• Politics

Running for President? Skip These Songs

7 minute read

It can be tough to find the perfect campaign song, and musicians make it even harder.

As several Republican presidential candidates gather in Washington for the Conservative Political Action Conference, which starts today, they’ll be searching for a good song to play as they take the stage.

But as other politicians — especially Republicans — can attest, they’d better be careful what they choose. The 2016 has barely started and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker already took heat from the Dropkick Murphys for taking the stage to one of their songs at an Iowa event last month.

So what should a political candidate do? For starters, avoid any of the songs below, which have faced complaints from the songwriters.

John Mellencamp vs. Scott Walker (2012)

The Dropkick Murphys are not the first to react against Walker using their music. In 2012, after Mellencamp learned Walker was using his song, “Small Town” in a recall campaign rally, his publicist sent a complaint to the Walker campaign, letting the governor know that Mellencamp supports union rights and collective bargaining.

Rage Against the Machine vs. Paul Ryan (2012)

After vice presidential candidate Ryan cited Rage Against the Machine as one of his favorite bands in an interview with the Washington Post, the band’s guitarist, Tom Morello, retaliated with a scathing op-ed in Rolling Stone, where he wrote that Ryan, “is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.”

Twisted Sister vs. Paul Ryan (2012)

Twisted Sister band member Dee Snider publicly scolded Ryan for using his music at a rally, citing political differences. “I emphatically denounce Ryan’s use of my band Twisted Sister’s song, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ in any capacity,” Snider said. “There is almost nothing he stands for that I agree with.”

The Silversun Pickups vs. Mitt Romney (2012)

The Silversun Pickups issued a cease-and-desist order to Romney’s presidential campaign demanding it stop playing the song “Panic Switch” at events. In a statement, band frontman Brian Aubert wrote, “We don’t like people going behind our backs, using our music without asking, and we don’t like the Romney campaign.”

K’naan vs. Mitt Romney (2012)

Somali-born, Canadian rapper K’Naan threatened to sue Romney after he used his hit single “Wavin’ Flag” without asking, saying he would have denied Romney the use anyway. In an added insult, the artist mentioned that he would have happily granted use to Barack Obama, and the song was the Coca-Cola anthem for the 2010 World Cup.

Survivor vs. Newt Gingrich (2012)

Frankie Sullivan, guitarist and songwriter for the band Survivor, sued Gingrich for using the Rocky III anthem “Eye of the Tiger,” which Sullivan co-wrote with a bandmate, in January 2012. After vocally fighting the suit for months, Gingrich settled in August.

Tom Petty vs. Michele Bachmann (2011)

Petty’s management team immediately sent a cease and desist letter to Bachmann’s campaign when she played his song “American Girl” at a rally at the beginning of her presidential run. Bachmann defied the order and continued to use the song a few more times on the trail.

The Talking Heads vs. Charlie Crist (2010)

David Byrne of the Talking Heads sued Crist, then the governor of Florida, for $1 million after he used “Road to Nowhere” in an ad attacking his senatorial opponent Marco Rubio. Byrne said the suit was not about politics but was simply about copyright. As part of the undisclosed settlement, Crist had to make a public apology on Youtube.

Rush vs. Rand Paul (2010)

Rush sent Paul a cease and desist letter after he played two of their songs — “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of Radio” — at his rallies. The band’s attorney claimed the reaction was about intellectual property rights, not politics. “We would do this no matter who it is,” he said.

Don Henley vs. Chuck DeVore (2010)

California state representative DeVore never made it out of the primary in his bid for the Senate, but the suit he settled with former Eagles member Henley was notable because DeVore was sued for parodies. He turned Henley’s “Boys of Summer” into “Hope of November,” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” into “All She Wants to Do Is Tax” in ads.

Heart vs. Sarah Palin (2008)

The McCain Palin campaign did not respond to initial requests by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart to stop playing the song “Barracuda” at rallies. When it then played after McCain’s speech at the Republican National Convention, Nancy Wilson told Entertainment Weekly, “I think it’s completely unfair to be so misrepresented.”

Bon Jovi vs. John McCain (2008)

Jon Bon Jovi, a long time Democrat, had just hosted an expensive fundraiser for Barack Obama when McCain played his song, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” at a rally. He was livid at the misappropriation, but tied up with another lawsuit, so he did not threaten legal action.

Jackson Browne vs. John McCain (2008)

In a lawsuit that went on for more than a year, Jackson Browne sued John McCain for using his song “Running on Empty” in an ad, claiming that McCain was violating copyright, implying a false endorsement and violating Browne’s publicity rights. After a court ruled in Browne’s favor, they settled for an undisclosed amount in July 2009.

John Mellencamp vs. John McCain (2008)

It was a rough campaign for the McCain Palin ticket, musically. The other musician to shut them down was Mellencamp. When the campaign used “Our Country” and “Pink Houses” on the trail, his publicist sent a letter to the campaign explaining that he identifies as a Democrat, and that he would be supporting Democratic primary candidate John Edwards.

Boston vs. Mike Huckabee (2008)

Band member Tom Scholz complained in a letter to the Republican primary candidate and bass player after he used “More Than a Feeling” at a rally. Scholz wrote, “By using my song, and my band’s name Boston, you have taken something of mine and used it to promote ideas to which I am opposed. In other words, I think I’ve been ripped off, dude!”

Tom Petty vs. George W. Bush (2000)

The Bachmann incident was not Petty’s first scuffle with a politician. In 2000, Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” became a “fixture” at Bush’s campaign events and rallies. His publicist sent a cease and desist letter, and though Bush’s lawyer wrote back to argue they still could use the music, the campaign stopped. “So we backed down,” Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett later joked.

Sting vs. George W. Bush (2000)

Sting’s song “Brand New Day” was used regularly by the Bush and Gore campaigns, but when he asked Bush to take the song out of the campaign trail rotation, he said that is wasn’t political—the British rocker did not want to take a side in a country where he is a guest. According to his manager, he later asked Gore to ditch the song, too.

John Mellencamp vs. George W. Bush (2000)

In the first of a long line of complaints, Mellencamp’s agents called the Bush camp after he played “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” “They said OK, and then used it anyway,” Mellencamp later told reporters. As with the other incidents, he declined to take legal action. “What am I going to do? Am I going to sue the guy — that seems a little silly — and make a big ruckus out of it?” he said.

Bruce Springsteen vs. Ronald Reagan (1984)

In 1984, conservative columnist George Will called the song’s chorus a “grand, cheerful affirmation,” and suggested to the Reagan campaign that Springsteen be called upon to endorse Reagan in the election. Springsteen’s managers promptly refused, and the singer, a liberal, publicly mocked the suggestion at a concert and used the incident to inspire a new song, “Johnny ’99.”

“Hello, Dolly!” vs. Barry Goldwater (1964)

Broadway producer David Merrick politely asked that the Goldwater campaign stop using “Hello, Barry!” a rewrite of the popular musical’s title song. The Johnson campaign then approached Carol Channing, the musical’s star, about singing “Hello, Lyndon!” which became a hallmark of the campaign trail. Channing even returned to the White House to sing it live at LBJ’s inaugural ball.

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