas’ most famous songs from that era. This song was produced by William “Mickey” Stevenson and written by Stevenson and soon-to-become Motown star in his own right, Marvin Gaye. Originally written with another singer in mind, Kim Weston, Martha and the Vandellas did the song after Weston passed on it. After Martha Reeves first heard the demo, she asked if she could arrange her own vocals to fit the song’s message. Gaye and Stevenson agreed. They also included a new Motown songwriter, Ivy Jo Hunter, who helped with instrumentation and musical composition. The song was then recorded in two takes.
Martha & the Vandellas performing, 1960s.
“Dancing in the Street” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard chart in September 1964 and would remain in the Top 40 for 11 weeks. It was released as the first single from the group’s third album, Dance Party. “Dancing’s” lyrics offer a good time “in the streets” in practically whatever city the listener could imagine. The song’s lyrics, in part, go as follows:
Calling out around the world,
“Are you ready for a brand new beat?”
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancing in the street
They’re dancing in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
In New York City…
All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere…
Music Player “Dancing in the Street”-1964
“Dancing in the Street” was released in late July 1964 and played through that summer at the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S. Some interpreted the song as a call to “demonstrate in the streets,” others as an anthem for social change. However, Martha Reeves would remark at one point that it was nothing more than “a party song.” And according to co-writer William “Mickey” Stevenson, the song was inspired by the sight of a group of multi-racial kids playing in the spray from a fire hydrant on hot summer evening in Detroit in the summer of 1964: “All the hatred and prejudice in the world, and these kids had no concept of it,” Stevenson would say. And notably, Berry Gordy had fashioned his Motown music business for commercial success with the idea of his stars “crossing over” to appeal to larger white audiences all across the country. So “Dancing in the Street” was not designed as music to incite street riots.
Martha & the Vandellas ‘Dance Party” album of 1965 included ‘Dancing in the Street’ and other of their popular songs, and is regarded by some as one of their best compilations.
Still, after black activists such as H. Rap Brown began playing the song while organizing demonstrations, some radio stations began taking the song off play lists. That the music had a certain energy and conveyance for many people, there is no question. Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye would later observe that of all the Motown acts he’d recalled from the 1960s, he thought “Martha & The Vandellas came closest to nearly saying something [political].” Gaye continued: “It wasn’t a nearly conscious thing, but when they sang ‘Quicksand’ or ‘Wild One’ or ‘Nowhere To Run’ or ‘Dancing In the Street’, they captured a spirit that felt political to me. I like that.” Still, for many, it was just good music.
It does appear, however, that by 1967 something of a turning point had occurred, as Martha and the Vandellas and other Motown artists toured the country during a time of racial strife and urban unrest. “Dancing in the Street” and other Motown songs became more politically freighted than they had been, whether intended or not.“Dancing in the Street” and other Motown songs became more politically freighted than they had been, whether intended or not. In fact, politics and pop music from that time on became more intertwined at Motown and elsewhere. At least some of the music at Motown and other labels — as well as the artists themselves at those labels — began addressing civil rights and other national issues more directly than had occurred previously.
In more recent years, books such as Dancing in the Streets: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (2000, Harvard University Press) by Suzanne Smith, and Ready For a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem for a Changing America (2013, Riverhead) by Mark Kurlansky, have probed the historical and cultural impact of Motown’s music and business on both Detroit and the broader civil rights movement. In addition, recent magazine articles, including Rollo Romig’s New Yorker piece of July 2013, “‘Dancing in the Street’: Detroit’s Radical Anthem,” and another that same month at Slate.com, adapting a piece from Kurlansky’s book, are also worth exploring.
“Dancing in the Street,” in any case, was a huge hit in the mid-1960s, and remains a classic of the period. Tom Moon, writing in his book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, labels it the “Quintessential Summer Single.” In November 2005, the song was ranked No. 40 by Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And in April 2006, Library of Congress announced that Martha and the Vandellas’ version of “Dancing in the Street” would be preserved by the National Recording Registry.
Record sleeve for Martha and the Vandellas’ single ‘Nowhere to Run’ issued in Holland.
“Nowhere to Run”
“Nowhere to Run,” another of the Vandellas’ HDH-Gordy-Motown hits, was released in February 1965. This song tells the story of a woman trapped in a bad relationship with a man she cannot help but love. Musically, the sound is quite similar to “Dancing In The Street.” The song also appeared on the album Dance Party. “Nowhere to Run” hit No. 8 the Billboard singles chart, and No. 5 the Billboard R&B chart. It also charted in the U.K., peaking at No. 26. Over the years, “Nowhere to Run” has been played at football contests and other sporting events, sometimes to taunt oppossing teams, or otherwise to energize crowds.
Other songs for Martha and the Vandellas followed “Nowhere to Run,” as seen on the list of hits below. Two of these were Top Ten finishers — “I’m Ready for Love” in 1966 and “Jimmy Mack” in 1967. But after 1967, it proved tougher going for the group.
Martha & The
Vandellas 1960s Hot Hits
Come and Get These Memories 1963- No. 29; 6 R&B Heat Wave 1963- No.4; 1 R&B Quicksand 1964 – No. 8 Dancing In The Street 1964 – No. 2 Wild One 1965 – No. 34 Nowhere To Run 1965 – No.8 I’m Ready For Love 1966 – No. 9 Jimmy Mack 1967 – No. 10; 1 R&B
By 1971, when the Motown organization moved west to Los Angles, Martha and the Vandellas parted company with the record label, going out on their own for a time. Things were never quite the same thereafter. Reeves, in fact, was stunned to learn of Motown’s move to Los Angeles and she fought a legal battle with the label to be released from her contract. In the 1970s, Reeves had a bout with prescription drug problems, but emerged in the late 1970s drug free.
