Finally, some substance: James Smith’s campaign playlist

James Smith playlist

Before I get into the important stuff, I’ll share this: On my downtown walk yesterday, I ran into James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell leaving the State House, and I asked James why he hadn’t released his tax returns — since some of y’all keep bringing that up.

He told me he was going to make them available to the media on Thursday and Friday. He said he wasn’t passing out copies, but folks would be free to peruse the documents on those days. I didn’t dig into why he doesn’t want copies going out: We were talking while crossing the street, he was going to meet with his campaign manager at one of those sidewalk tables in front of restaurants on the first block of Main north of Gervais, and I was in a hurry to get back to the office and drive to the twins’ school to hear them sing. So I just made a mental note: financial disclosure, Thursday and Friday, and hustled away.

At least, I think he said Thursday and Friday. So if I’m right, you read it here first. If not, I’ll correct it.

Anyway, in keeping with my campaign to drive Bud crazy (Look, Bud, more style over substance!), I’m more interested in something the candidate sent out today: his campaign music playlist, which he describes as “what’s been keeping me rocking as I travel the state.”

In my defense, this is more relevant in his case than in other candidates’, because he’s a musician himself — he used to play bass with the Root Doctors, many years ago. As he put it in the release:

Music has always been important to me — it can lift you up when you’re feeling low, make you run when you are tired, and inspire hope just when you need it.

Here’s his list, which you can find at Spotify:

  1. Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2
  2. One,” U2
  3. Perfect Duet,” Ed Sheeran & Beyoncé
  4. Message in a Bottle,” The Police
  5. Happier,” Ed Sheeran
  6. Beautiful Day,” U2
  7. Pride (In the Name of Love),” U2
  8. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” The Police
  9. Find Me,” Kings of Leon
  10. Castle on the Hill,” Ed Sheeran
  11. Sign, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” Stevie Wonder
  12. We Take Care of Our Own,” Bruce Springsteen
  13. Come Together,” The Beatles
  14. Feeling Good,” Nina Simone
  15. Vertigo,” U2

Some general observations:

  • OK, we got it: You like U2. And “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a perfectly fine song for kicking off a playlist, particularly in this case because it’s politically serious. It’s sort of the pop music equivalent of quoting W.B. Yeats. (For this purpose, we would also have accepted “Zombie,” by the Cranberries.) But five out of the 14 songs? Come on! You don’t want to come across as that… I don’t know… monochromatic. And let’s face it: U2 isn’t that great. Two or even three songs from Elvis Costello maybe, but five from U2? Nah…
  • Who is Ed Sheeran? I think I know what you’re trying to do here: Jack Black, as Barry in “High Fidelity,” would describe it this way: “Ohhh, kind of a new record… Very nice… A sly declaration of new-classic status slipped into a list of old safe ones….” I would not say that, of course, because I’m nicer than Barry. I appreciate that there’s something this old guy doesn’t know (the singer was born in 1991, saints preserve us!). And he sounds good. But again — should he appear on the list twice?
  • “Come Together” — the messaging may be a bit heavy there, but a communitarian like me never tires of that message. Thanks for including something for us Boomers. Which is smart, since we vote.
  • Good Springsteen choice, and I know it’s meaningful to you as a guy who served in the war. And no harm in reminding people of that. And while I’m not a huge fan of the Boss, another song from him couldn’t have hurt. Something fun, like “Pink Cadillac.” Or, especially since you’re doing some of that campaigning in the Pee Dee, “Darlington County.” Bruce is good politics for a Democrat, and he’s better than U2.
  • Who are the Kings of Leon? Never mind; we’ve already covered that ground with Ed Sheeran. And in the end, a guy who’s serious about music should have some performers not everyone has heard of. Broaden people’s horizons a bit. Be a leader, not a follower…

Anyway, that should get a discussion started. What are y’all’s thoughts? And speaking of High Fidelity, remember Rob’s rules as you consider the list:

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention ***, and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and… oh, there are loads of rules…

Yeah, he says “tape” instead of “playlist,” but give him a break: It was the 90’s and anyway, he’s a fictional character. But the rules are the rules…

Yeah, U2's good, and they sort of have political seriousness going for them, but they're not THAT great...

