Over the past five days, I’ve consumed more uninterrupted network news than I hope to over the course of the rest of my life. We all probably have. But in doing so, I’ve been able to pay more attention to every aspect of the “live broadcast.” As such, please enjoy some musings on what has truly been important this election season: a worst-to-best ranking of major networks’ 2020 live election coverage theme music.
Unlike most content on FOX News, the “Democracy 2020” theme does not make you feel dumber for having heard it. This music takes everything about FOX’s energetic 2018 election theme, “America’s Election HQ,” and turns it to 11. Unfortunately, the result is so unnecessarily “amped” that we’re left with a theme much more appropriate for FOX Sports than FOX News.
This theme suffers from a lot of the same over-hypedness as FOX’s, but what do you expect from a network that literally bills presidential debates as boxing matches? At least in this theme, there is more space for the snare drum and brass to shine, which are the two most essential elements of election music. Many avid CNN viewers will be either amused or ashamed of the Pavlovian response the music elicits as they anticipate Wolf Blitzer materializing before them to announce a “key race alert.”
The Bloomberg election music is inoffensive but extremely uninspired. If Michael Bloomberg would like me to compose something a bit more interesting for his channel, I would be more than happy to do so and I only charge $250 million per song.
I was as surprised as you are to learn that C-SPAN has election coverage music. The whole point of C-SPAN is to give people who only read books and the newspaper something to watch on TV, and unless you’re reading Bruce Springsteen’s BORN TO RUN memoir, books don’t usually come with their own soundtrack. Unsurprisingly, this theme is very basic and without much “pomp.” At least it sounds natural and not manufactured in a facility that also processes elevator music.
If you can believe it, a two-minute documentary exists about the recording of this theme and I’m one hundred percent here for it. The highlight of the video is when the composer explains how he wanted a live orchestra so they went to Thailand to record players from the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, who he describes as the “top A-list musicians in the country here in Thailand.”
This theme is a little over-the-top in terms of intensity, but the BSO players actually are really cookin’ here, so I have to give it top marks.
ABC went all out with this one. There is no discernable “melody,” per se, but the big boomy drums and epic orchestral arrangement make up for it. No wonder the network owned by Disney has a theme that could score TARZAN or THE PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN. All that is missing is Phil Collins’ angelic voice telling the American people to “put their faith in what they most believe in.” C’mon Phil! You’re not doing anything right now! Give us that “Your Voice Your Vote” top line!
On Tuesday night, PBS ran nearly 12 hours of election coverage without a note of music. This is because PBS is the best news network and they know they don’t need fancy songs to make up for anything. On the other hand, the only thing keeping them from being the most boring network is the existence of C-SPAN, so it’s fitting that, unlike CNN or FOX, their theme music doesn’t sound like it was written by a coke addict. What this music does have going for it is that it’s classic. Essentially an elongated version of the famous “Newshour Theme,” PBS’ election soundtrack is sweeping, cinematic and features those three iconic ending notes known to NewsHour fans for decades (Where are my Lehrer-heads at?!). It should be no surprise that our national public news network offers such stately and all-together comforting music. After all, these are the people who gave us MASTERPIECE THEATER and Mr. Rogers—with support from viewers like you, of course.
The undisputed king of election themes. Not only does it seamlessly incorporate the famous NBC arpeggio, the entire piece is a goddamn earworm. I take no pride in knowing I could go a month without turning on the television and still be able to sing this whole theme, but the fact that I could is telling. The rudimentary snare drumming and piercing staccato brass lines recall the US military’s best fanfares and give the music a sense of patriotism balanced with the perfect amount of drama. It’s a trick straight out of the W.G. Snuffy Walden playbook (a man who not only wrote the incredible West Wing theme, but has one of the greatest names ever) and it’s incredibly difficult to pull off. If whoever is in charge of our official government songs decided to replace “Hail To The Chief” with this, I would not complain.