Musicians vs. Politicians

06.29.11

Tom Petty’s War on Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann has bumped against a reality that has confronted many GOP politicians who want to use a popular song as a campaign anthem. Like Hollywood, most recording stars tend to be liberal, and don’t like their music appropriated by the right. From the Reagan-Springsteen tussle over “Born in the U.S.A.” to the Sarah Palin-Heart contretemps over “Barracuda,” see videos of face-offs between political candidates and musicians over song rights.

Bruce Springsteen vs. Ronald Reagan:

Far from the first (and certainly, not the last) to make this mistake, Ronald Reagan co-opted the Boss’ “Born in the U.S.A.” for his reelection campaign. The campaign, like many that use the song for various purposes, portrayed its anthemic chorus as flag-waving and nationalistic, when in fact, the song is a reflection of patriotic disillusionment in post-Vietnam America. On the campaign trail, Reagan was quoted as saying, "America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen." Springsteen, however, didn’t take that as a compliment, starting the first battle over a campaign song that has been replayed many times since.

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Tom Petty vs. Michele Bachmann:

Michele Bachmann has already had her share of mixups on the campaign trail, like confusing John Wayne Gacy and John Wayne, and claiming that John Quincy Adams was a Founding Father (which would make him a contemporary of his father). Now she can add one more to the list—playing Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Shortly after the congresswoman played the opening 29 seconds of his 1977 classic at a rally, the Heartbreaker leader and his management team were up in arms, firing off a cease-and-desist letter. This isn’t the first time Petty has beefed with a political playlist: in 2000, the Bush campaign used “I Won’t Back Down,” much to Petty’s chagrin.

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John Mellencamp vs. John McCain (and more…):

Many felt that John McCain lost his “maverick” moniker during his 2008 run for president. Perhaps this explains why so many rock ‘n’ roll stars lashed out against his use of their music in the run-up to November. It all started when John Mellencamp—campaigning for the yet-to-be-disgraced John Edwardsnoticed that the McCain campaign was using the same songs (like “Our Country” and “Pink Houses”) for their rallies that Mellencamp had licensed for Edwards. Though Mellencamp’s request was quickly accommodated, McCain’s playlist continued to come under fire. Van Halen demanded removal of their song “Right Now,” Dave Grohl became angry over the use of “My Hero,” and Jackson Browne sued McCain and the GOP for playing “Running on Empty” in an attack ad about gas consumption (the matter was settled out of court).

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Heart vs. Sarah Palin:

Walking to the podium at the 2008 GOP convention, then-unknown Sarah Palin was greeted with the muted-growl of Heart’s “Barracuda.” The song was used because of Palin’s similar high-school nickname, but the song’s writers, the Wilson sisters, took a shot at the vice-presidential candidate in a statement lambasting the use of their music. “Sarah Palin's views and values in no way represent us as American women,” Nancy Wilson said.

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Tom Scholz vs. Mike Huckabee:

Joining the anti-Republican sentiment that swept recording studios in 2008, Boston’s lead singer and songwriter, Tom Scholz, wrote a letter to the ex-governor’s campaign, asking him to refrain from using “More Than a Feeling” at rallies. Huckabee, a bassist, was known to perform the tune along with former Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau. Pointing out that Goudreau had a short career with the band and did not even perform on the song’s original recording, Scholz maintained that its use was an unfair representation of opinions that he did not hold. “While this may seem like a little thing to you, BOSTON has been my life's work. I hold the trademark to the name and my reputation is inexorably tied to it.”

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Joe Walsh vs. Joe Walsh:

Though they may agree on names, Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh don’t see eye-to-eye on intellectual-property laws. During his 2010 congressional run, Walsh used a re-recording of the more famous Walsh’s James Gang song “Walk Away” for a commercial called “Lead the Way.” Though the song is not entirely the same, guitarist Walsh’s lawyers felt that their titular resemblance was inherently problematic and that this case already had precedence (see Jackson Browne vs. John McCain). The congressman maintained that it was only a parody, a right held up by the Supreme Court, and that the Browne-McCain comparison was inaccurate. “I hope the Democratic National Committee and Nancy Pelosi didn’t put you up to this,” he wrote.

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Sam Moore vs. Barack Obama:

Though it may seem like Republicans are getting a tough break from liberal-leaning rockers, 2008 saw Democratic candidate Barack Obama getting flak from soul man Sam Moore for the use of Sam & Dave’s classic, “Hold On! I’m Coming.” The civil-rights activist who campaigned with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did write then Sen. Obama that he wanted to “wish you well in your quest for the nomination… [But] I have not agreed to endorse you for the highest office in our land… My vote is a very private matter between myself and the ballot box” and that he refused to publicly endorse any candidate.

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