Yeah, U2’s good, and they sort of have political seriousness going for them, but they’re not THAT great…

52 thoughts on “Finally, some substance: James Smith’s campaign playlist

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Or do you just mean it the way too many people who call themselves “conservatives” (but who aren’t) use the word “liberal” — to mean, “stuff I don’t like…?”

        I mean, you could be the biggest liberal on the planet and not like this playlist…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’m going to go find some of the compilation CDs I’ve made over the years, specifically for road trips, and compare them to this list…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, OK… if you say so.

          But couldn’t you say that about most pop musicians who involve themselves in politics? A playlist that consisted only of self-identified “conservatives” would be pretty limited…

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and before some of y’all go whining that I didn’t get the financial disclosure thing totally nailed down, at least give me credit for asking about it, even though I’m not all that interested.

    If this were the newspaper, I wouldn’t even mention the conversation — not without getting him on the phone later and clearing up the stuff I wasn’t totally clear on. Blogs are different. Less formal. And unlike some bloggers out there, when I’m not sure (meaning, when I don’t have it nailed down according to professional journalistic standards) I TELL you I’m not sure. But at least I told you, and while someone else might have, I didn’t find it when I Googled it. So, you know, scoop — sort of…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, and I didn’t tell you about a distraction that occurred during that brief conversation, even though it’s kind of a fun one…

      While we were standing at the light waiting to cross Gervais, and I was asking about the financial stuff, someone driving by honked.

      Apparently thinking it was a voter recognizing him, James waved. I, assuming the same thing, didn’t bother to look.

      As I said, I hurried on to meet my wife at the Twins’ school so we could hear their musical program.

      Well, I got there before it started, and the first thing my wife said to me was, “Wasn’t that you in front of the State House? I honked, but you didn’t look.”

      I said, “You mean, standing there with James and Mandy?”

      She said yeah, and James was at least polite enough to wave, but I did not…

    2. Richard

      “at least give me credit for asking about it, even though I’m not all that interested.”

      Aren’t you one of the guys who almost had a coronary over Trump doing exactly what James Smith is doing right now?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author


        First of all, Smith is making his returns available to view. That’s definitely not “exactly what” Trump has done.

        Second… it’s never been as big an issue with me as with other people. It’s a money thing, and I tend to have little interest in those. If I’d been Bob Woodward and Deep Throat had told me to “follow the money,” I might have walked away from the Watergate story right there. My eyes would have glazed over… 🙂

        But on an intellectual level, I can appreciate why people would care about Trump flouting this political norm along with all the others he thumbs his nose at. There’s never been a person at this level in our politics who was so entangled in so many financial arrangements, so many things likely to cause conflicts of interest. That he, practically alone among people who have sought the presidency in recent years, completely stonewalls us on his finances is a legitimate cause for concern.

        It just doesn’t interest me as much as all the other problems with Trump…

        1. Claus2

          You know, I could really care less about James Smith’s tax returns. I’d prefer to see Hugh Leatherman’s (concrete contractor), Darrell Jackson (minister), and Todd Rutherford’s (defense lawyer) tax returns.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Since I’m not a money guy, you know what I think is more relevant than that? How they change the laws to benefit their professions.

            Like the lawyers who represent people charged with DUI who keep our DUI laws weak.

            An attorney friend mentioned another one recently. You know Bill Sandifer, one of the main guys who did the big utilities’ dirty work in killing the solar bill?

            This attorney shared with me the fact that in South Carolina, the law requires that when person dies, the very first of his debts that must be paid by his estate is the funeral bill. I don’t know if my informant is right about this, but he said Bill Sandifer is the guy who saw to making sure the law required that. Bill Sandifer is a funeral director…

    3. Doug Ross

      Ok, it’s Thursday. Any sign of the tax returns?

      The optics on the way he is handling this are not good. It sends the message that he is hiding something even if he isn’t.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Here you go. For whatever reason, The State just put a new lede on an old story…

        On Thursday, state. Rep. James Smith made his returns from 2014 to 2016 available for review. Others provided the paper with copies of at least their main federal 1040 tax form.

