Last night aging activist rocker Neil Young fired a shot across the hairpiece of blowhard egomaniac presidential wannabe Donald Trump for using his iconic track “Rockin’ in the Free World” without permission, or payment, during the reality star/real estate tycoon’s already bizarre campaign announcement. In a statement sent from his management, Young noted his displeasure, adding that, while a Canadian citizen, he supported Bernie Sanders for U.S. president.
While headline grabbing as much because of the size of the, um, personalities, of the two eccentric celebrities involved, this is just the latest in a long, not-so-proud history of politicians appropriating music for their campaigns, copyright laws of the land they seek to serve be damned.
Music can, of course, set the tone for a victorious stump speech, and has been emplyed with great efficacy by everyone from George Washington, who used “God Save Great Washington,” a parody of “God Save the King,” to Franklin Roosevelt’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” and Barack Obama, who celebrated victory in 2012 with Stevie Wonders’ “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” But in order for any sort of commercial use, and campaigns are commercial use, music must be licensed from the song’s publisher, who will determine usage rights and costs. Failure to do so can result in everything from being sued, such as when former Florida Governor Charlie Crist was slapped with a million-dollar lawsuit by Talking Heads front man David Byrne for a campaign ad featuring the band’s “Road to Nowhere” —they settled out of court, and Crist published an apology via YouTube—to public chastisement from the offended artist, like this tweet from the Dropkick Murphys to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:
The upside to famous musicians publicly taking offense at pols using their music, of course, is that it generates press, and often lots of it. As we all know, any publicity is good publicity. Better to be lambasted by a bunch of surly punk rockers than have to actually engage in a thoughtful debate with your opponents. Here are a few more sonic scofflaws:
Newt Gingrich, who used Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” without permission during his 2012 campaign found himself in a court battle, which he viciously contested and ultimately wound up settling. Fellow Republican presidential wannabe John McCain is no stranger to the court of intellectual property either, having been taken there by legendarily liberal Jackson Browne for using “Running on Empty” in commercials. McCain was also asked to stop using John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” and “Our Country,” as well as the Foo Fighter’s “My Hero.” The Foo Fighters responded with a statement:
“It’s frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property.”
The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: McCain running mate Sarah Palin found herself on blast from the Wilson sisters after illegitimately using their band Heart’s “Barracuda.”
Michele Bachmann was delivered a cease and desist from Tom Petty for her use of “American Girl,” which she proceeded to temporarily ignore. She then went on to play Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” instead, prompting the ’80s rockers to join with Petty against her. This wasn’t a first-time fight for Petty, whose “I Won’t Back Down” was blared by George W. Bush during his 2000 run.
The list goes on: pro politico/amateur bassist Mike Huckabee got himself in some trouble for just performing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” at tour stops, occasionally even with former Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau, eliciting a heartfelt “fuck you” from the band’s ringleader, and staunch Obama supporter, Tom Scholz. Decidedly not progressive Rand Paul ran afoul of Canadian prog rockers Rush when he played their music during his campaign, and just this year raver Republican Marco Rubio bummed out EDM artists Axwell and Ingrosso after playing their “Something New” at his presidential campaign kickoff party.
Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider wouldn’t take it when then-GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan played their hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and who can forget Bob Dole’s parody of Sam & Dave’s “I’m a Soul Man,” the regrettable “I’m a Dole Man?” Even further back, Ronald Reagan ran afoul of Bruce Springsteen, for his brazen use of “Born in the USA” without getting The Boss’s green light.
It’s not just the GOP, either. Barack Obama was asked by Sam Moore of Sam & Dave to stop using the duo’s “Hold On, I’m Coming” in his run, and Cyndi Lauper took issue with the Democrat’s campaign use of her song, “True Colors,” against McCain, even though she was an Obama supporter.
Of course, in these days of extremism and nonpartisanship, even saying you like a band can lead to public shaming: when then-Republican VP hopeful Paul Ryan copped to liking politically charged rock band Rage Against the Machine, the band’s guitarist, and devoted social justice activist, Tom Morello, responded with a scathing op-ed in Rolling Stone, saying:
“I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta ‘rage’ in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s groveling in front of for campaign contributions.”
As we careen into 2016, there’s sure to be plenty more infractions to add. In the meantime, prowl your favorite blogs while rocking out to the playlist of politically purloined tunes below.