As female artists at Motown, Martha & the Vandellas were second only to Diana Ross and the Supremes, with whom they competed for resources and attention. One story has it that Berry Gordy favored the Supremes, and allocated resources accordingly. Once the Supremes had demonstrated their crossover appeal with a couple of No. 1 pop hits, Gordy decided they would be the more lucrative group, and he reportedly sent the best material to the Supremes and helped them in other ways. Martha Reeves would later write that Gordy held back the song “Jimmy Mack” for two years because it sounded too much like a Supremes song. Reeves and two other Vandellas — Beard and Ashford — would sue Motown for back royalties in the 1980s. Beard and Ashford in fact, claimed at one point they had received no royalties from Motown dating to the 1960s. There was a settlement in some of the litigation, and at least one lump sum payment to Beard and Ashford. But as of 2004 or so, disputes were still ongoing in some of the cases. Reeves appeared to have had separate litigation dating to 1983, and won a lawsuit for some back royalties, an award which also specified royalties for current and future reissues of past work.
Top Motown Group
Through The Years
During their years of performing, Martha and the Vandellas’ personnel changed a few times. Betty Kelly replaced the departing Annette Beard in 1964, and after Kelly left in1967, Lois Reeves came on. Sandra Tilley was added to the group in 1969 after Rosalind Ashford left. Martha Reeves remained throughout the group’s 1963-1972 run. The group broke up in 1973 after a final farewell performance in December 1972 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Reeves tried a solo career briefly in the mid-1970s, but the magic of the 1960s did not return. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there were occasional reunions and perfor- mances, variously constituted, and also a recording here and there. In 1994, Reeves published an autobiography, Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Pop Diva, with Hyperion and writer Mark Bego. By 2005, Reeves ran for and won a seat on Detroit’s city council, which she held until an election loss in August 2009. Thereafter she returned to performing with her sisters as “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.” This group had a sold out tour in the UK in 2009.
In their heyday, Martha and the Vandellas proved to be one of Motown’s top acts, and their popularity led to spots on popular TV shows of that era, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, American Bandstand, and Shindig!
During their nine-year run on the charts, from 1963 to 1972, Martha and the Vandellas had over 26 hits. Twelve of these charted within the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100; six within the Top Ten including: “Dancing in the Street,” “Heat Wave,” “Nowhere to Run” and “Jimmy Mack.” Two of their songs — “Heat Wave” and “Jimmy Mack” — were also No. 1 R& B hits, while eight others finished in the R&B Top Ten.
In 1995 the trio was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Heat Wave” and “Dancing in the Street” were included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Martha and the Vandellas at No. 96 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. The group has also received various other awards and recognition, including induction into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
See also at this website, “1960s Girl Groups,” a more detailed account of the “girl group” music genre, including many of the groups involved during the 1958-1967 period, as well as some of the producers and songwriters involved. For additional music stories, see also the Annals of Music category page at this website. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Motown’s Heat Wave, 1963-1967,” PopHistoryDig.com, November 7, 2009.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Martha Reeves’ biography with Mark Bego – ‘Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva’ – was issued in August 1994 by Hyperion Books.
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Heat Wave.”
Martha & the Vandellas – Dutch record sleeve for single, “Quicksand.”
“Martha and the Vandellas / Martha Reeves,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 613-614.
Richard H. Lingeman, “The Big, Happy, Beating Heart Of the Detroit Sound,” The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, November 27, 1966, p. 25.
Andrew Briggs, “Martha, Vandellas in Town”[at Whisky-a-GoGo, W. Hollywood], Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1967, p. B-7.
Loraine Alterman, “Meet the Graduates of the Motown Sound; Recordings,” New York Times, Sunday, July 28, 1974.
“New Image Shown By Martha Reeves At the Bottom Line,” New York Times, Sunday, September 15, 1974.
“Miss Reeves, Solo, at Reno Sweeney’s,” New York Times, Thursday, December 18, 1975, p. 63.
Richard Skelly, “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas: The Motown Years,”Goldmine, March 3, 1995, pp. 34-50.
Emily Gaul, “The Recordings of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas,” Goldmine, March 3, 1995, pp. 64-68.
Gerri Hirshey Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, New York: Times Books, 1984.
Martha Reeves and Mark Bego, Dancing in the Streets: Confessions of a Pop Diva, New York: Hyperion Books, 1994.
Life magazine of May 15, 1970 showing one of the Kent State University students who was shot by National Guardsman during a time of unrest over the Vietnam War.
“Ohio” is the name of a song that marks one of America’s darkest moments on the home front during the Vietnam War. The song came in reaction to the May 1970 shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio — students shot by National Guard troops sent there to quell student unrest over the Vietnam War. The song — by the rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — is both a commemorative tune and a protest song that became popular, rising on the music charts following the shootings. More on the song in a moment. First, the events leading up to the shootings.
On April 30th, 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon addressed the nation in a televised broadcast in which he explained that American military troops, engaged in the Vietnam War, had been sent into neighboring Cambodia. This action — perceived by many as an expansion of the war and an invasion of another country — came in the midst of an already contentious national mood over the Vietnam War. Student protests over the war had already occurred on many college campuses. With the Cambodian invasion, more protesting ensued, including protests at Kent State University, located in the town of Kent in the northeastern Ohio, not far from the Pennsylvania border. In the town of Kent, on Friday evening, May 1st, following daytime demonstrations on campus, some store fronts were damaged, leading to a call to Ohio Governor James Rhodes and his activation of a National Guard unit.
National Guardsmen with bayonets fixed near Taylor Hall at Kent State University, prior to shootings.