        Smith’s federal tax filings show he and his wife earned a total of $746,246 during the last three years, mostly from Smith’s Columbia law firm. He paid an average of $43,147 a year in federal taxes during that time frame….

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          OK, I was able to copy this just before the Charleston paper shut me out:

          COLUMBIA — Democratic state Rep. James Smith earned an average of nearly $250,000 a year during a recent three-year span — putting him middle of the pack for the eight candidates running for governor.
          Smith, the top Democratic fundraiser in the race, did not release his tax returns with other candidates at the request of The Post and Courier last month but allowed reporters to review them Thursday.
          Between 2014 and 2016 the Columbia attorney and his artist wife, Kirkland, earned the bulk of their total income from their salaries. They also generated some additional business and rental income.
          Smith paid an average of $9,100 in taxes a year. He contributed more than $17,000 to charity….

          That amount paid doesn’t square with what The State reported. Or am I reading it wrong?…

  2. Norm Ivey

    14 songs, but only 9 artists. U2 appears 4 times, Ed Sheeran 3 times, The Police twice.

    He needs to expand his horizons a bit.

    The album (Wrecking Ball, 2012) the Springsteen song comes from is my favorite Springsteen in years. It’s builds a really nice topical narrative. I just looked over the track list again, and I can’t pick a favorite because I can’t discount any of them. It’s worth a listen if you haven’t heard it.

    Joe Grushecky recently dropped a track featuring Springsteen That’s What Makes Us Great that has some of the same themes and in your face about Trump.

    1. Doug Ross

      I saw Springsteen on Broadway in 2018… Oh wait, that’s not a joke..

      I actually saw him three weeks ago. An epic performance. He mentioned going down to the draft board with his friend during the Vietnam war and doing everything they could to get rejected. I’ll take Rosalita as my number 1.

  3. Norm Ivey

    My campaign playlist…

    New South Blues (The Restoration) a song by a Lexington County band that is catchy and points out some of the dichotomies of living in the south in the 21st century.
    We Take Care of Our Own (Bruce Springsteen) because we do. Or should.
    My Friends (Trae Pierce and the T-Stone Band) as another communitarian song.
    Where is the Love (Black Eyed Peas) as yet one more communitarian song.
    Soak Up the Sun (Sheryl Crow) for solar power.
    Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles) for solar power, general optimism and the obligatory Beatles tune.
    Call Me the Breeze (Lynyrd Skynryd) for wind power and the obligatory southern rock tune.
    Teach Your Children (CSN&Y) for the educational planks in my platform.
    Wonderful World (Sam Cooke) to bring even more attention to my educational platform, and the obligatory beach music track.
    Electric Avenue to Hell (Umphrey’s McGee) to put the idea of electric cars out there while simultaneously bringing attention to the conditions of some of our roads.
    40 Miles of Bad Road (Duane Eddy) for road and bridge infrastructure.
    Working on the Highway (Bruce Springsteen) another road song.
    One Toke Over the Line (Brewer and Shipley) in support of medical (or recreational) marijuana.
    Your Racist Friend (They Might Be Giants) because silence implies agreement and you gotta call ’em out.
    Don’t Tell Noah (Willie Nelson) brand new track about respecting the experts who know what they’re talking about.
    Bad Bad News (Leon Bridges) another brand new track as one of those “Still I Rise” songs.

    1. Norm Ivey

      Tangentially–The Restoration band that I opened my playlist with has a musical opening at Trustus this week. It’s a multi-generational southern tale set in Lexington from Reconstruction to the Depression.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Very impressive. Not only eclectic and full of references that are over my head (Rob, Dick and even Barry would respect you; you would be welcome at Championship Vinyl).

      And politically, of course, it’s much more carefully thought-out than James’ list.

      But you know, that sort of reflects well on him — he’s not listening to those songs to score political points; he’s listening because he digs them. And he just wanted to share.

      And here we go analyzing it to death…

      I say that not to criticize your thoughtfulness. On the contrary… I need to sit down and figure out what would be MY perfect campaign list. And unlike James, I’ll try to think more politically.

