Monday, August 22, 2016

Musical Monday: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

I'm just going to say it: No one will ever have a catchier campaign song than William Henry Harrison.

I had known of the phrase forever, but I first heard the song Tippecanoe and Tyler Too years ago at a They Might Be Giants concert. For the longest time I thought they had written the song. (It wouldn't have been their first foray into presidential songs, as they had previously released a song about James K. Polk.) But at some point I discovered that the band merely covered what had really been Harrison's campaign song in the 1840 election. (The song was really titled Tip and Ty but came to be known by its popular refrain of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.")

Here is TMBG's version, available on the album Future Soundtrack for America:


And here is a more traditional version:


I like They Might Be Giants' version more, but it's pretty true to the original.

"Tippecanoe" was William Henry Harrison's nickname, and Tyler, of course, refers to his running mate (and successor) John Tyler. The song is amazing not just because it will be stuck in your head for the rest of the week, but because it bolsters Harrison and Tyler while also denigrating Martin Van Buren, and what could be more fun than denigrating Martin Van Buren?

In addition to the addictive song, Harrison's campaign also incorporated the unique tactic of rolling giant balls from town to town. That's referenced in Tip and Ty's first verse: 

What's the cause of this commotion, motion, motion,
Our country through?
It is the ball a-rolling on

For Tippecanoe and Tyler too.
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too.
And with them we'll beat little Van, Van, Van,
Van is a used up man.
And with them we'll beat little Van.

Thus Harrison's campaign served as the origin of the phrase "Keep the ball rolling."

(If you watched Parks & Recreation, you might have seen the episode that featured one of those giant balls. In the episode, the ball actually represented one used in grandson Benjamin Harrison's campaign, but it was William Henry's run that started the practice.)

It's probably important to note that Harrison got the nickname "Tippecanoe" after a battle near the Tippecanoe river in which he defeated the Native American leader Tecumseh, who was trying to protect his land from white encroachment. That's not the greatest legacy by today's standards, but it sure worked for him at the time.

It's also important to note that while Harrison won the election, probably due in large part to his catchy tune and big balls, he died after a month in office, so all in all, it didn't do him much good.

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