On Saturday, May 2nd, some students helped clean up the damage that had occurred in town. However, that evening, an Army Reserve Officer Training (ROTC) barracks on campus was surrounded by some 1,000 pro- testors, with a few setting it on fire. Tensions mounted on all sides along with misunderstandings. The National Guard, meanwhile, herded students into dormi- tories. On Sunday morning, Ohio’s Republican Governor James Rhodes, in a press conference also broadcast to the troops on campus, vowed to “eradicate the problem” of protest at Kent State. Later that day, some impromptu demon- strations occurred in the streets with tear gas being fired by the Guard. As Monday’s planned demonstration on campus proceeded, about two thousand students gathered on a commons area. The National Guard assumed a position nearby with loaded weapons and fixed bayonets. The students were ordered to disband and things soon got out of control, resulting in the Guard firing on the students. It was later determined that the Guard fired between 61 and 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds. Four students were killed — two men and two women; two of whom were 19 years old and two 20. Nine other male students were also wounded, one left with permanent paralysis. Most of the injured were also in their early 20s. Among those shot, not all were demonstrators; some were simply innocent bystanders. The incident sparked national outrage (see “Sources” below for links to more detailed accounts).
Mary Vecchio, screaming over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller, killed at Kent State on May 4, 1970. Photo was taken by undergraduate John Filo and appeared on newspaper front pages the next day. It has become the iconic image of that tragic day.
The press and national media covered the story in detail, with many front-page newspaper accounts using what would become the iconic photograph of the event — a young girl with arms outstretched screaming over the body of one of the slain students. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, protests and a student strike ensued across the country. Two days after the Kent State incident, police wounded four demonstrators at the University of Buffalo. On May 8th, some 100,000 protesters — angered over Kent State and the Cambodian invasion — gathered in Washington. Another 150,000 protested in San Francisco. Nationwide, four million students and 450 universities, colleges, and high schools would become involved in the student strike, which included mostly peaceful protests and walkouts. However, on some campuses, ROTC buildings were attacked or set on fire, and 26 schools witnessed clashes between students and police. National Guard units were mobilized on 21 campuses in 16 states. Public opinion polls, meanwhile, supported Nixon’s actions, with 50 percent of the American public backing him in polls taken during the second week of May. Fifty-eight percent blamed the students for what had occurred at Kent State. In one pro-Nixon demonstration in New York City on May 8th, some construction workers supporting the President’s actions rioted and attacked demonstrating students.
Following the Kent State tragedy there were extensive investigations that went on for years, with long-running legal proceedings and numerous books and articles written, some offering conspiracy theories. The event was dissected from beginning to end to determine who was responsible, but debate continues to this day regarding what some believe are still unanswered questions (see “Sources” below for more detail & links). But particulalry prominent among reactions to the shootings at the time of the incident was the song “Ohio” by the rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — a song that reached the airwaves quite soon after the event.
Single sleeve for the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song , ‘Ohio’, with ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ on B side.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash — each a singer, songwriter and guitarist — had formed their group, “Crosby, Stills & Nash” in 1968-69. Their debut album, Crosby, Stills & Nash, released in mid-1969, became quite popular among young listeners and especially on college campuses across the country. The group became known for both their lyrics and melodic harmonies, and particularly the songs of that first album, such as, “Marrakesh Express,” “Suite For Judy Blue Eyes,” “Guinnevere,” “Wooden Ships,” and “Helplessly Hoping.” Another song on that album, “Long Time Gone,” by David Crosby, was a response to the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. “Marrakesh” and “Judy Blue Eyes”also became successful Top 30 singles. By the summer of 1969, the group began touring and Neil Young, another singer-songwriter, had joined them. Young would later write the song “Ohio.”
“Ohio” Music Player
By March 1970, now a foursome, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young (CSN&Y) released a second album, Déjà Vu. In addition to having advance orders for more than 2 million copies (it eventually sold more than 7 million copies), this album included additional songs that marked the group as speaking for their generation and the unsettling times. Among these was “Woodstock,” a song commemorating the giant gathering at the August 1969 music festival in New York’s Hudson Valley north of New York city ( “Woodstock” was written by singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell who performed her own somewhat different version). “Teach Your Children,” was another “message” song from the Déjà Vu album. Both became top 20 hits as singles. Then came the Kent State shootings in early May 1970.
Two Famous Photos
In May 1970, Howard Ruffner was a second year student at Kent State University majoring in broadcast communications. Before attending Kent State, he had spent four years in the Air Force where he had learned photography. At the university, Ruffner was on the staff of the Daily Kent Stater newspaper and had captured some of the events that occurred during the shootings on May 4, 1970. One of his photographs ended up on the Life magazine cover above, with others used in the cover story that ran inside the magazine. Of the students who suffered that day, Ruffner stated, “I saw their faces and I could feel their pain, and I took their pictures so that no one would ever forget what happened at Kent State and the trauma that it caused for our nation.”
Another Kent Stater on May 4th, 1970 was John Filo, a young undergraduate working in the Kent State photo lab. As the protest ensued that day, he decided to grab his camera and see if he could get an interesting picture. He saw one student waving a black flag on the hillside, with the National Guard in the background. He took that photograph, believing he had recorded the moment. As he wandered through a parking lot where a lot of the students had gathered, the National Guard suddenly opened fire. Filo thought they were shooting blanks, and started taking pictures. A second later, he saw Mary Vecchio crying over the body of one of the students who had just been killed. He took the picture. A few hours later, he started to transmit the photos he had taken to the Associated Press from a small newspaper in nearby Pennsylvania. The photograph won him a Pulitzer Prize.
Neil Young by then had already demon- strated his singer-songwriter talents on previous work and he brought an important dimension to the group’s sound and message. His song “Ohio,” about the Kent State shootings, captured some of the anger and frustration felt by many young people at that time.