      Right off, I can think of one I’d include — “Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You or Me)” by Creedence. Most people, when they cite a political song from that album, go with the track before it — “Fortunate Son.” I’ve never liked that one. It’s the kind of song that would appeal to a Bernie Sanders, not to me. I see it as a very trite 60s kind of song.

      By contrast, “Don’t Look Now” is way communitarian. It’s about appreciating the essential people around us in society whom we might otherwise thoughtlessly overlook…

      Don’t look now, someone’s done your starvin’
      Don’t look now, someone’s done your prayin’ too

      Who will make the shoes for your feet?
      Who will make the clothes that you wear?
      Who’ll take the promise that you don’t have to keep?
      Don’t look now, it ain’t you or me

      1. Norm

        Playlists matter to me. There has to be some unifying theme or purpose.

        For example, I have a playlist for St. Patrick’s Day. There’s another couple that commemorate our Western vacations. I have a temporary one right now set up as a warm-up for a concert we’re going to in July. There’s one I put together for Joaquin a couple of years ago. (I think we may have discussed it here at the time.)

        There’s one exception to my thematic rule. I have an ever evolving playlist that is just songs I enjoy hearing while doing other things–background music. It has over 700 tracks right now. Sometimes I’ll be listening, and I’ll get excited by the current sequence of songs before I remember I created the playlist.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I love that: You’re listening, and thinking, “This is awesome! This guy’s a genius!” And then you realize it’s you… and it turns out you were right!

          The Smith campaign should hire you as playlist coordinator….

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Norm, forgive me if we’ve had this conversation before, but I forget: Have you ever read “High Fidelity?” I figure you have, but if not, you’ve got to let me lend you my copy.

          It seems to me it would surely be one of the favorite novels of anyone who would write:

          Playlists matter to me. There has to be some unifying theme or purpose.

          1. Norm Ivey

            I have. It is indeed one of my favorites, and the movie did it justice. The music rich setting is part of it, but Rob’s need to rank things also appeals to me. Not that that’s an obsession for me, but I enjoy lists of the best whatever of all time…

        3. Scout

          I do themes too! But it’s more a flow kind of thing where the theme of one song leads you to the next. Like for instance I have been known to follow Intuition by John Lennon which starts off saying “my intentions are good” with Good Intentions by Toad the Wet Sprocket, which starts off saying “It’s hard to rely on my good intentions”. But the musical styles and feel of it have to flow as well. It’s very important.

          1. Norm Ivey

            It’s funny you say that. Back when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I made a mix tape of songs that did the same thing–one song suggested the next. I’d love to be able to recreate that, but the contents are lost to advancing technologies and advancing age.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Same here. I made some CDs just for driving back in the last decade, but I’m having trouble finding them. I just searched the hard drive of the oldest computer in the house (dates back to 2008), but no luck…

  4. Scout

    I support this playlist. I own over half of those songs myself. In defense of multiple U2, I would say that you’ve got a pretty good representation of early, mid, and later U2, which are quite varied in style. Although he definitely broke the two in a row by same band rule, but maybe they carry on a thematic motif….I don’t know all the songs well enough to tell, but that is a reason I might break that rule. Incidentally, I think you missed One, by U2. So he actually had 5.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah, I know — I wrote that post in too much of a hurry. I needed to run, but I didn’t want the day to pass without posting this, because it was a fun one.

      I also missed one of the Sheerans…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’m pretty sure that starting the mix with TWO U2 songs would violate Nick Horby’s rules…

        And then two more back-to-back in the middle… and then ENDING with U2. I don’t even know if this qualifies as a “mix”…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author


      If I were Donald Trump, at this point I’d say, “A lot of people don’t realize that Doug Ross is a very funny guy.”

      But it’s true. You used to come up with some really good ones back when I was looking for material to do Health & Happiness at Rotary.

      You missed a calling not being a comedy writer…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Speaking of “Taxman”… George was a conflicted guy. On the one hand, if I recall correctly, he wrote that out of deep resentment of the way Britain taxes rich guys like him.