According to the story behind this song, Young was given an early copy of the Life magazine issue that had run the dramatic cover photo of a shot student being attended on its May 15th, 1970 issue (photo at top of page, above). David Crosby had given him the magazine copy, and after Young looked at the photos and read the story, he reportedly disappeared for several hours, returning later with his song.
The four musicians then rehearsed a version of the song which was then recorded on the evening of May 15th, 1970 at the Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles. The foursome, with other back-up musicians, recorded it live in just a few takes. During the same session they also recorded what would become the single’s B-side, Stephen Stills’ ode to the Vietnam war’s dead, “Find the Cost of Freedom.”
The record was then mastered and rush-released by the Atlantic record label soon after its recording. It was being sold on the market as a 45 rpm single in June and was being heard on the radio even before that, within weeks of the shootings. But the new song wasn’t welcomed everywhere. In some parts of the country it was banned from radio playlists — especially AM radio, the mainstream pop radio in those days. The song was held off the air at a number of those stations because of it’s “anti-war” and “anti-Nixon” sentiments. Meanwhile, FM radio, then regarded as underground radio, played the song without hesitation. In any case, the song’s lyrics — especially the refrain, “four dead in O-hi-o” — became a ringing anthem for a gener- ation angered by the war and what had happened at Kent State.
“Ohio” Lyrics by Neil Young
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio…
…How many more…? Why?…
Bill Halverson, who was the engineer in the studio for the recording of “Ohio,”and had worked with the group on their other music, later explained of the AM/FM radio issue: “… I do recall that AM wouldn’t play it, and it was very controversial that AM wouldn’t play it. And FM, the underground — all the FM stations started playing it… And it got up in the 30s or so [on the music charts] just with FM play. …At that point, FM was pretty underground and AM was the deal. But they tried to ban it.”
In any event, “Ohio” entered the music charts on July 11th, 1970 and reached No. 14 at its peak, remaining in the Top 40 for about seven weeks that summer.
Following the tragedy at Kent State University — and also at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi, where two students were killed and at least twelve wounded during May 14th demonstrations that followed the Kent State shootings — President Nixon established the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest on June 13, 1970. The Commission conducted a series of hearings and an investigation, issuing its findings in a formal report September 1970. That report concluded the Kent State shootings were “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.” The report also added: “Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified…. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.”
Meanwhile, years later, Crosby, Stills, and Nash visited the Kent State campus on May 4, 1997, attending the 27th annual commemoration of the shootings. When asked about the song “Ohio” on this occasion and why the group was attending the commemoration, Graham Nash responded: “Four young men and women had their lives taken from them while lawfully protesting this outrageous government action. We are going back [to Kent State] to keep awareness alive in the minds of all students, not only in America, but worldwide…to be vigilant and ready to stand and be counted… and to make sure that the powers of the politicians do not take precedent over the right of lawful protest.” Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed “Ohio” at the end of the commemoration ceremony.
The CSN&Y Sound
Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby, on the cover of their 1969 album that helped advance the singer-songwriter genre of music in the 1970s.
Even though they performed together as a group for only a few years, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had a significant impact on the music scene of the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1969, their first album in particular, Crosby, Stills & Nash, proved very influential in advancing the singer-songwriter movement of that era, and helped define a kind of “California” or “soft rock” sound subsequently heard throughout the 1970s in groups such as The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, and others. The album has been rated among the top 300 all time by Rolling Stone, and it has been issued on compact disc three times: the mid-1980s, again in 1994, and most recently as an expanded edition in 2006. Their second album as well, Déjà Vu, which was a No. 1 album at its release in March 1970, has also been named as one of the top albums of all time by Rolling Stone, VH-1, and others.
CSN&Y’s “Ohio” is perhaps the most well-known song associated with the Kent State shootings. However, at least a dozen other artists have made lesser-known Kent State tribute songs, including Dave Brubeck, the Beach Boys, Steve Miller, Bruce Springsteen, and Joe Walsh (see “artist tributes.”).
See also at this website, “Kent State Reaction,” a short story on the protest and I-5 freeway occupation by students at the University of Washington in Seattle upon learning of the Kent State shootings. For additional stories on politics please see the “Politics & Culture” page, and for music, the “Annals of Music” page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you see here, please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
I. F. Stone, The Killings at Kent State; How Murder Went Unpunished, New York: Vintage Books, 1970.
I. F. Stone, “Fabricated Evidence in the Kent State Killings”, The New York Review of Books, Vol. 15, No.10, December 3, 1970.
“At War with War” (cover story on student protest & Kent State shootings), Time, Monday, May 18, 1970.
Tear gas being fired on demonstrators at Kent State University, May 4, 1970.
“New Trial Called in Kent State Suit That Seeks Damages in ’70 Killings; Governor Told Not to Talk,” New York Times, Tuesday, September 13, 1977, p. 16.
“Ohio Approves $675,000 to Settle Suits in 1970 Kent State Shootings; Governor Rhodes and 27 National Guardsmen Offer Their Regrets for Deaths of 4 and Injuries to 9; Earlier Trial Finding Deep Emotions Over Years,” New York Times, Friday, January 5, 1979, p. A-12.
John Hall, center, a founding member of rock group Orleans, on the cover of their 1976 album, ‘Waking & Dreaming’.
In 1972, John Hall was a founding member of the rock ‘n roll group Orleans. Thirty-four years later he was elected to the United States Congress.
Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1948 and later lived many years in New York’s Hudson River Valley. In high school he was three-time National Science Foun- dation scholar. At Notre Dame University he studied physics, but later transferred to Loyola College. After a time at Loyola, he left school to pursue a full-time career in music. By 21 he was writing and composing music for Broadway and off-Broadway productions. He then became a session musician and songwriter, spending time with artists such as Janis Joplin, Seals & Crofts, and Bonnie Raitt. Then in January 1972, at about age 24, Hall became a founding member of Orleans, forming the group at Woodstock, New York in Ulster County. Other members at the time included Wells Kelly and Larry Hoppen. Lance Hoppen, Larry’s brother, joined the band later that year. Another member Jerry Marotta, also joined later. Hall served as the group’s songwriter and as one of its guitarists.
After his election to Congress in 2006, Rep. John Hall was soon engaged in the public policy process, including matters such as the war in Iraq. He is shown here with Army General David Petraeus on a visit to Iraq in October 2007.
Orleans soon became a top 1970s American rock band turning out hits such as: “Dance with Me”(1975), “Still the One” (1976), and “Love Takes Time” (1979). Orleans had started out touring clubs and colleges in the northeast U.S. However, the group soon had a recording contract with ABC Dunhill Records, releasing Orleans, a debut album in 1973. Their first Billboard Hot 100 hit came in early 1975 with “Let There Be Music” on Asylum Records. “Dance With Me” followed, rising to No. 6 on the pop charts. “Dance With Me” placed the group in a “soft-rock” category, and they toured with Melissa Manchester, but also with bands such as Little Feat.
Orleans lineup in 1976-77, from left: Wells Kelly, Larry Hoppen, Jerry Marotta, Lance Hoppen & John Hall.
In 1976, another big hit came with “Still the One.” The single peaked at No.5 on the charts as Orleans then did a major cross-country tour with Jackson Browne. The ABC television network, meanwhile, made “Still The One” its theme song for a 1977 promotional campaign, giving the song continuing and wide exposure to a large national audience. The song was also used in TV advertising spots and movie soundtracks. However, within Orleans, some internal stresses emerged, and John Hall left the group to pursue a solo career. He formed the John Hall Band and released two albums, but this venture disbanded after limited success.
This story is one in an occasional series that will periodically feature famous people — sports stars, Holly- wood actors, musicians, TV personali- ties, and others — who are not initially involved in politics, but who later, given their fame or other public notoriety, enter or influence politics at the national and/or state levels. Among those profiled in this series will be those who run for and/or attain political office — from U.S. President, Congress, and the U.S. Senate, to various state-level races and governorships — as well as those who may receive political appointments, judgeships, ambassadorships, and other similar posts. Celebrities who rise to positions of national political influence, though unelected, may also appear in this series, as well as notable leaders in other countries who come to their posts via celebrity or other media fame.
Orleans – “Still the One”
John Hall, Activist
John Hall, meanwhile, during his music career, had become active in the anti-nuclear movement, co-founding Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE). He co-produced “No Nukes” concerts that were held in Madison Square Garden in the late 1970s. He was also involved in successfully fighting a proposed nuclear power plant site on the Hudson River in Greene County, New York. Living in Saugerties, New York, he co-founded Saugerties Concerned Citizens and helped write the town’s first zoning law. When Ulster County announced plans for a 200-acre solid waste dump to be sited on a historic farm, Hall led the opposition. By 1989, Hall was elected as an Ulster County legislator. In the late 1990s he was twice elected to the Saugerties Board of Education, later becoming Board president.
During this time, however, Hall had not abandoned his music. He continued writing songs for other artists and reunited with Orleans in 1990, 1996, and 2000. In 2005, he released Rock Me on the Water, an album of songs inspired by an extensive sailing trip he’d taken. He also formed another band named Gulf Stream Night. But politics soon became John Hall’s central gig.
John Hall, running for the U.S. Congress.
Bid For Congress
In 2006, Hall set his sights on higher public office, then concerned for the future of the Hudson River Valley and disillusioned with the war in Iraq. He ran in the Democratic primary for a seat in the U.S. Congress representing New York’s 19th congressional district. He won the primary with 48 percent in a four-way race and then faced incumbent Republican Sue W. Kelly in the fall elections. In October, the New York Times — noting he was a musician, but “not a posturer or political dabbler” — endorsed Hall for Congress. “His platform is ambitious and coherent,” said the Times, “with calls for universal health coverage, a return to fiscal discipline and a full-bore national effort to achieve energy independence. He blends a deep-blue idealism with a crisp command of details…”
However, his opponent, Republican Sue Kelly, had been a popular, six-term incumbent, who was well funded in her races. She had won handedly in 2004 with 73 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, Hall defeated Kelly in November 2006 with 51 percent of the vote, beating her in her home county of Westchester to help pull off an upset victory. He was only the third Democrat elected in the district since WWI.
An enthusiastic John Hall supporter.
John Hall was helped in his election win by 1,200 volunteers who did door-to-door work and manned phone banks prior to the election. Some of Hall’s old rock ‘n roll fans turned out as well — a few amazed at the novelty of voting for a former rock star. Offered one New York blogger at“Fred Sez,”Hembeck.com, in the run up to the 2006 election: “Tomorrow, I get to do something I’ve never had a chance to do before: vote for someone who I first saw perform live on stage back in the mid-seventies, and then whose records I bought…” But there was also a separate $500,000 campaign by businessman Adam R. Rose that also contributed to Hall’s victory. Rose, an openly gay real-estate developer bankrolled the Majority Action group which ran negative advertisements against Hall’s opponent, Sue Kelly, because of her support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban same-sex marriage.
Pete Seeger, Jackson Browne, and John Hall playing some music.
The Basketball Diaries full In his campaign, Hall also had the support of fellow musicians, some of whom helped raise money for him (see box below). Others gave concerts on his behalf. Singer Jackson Browne, for example, gave concerts for Hall. Browne did four benefit concerts for Hall in New York, June 2-4, 2006, which also included Dar Williams and Pete Seeger. On August 20, 2006, Browne again performed on behalf of Hall in New York city, along with Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle and Nanci Griffith.