      Yet later he did all he could to exist on a higher plane than the “Material World…

    3. Claus2

      I’ve gotten to the point where I thumb down every single Beatles song… that and the Beach Boys.

  5. Phillip

    I’m gonna have to seriously rethink my support for James Smith after seeing the inclusion of not one, not two, but THREE examples of Ed Sheeran on his playlist.

    I might write-in Norm for governor on the strength of his playlist alone.

  6. Norm Ivey

    I’ve actually created this playlist in Google Play now. I’ve called it Rock the Vote. Problem is, I want to keep adding to it, even though it feels pretty tight right now. “Pompeii” by Michelle Shocked would be a nice addition, but a little bit of a downer. And Alice Cooper’s “Elected,” just for fun.

    1. Doug Ross

      Michelle Shocked is one of my all time favorites. Saw her in a small club in Raleigh in 1995. Too bad she went off the rails and was pretty much banned from playing anywhere a few years ago. Come A Long Way and Anchorage are classics.

      1. Norm

        I think she’s made some small comeback. That was a bizarre episode. I can’t fathom any reason for her to alienate what was likely a large element of her fan base.

        I’ve always liked L&N and Anchorage.

        She’s a good example of how I’ve learned to listen for new artists in odd places. I first learned of her from An Inconvenient Truth. Play the Game was the song playing with the closing credits. It’s been removed from the streaming version.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, I don’t know who that is.

          But with that name, you’d think no fan would be surprised or upset by any she did or said…

          1. Doug Ross

            She got caught up in a politically correct furor several years ago.. she made some statements that were perceived to be anti-gay and the PC Police basically shut down her tour and her career with it — even though she would be considered to be on the far, far, left of progressiveness. Her Arkansas Traveler album is fantastic as is Deep Natural. She’s an excellent singer-songwriter.

            Norm – if you want to try a couple newer artists, check out Sean McConnell – american/folky/country singer who tours small clubs around the country. We’ve seen him a three times in the Charlotte area in the past two years.

            And River Run North – – who I happened to stumble across in a small club in Charlotte a couple years ago. Indie folk rock group comprised of a half dozen Asian Americans.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Here’s how superficial I am — I think I won’t like her, based on the name. Just like I never wanted to hear Marilyn Manson or Twisted Sister. It’s not so much that I’m shocked by the notion of someone named for Charles Manson or a sister who’s twisted — I just tend to scorn anyone for trying to shock me with such a name. It strikes me as desperate and uninmaginative.

              I prefer that my musicians be cool and let their music speak for them, instead of trying desperately to get my attention through other means.

              Speaking of trying desperately with names… I came up with another possible name for my band the other day. I was listening to a report on NPR about the process immigrants go through to seek asylum. They have to go through a “credible fear hearing” to determine whether they have “credible fear” of returning to their countries of origin. I thought both of those phrases sounded like good band names, with the better one being Credible Fear…

              I think if I went with that name, I’d have one of the songs on the first side of the debut album be “Credible Fear Hearing”…

              1. Norm Ivey

                I’m not sure why she adopted that moniker. It’s mostly folk music. Nothing shocking or outrageous about it at all. Some of it’s topical, but nothing that’s way out there. Pete Seeger-ish, really.

                Credible Fear is an awesome band name.

              2. Doug Ross

                Her name hardly fits her personality or music. It was a name she came up with when she was very young. She had an album of Spanish language songs that you’d probably like. “Mexican Standoff”

                Give Come A Long Way or Anchorage a shot and tell me you think she’s bad.

            2. Norm Ivey

              This is a good illustration of what I don’t get about political correctness. I understand fans abandoning her after her statements, but that’s their right. I no longer listed to Ted Nugent or Hank Williams, Jr. for similar reasons. As for her tour being shut down by venues, that seems to me to be more of a function of capitalism. It wasn’t in their best interest to go ahead with her show–maybe for economics or maybe for image. Either way, it’s about responding to the demands of the market, isn’t it?

            3. Norm Ivey

              Thanks for the heads up on the artists. I’ve heard of McConnell before, but can’t call up any tracks right now. Maybe just came across the name in an article or something.

              I’ll check out River Run North. I’m always looking for new stuff.

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