Rockers for Hall 2006
In the spring of 2006, musicians Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, and Bonnie Raitt, wrote a fundraising letter on behalf of John Hall’s bid for Congress. Here’s the text of that letter:
Our longtime friend, fellow No Nukes/MUSE artist, John Hall, whom you may also remember as a leader of Orleans (Dance With Me, Still the One) is running for Congress in the 19th District of upstate New York. John’s been a lifelong activist and right out of the starting gate, is emerging as a very welcome and successful candidate in debates and testing so far. He’s up against a very tough contender, the six-term incumbent Republican (and Tom DeLay crony) Rep. Sue Kelly, and of course needs to raise as much money as possible early in this primary race.
A bunch of us MUSE folks and other music industry friends have already lent our support and I’m writing to ask if you would consider contributing to help get John Hall elected. John is extremely smart, articulate, committed and in our minds, would absolutely bring a much needed fresh and clearheaded voice to our muddled political quagmire. Please spread the word if you agree and thank you so much for your support.
You can check out his positions and background at http://www.johnhallforcongress.com/, contribute on line at http://www.actblue.com/page/johnhallforcongress/ or send your contributions to “John Hall For Congress,” PO Box 377, Dover Plains, NY 12522.
As you may know the limit for personal contributions during the primary period is $2100 (MARCH 31st is the end of the 1st Quarter FEC filing period so act quickly please), and an additional $2100 may be sent to his General Election Escrow Account, which will be returned with interest if he does not win the nomination.
We think it’s fantastic that John has decided to set aside his music career for the time being and dedicate himself to politics for the better of us all.
Thank you for your support. We can make a difference,
Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne
P.S. Any amount that you contribute will help. If 2000 people send $50 each, John’s campaign will receive a $100,000 boost. This will keep him in the game to carry the message of peace and diplomacy, economic justice, government and corporate accountability, healthcare for all, environmental protection and alternative energy.
Once in Congress, John Hall served as a progressive Democrat. He became a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and in his first term, among others things, he voted to raise the minimum wage and supported federal funding of stem cell research. He also became engaged in the daily work of serving his constituents on a variety of fronts, from veterans’ rights to help for public schools. Nor did Hall forget the issues in his home state that had brought him into politics, calling for closing the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, for example, and continuing that fight and others in Congress.
From left: Bonnie Raitt, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) & Graham Nash, with Rep. John Hall at news conference on Capitol Hill, Oct. 23, 2007, urging Congress not to approve federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. Not shown, Jackson Browne.
In October 2007, during his first term, Hall also took part in a gathering of rock ‘n roll artists who came to town to lobby against federal loan guarantees for nuclear power plants. In his younger days in the late 1970s, in the wake of the nuclear plant accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, Hall had joined with rock musicians Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash and others to organize the “No Nukes” concerts at Madison Square Garden that helped stir public opposition to nuclear power at that time. In October 2007, these musicians and others reconvened to hold a press conference and lobby Congress to oppose the loan guarantee provisions in a pending energy bill. “Thirty years ago, we felt that this monster was dead,” Graham Nash told an Associated Press reporter. On Capitol Hill in Washington, the musicians warned that a Senate version of the energy bill contained the loan guarantees provisions, which they called a “virtual blank check from taxpayers” to help build more nuclear plants. They noted, however, that the bill as a whole contained some very good provisions, including those for renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency standards.
John Hall with reporter in New York.
The musicians’ group had also launched a petition drive and a YouTube music video as part of their campaign. A number of environmental groups lent their support, along with dozens of other music artists and rock banks, including R.E.M., Ben Harper, Maroon 5, Pearl Jam, Patti Smith and Wynton Marsalis. Their petition drive had collected more than 120,000 signatures to present to Congress. The Nuclear Energy Institute, meanwhile, dismissed the effort, saying nuclear energy was on the brink of a revival due to increased energy demands and concerns about global warming. “It’s almost as if they’re in a time capsule [from the 1970s] and they’ve been transported forward,” said Steve Kerekes of Nuclear Energy Institute. But Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA) and John Hall said they expected that the musicians group would provide more positive lobbying muscle on the energy bill. The nuclear power industry continued to push Congress to expand federal loan guarantees for building new nuclear power plants.
Hall meeting with constituents.
Targeted in ’08
In the 2008 election campaign, meanwhile, John Hall drew numerous potential challengers for his re-election bid, including former Rep. Sue Kelly and Emily Pataki, daughter of former popular Republican Governor George Pataki. At one, point, Republicans had sought former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to oppose Hall, but Fleischer declined. Hall had also been targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee in the fall election. A Republican newcomer, Kieran Lalor, became Hall’s opponent. On November 4, 2008, John Hall was re-elected, defeating Lalor with 58 percent of the vote.
Rep. John Hall addressing constituents’ questions.
Hall’s Congressional website as of July 2009 notes that he opposes privatization of Social Security, and supports a swift and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq combined with a renewed emphasis on diplomacy. He supports intensive efforts to produce more renewable energy, better funding of veterans’ programs, universal health care, and full funding of the No Child Left Behind legislation. Hall currently serves on three House Committees — Transportation and Infrastructure, Veterans’ Affairs, and The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Hall is married to Pamela Bingham Hall, a graduate of Vassar College and an attorney who has worked as General Counsel to the Tennessee State Treasurer and as Tennessee Assistant State Attorney General.
Man-Thing movie download One final item on a musical note. During the national presidential campaign in 2008, Hall took a shot at Republican Presidential candidate John McCain for using the Orleans song “Still The One” in his presidential campaign without asking for permission. Four years earlier as well, in late October 2004, Hall had criticized the campaign of President George W. Bush for using the same Orleans song at his campaign events without permission (Bush had a similar problem with a Tom Petty tune). In the case of Bush, formal cease-and-desist letters went out to the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney ’04 Campaign and the song was later dropped from the campaign’s playlist.
Stay tuned to this website for future stories on politics, music, and culture.
Cover of Paul Zollo’s 2005 book, “Conversations With Tom Petty,” Omnibus Press, 284pp.
“I Won’t Back Down” is the first single from Tom Petty’s first solo album, Full Moon Fever, released in 1989. The song was written by Petty and his writing partner at the time, Jeff Lynne. It rose to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 single’s chart. It also appeared on Billboard’s mainstream and modern tracks charts, which rank radio play. The song’s popularity helped send Full Moon Fever to the multi-million-selling sales club. By October 2000, the album had sold more than five million copies.
A Fighter’s Song
“I Won’t Back Down” says it all in its title; it’s a fighter’s message; he’s standing his ground and he won’t back down. The lyrics — shown below in “Sources” — suggest a struggle against the odds, whatever they might be; and a determined stand against the powers that be, whoever they are. And Petty’s defiant tone in the performance provides just the right touch of attitude.
“I Won’t Back Down” Music Player
The song should resonate with anyone who has been wronged, as well as those who might be out to prove a point. It has a kind of universal and personal appeal. Plus, it’s good rock ‘n roll. It’s also a perfect song for a political campaign. And not surprisingly, more than a few politicians — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents — have all used it, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The Politics of Song
Politicians, especially in recent years, have begun scouring the pop, country, rap and hip hop music charts for tunes that strike a chord with their would-be supporters. They “borrow” these tunes and use them as theme music during their campaigns, playing them before speeches and at rally locations on the campaign trail. Sometimes, however, they don’t bother asking the artist’s permission to use the songs, or acquire all the requisite legal blessings. Such “oversight” can sometimes lead to embarrassing situations — for both candidate and artist.
Happily, for most of those using Tom Petty’s song in various campaigns over the last decade or so, there have only been only one or two of those awkward situations. Notably in this category, however, was the year 2000 presidential campaign of then Texas Governor W. Bush. Bush had used “I Won’t Back Down” at campaign events during the 2000 race, becoming practically “a fixture” at those events, according to one report. Tom Petty wasn’t happy about that. In early 2000, Tom Petty’s publisher sent George Bush a “cease and desist” letter to stop his campaign from using the song. So, he had his publisher send Bush a “cease and desist” letter. That meant Bush was compelled to stop using the song at his campaign events. Petty did not want the use of his song to be construed as an endorsement of candidate Bush.
Young Tom Petty.
Petty’s publisher, Randall Wixen of Wixen Music Publishing Inc., wrote to Bush in early February 2000 telling him to “immediately cease and desist all uses of the song in connection with your campaign.” Wixen said in his letter to Bush that the use of the song “creates, either intentionally or unintentionally, the impression that you and your campaign have been endorsed by Tom Petty, which is not true.”
About a week later, Michael Toner, a lawyer for Bush’s campaign, wrote back to Wixen, saying: “We do not agree that the mere playing or use of a particular song at a campaign event connotes any impression, either intentionally or unintentionally, of endorsement.”
Nevertheless, Toner confirmed that the Bush campaign would not use the song at any future campaign events. “So we backed down,” said Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett, jokingly, to reporter Jake Tapper, then covering the issue for Salon.com.
Dems Like Tune
U.S. Senate candidate Jim Webb at an October 2006 campaign stop in Annandale, Virginia. Photo-Brendan Smialowski/Getty.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, a number of candidates — “fighters” all — had used Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” in their political campaigns. Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, a Vietnam Vet and former Secretary of the Navy who mounted a pugnacious, reform-minded run to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2006, used the Petty song in his campaign. On November 3rd, 2006, right before the election, Webb’s campaign staged a lively outdoor rally with prominent Democrats at Virginia Union University in Richmond. At that rally, Webb took to the stage to the beat of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Webb won the race over Republican incumbent George Allen.
Another U.S. Senator in 2006, Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, during his re-election bid, made “I Wont’ Back Down” his campaign’s theme song. It could be heard playing on sound systems from schools to senior centers all across the state. It was played wherever Menendez appeared, usually as he entered the room or took the stage. In some cases, the song was played live by a local band rather than the pre-recorded Tom Petty version.
Senator Menendez campaigning in Trenton, NJ, October 2006. (Photo, Sylwia Kapuscinski/Getty)
In West Deptford, NJ that fall, a local group of senior musicians called The Entertainers was used — four guys that had been playing local gigs for seven years. When the Menendez campaign told the band the Petty song was the song they would be using, the band leader had never heard of it. He then ran out and bought the CD, found the lyrics online, and had The Entertainers rehearse it briefly before Menendez’s appearance. Later that same day, as Menendez was joined by former President Bill Clinton at Essex County College in Newark, the Tom Petty version was back on the sound system. Menendez was 52 at the time of his re-election bid. He was being challenged by Republican Thomas Keane, Jr., a state senator and son of former governor and 9-11 Commission member Thomas Keane. Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, had previously served as a school board member, mayor and state legislator before being elected to Congress in 1992. In January 2006, he was appointed by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine to fill the Senate seat vacated by Corzine to serve as Governor. Menendez then won the seat in the general election that fall, becoming New Jersey’s first elected Hispanic senator. In 2006, he prevailed over Keane and was re-elected to a second term. Tom Petty’s tune, no doubt, played at his victory party.
Cover of Brooke Masters’ 2006 book on Eliot Spitzer.
Some “Backing Down”
Sometimes, however, the political candidates using a particular song come to bad end — certainly, no fault of the song’s artist. In two cases where the Petty song was used prominently in campaigns there came a bit of irony, as the candidates in these instances — both fighters in the populist mold — would unfortunately, “back down.” One was the promising New York Democrat and progressive, Eliot Spitzer, who had used “I Won’t Back Down” in launching his gubernatorial bid and throughout his campaign. The song had played prominently in Buffalo as Spitzer launched his bid, and it was frequently heard on the campaign trail as well.
“I Won’t Back Down” has also been heard in other prominent venues, some political. After Al Gore conceded the 2000 presidential election to George Bush, Tom Petty and other musicians attended a gathering of supporters at Gore’s Vice Presidential home in Washington. Petty performed the song for Gore and his supporters at the gathering.
Petty also played the song as part of the September 21, 2001 benefit telethon for the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Nearly 60 million people in the U.S. watched that televised special, which included celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Cruise. The song became a bit of a patriotic anthem after the 9-11 attacks. “I Won’t Back Down” was also one of four songs Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers performed during the 2008 Super Bowl halftime show.
Spitzer, as New York Attorney General, had come on like gangbusters, taking on the powerful at every turn, even on Wall Street. And if ever there was a guy who wasn’t going to “back down,” it was Spitzer through and through, with his sights set on Washington and bigger things ahead. But alas, it was Spitzer’s personal peccadilloes and call-girl revelations that brought the later-elected New York Governor down.
A somewhat similar case was that of the formerly, much-admired Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards, who also cultivated the image of a fighter. Edwards speeches were filled with references to fighting corporations and American revolutionaries, often urging his listeners to rise up against special interests. Through 2007 and 2008, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” could be heard in a repertoire of Edwards campaign songs that fit his themes and underlined his message. In gearing up for the New Hampshire primary in August 2007, for example, Edwards spoke in the town of Hookset. After the event, the campaign played “I Won’t Back Down” as Edwards shook hands of supporters on the way to boarding his “Fighting for One America” campaign bus. However, many months later, after the primaries had ended, Edwards’ revelations about a campaign relationship outside of his marriage helped take him out of the national political arena.
Hillary Clinton celebrates her April 2008 win in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary with Governor Ed Rendell.
Then comes Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton during her hard-fought 2007-08 Democratic presidential primary campaign. In late April 2008, after she had won the Pennsylvania primary, but was nevertheless being urged to drop out of the race given an uphill delegate climb, she emerged at her victory party to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” And again in June, after a Hillary speech in New York that was not a formal concession speech, “I Won’t Back Down” was piped out over the sound system. Was the candidate sending out a little message of defiance here? Certainly it appeared that way to a few reporters. Nothing wrong with that, however. At least she kept them guessing for a time.
Political candidates come and go, of course, but the music lives on to play in many other battles. Doubtless, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” will be heard in other campaigns to come. And that’s not a bad thing, as we need all the fighters we can get — or at the very least, those who want to try. So let the music play — especially that which helps bring more folks into the political process.
Jack Doyle, “I Won’t Back Down, 1989-2008,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 7, 2009.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Cover of Tom Petty’s 1989 album that includes ‘I Won’t Back Down’ track. (also great Versa-Climber / work-out music!).
Frank Bruni, “The 2000 Campaign: Campaign Notebook; A Wistful Bush Reflects On Hearth and Home,” New York Times, Friday, January 28, 2000.
Randall D. Wixen, Wixen Music Publishing, Inc., Calabasas, CA, Letter to Governor George W. Bush, Austin, TX, Re: Tom Petty/”I Won’t Back Down”, February 4, 2000.
Michael E. Toner, General Counsel, George W. Bush for President, Austin, TX, Letter to Randall D. Wixen, Wixen Music Publishing, Inc., Calabasas, CA, Re: Tom Petty/”I Won’t Back Down”, February 11, 2000.
Jake Tapper, “Don’t Do Me Like That: Tom Petty Tells George W. Bush to ‘Back Down’ From Using one of Petty’s Songs at his Events,” Salon.com, September 16, 2000.
Patrick Healy, “Democracy in Action,” New York Times, May 30, 2006.
David W. Chen, with reporting by Jonathan Miller & Nate Schweber, “As Expected, New Jersey Primaries Create Senate Race Between Kean and Menendez,” New York Times, June 7, 2006.
Cynthia Burton, “Menendez: He Has Risen Despite Defying Alliances,”Philadelphia Inquirer October 15, 2006.
“I Won’t Back Down” Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne
Well I won’t back down,
no I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down
Gonna stand my ground,
won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from
draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground,
and I won’t back down
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down.
Well I know what’s right,
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on
pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground,
and I won’t back down
Hey baby there ain’t no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
________________________ Note: song is longer than appears when full
chorus & recurring refrains are added.
Todd Jackson and Michael Sluss, “Senate Hopefuls Still Pounding the Pavement; George Allen Gets an Endorsement and James Webb Trots out Some Democrat Heavyweights,” Roanoke.com, of The Roanoke Times, November 3, 2006.
David W. Chen, “A Fight Song Comes Alive,” New York Times, November 5, 2006.
Peter Nicholas, Edwards Levels Attack on Clinton-era White House,” Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2007, p. A-12.
Adam Nagourney, “Do You Know the Words to the Edwards Fight Song?,” The Caucus Blog, New York Times, December 19, 2007.
Adam Nagourney, “On the Trail: The Edwards Playlist,”New York Times, December 20, 2007.
Sarah Wheaton, “Accompaniments; Theme Songs and Others,” New York Times, February 16, 2008
Imprint ipod Gail Collins, “Hillary’s Smackdown,” New York Times, April 24, 2008.
Kleinheider, “That Ain’t Any Kind Of Concession Speech I Ever Heard Of,” NashvillePost.com, June 3, 2008.