The union of politics and music has a long history. It works on a multiple levels too. Associating a campaign with a popular song is the equivalent of having a good jingle for a product, and it helps to get the crowds going. For example, Jimmie Davis performing his hit, "You Are My Sunshine
," at campaign stops is thought to have been significant in him becoming governor of Louisiana, and President Bill Clinton had memorable moments of playing the saxophone
and is so identified with Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop
" it's almost his personal theme song.
However, there has also been a long history of politicians pissing off musicians by misinterpreting their lyrics, and using music without permission. Such was the case this weekend, when the Dropkick Murphys let it be known they did not appreciate Wisconsin governor Scott Walker using their cover of the Woody Guthrie song, "I’m Shipping Up To Boston," as his entrance music at the Iowa Freedom Summit. The members of the Dropkick Murphys are very pro-union and have been asking Wisconsin Republicans to stop using their music for years. In 2012, Wisconsin State Rep. and Speaker of the State Assembly Jeff Fitzgerald used "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" at the Wisconsin GOP convention while campaigning for a U.S. Senate nomination. The band then posted this message on Facebook:
The stupidity and irony of this is laughable. A Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senate candidate - and crony of anti-Union Governor Scott Walker - using a Dropkick Murphys song as an intro is like a white supremacist coming out to gangsta rap! ... We stand beside our Union and Labor brothers and sisters and their families in Wisconsin and all over the U.S!
So what are some of the more memorable incidents of unhappy intersections of politics and music? Follow beneath the fold for more.
For the most part, most of the examples below involve Republicans using an artist's music without permission, and in some cases being sent cease-and-desist orders or being sued because of it. However, there are a few that involve Democratic candidates as well.
“I have not been asked for permission by Mitt Romney’s campaign for the use of my song,” the Somalian/Canadian rapper said in a statement to MTV News. “If I had been asked, I would certainly not have granted it. I would happily grant the Obama campaign use of my song without prejudice.”
- Newt Gingrich: At campaign rallies, the 2012 Gingrich campaign used the theme for Rocky III, "Eye of the Tiger." However, no one with the campaign secured the rights for the song, and he had been using it in public appearances since 2009. Gingrich was sued by one of the co-writers of the song, Frank M. Sullivan III.
- John McCain: Jackson Browne, the Foo Fighters, and John Mellencamp have at some point or another asked John McCain to stop using their music. Mellencamp objected to McCain playing "Our Country" and "Pink Houses" at campaign stops. Jackson Browne went one step further. Browne sued McCain and the RNC for using "Running On Empty" in campaign commercials that mocked President Obama. Eventually a settlement was agreed to, and Browne received an undisclosed financial settlement and an apology.
What bothers Browne almost as much as McCain's lack of permission, the lawsuit alleges, is that using "Running On Empty" suggests that Browne supports McCain's presidential campaign and the Republican platform. "In light of Jackson Browne's lifelong commitment to Democratic ideals and political candidates, the misappropriation of Jackson Browne's endorsement is entirely reprehensible, and I have no doubt that a jury will agree," Browne's lawyer Lawrence Iser said.
- Ronald Reagan: One of the most infamous instances of both the artist not being on board with a politician using a song—and the campaign not understanding the meaning of the song—was when the Reagan campaign wanted to use Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." in 1984 because of what they saw as its patriotic qualities, totally overlooking the lyrics, which are about the struggles of a Vietnam vet who's lost in society.
- George W. Bush: Both Tom Petty and John Hall of the band Orleans sent cease-and-desist orders to the Bush campaign. Hall, who was elected to Congress as a Democrat representing New York's 19th Congressional District, did not like that "Still the One" was being used to re-elect George W. Bush. And Tom Petty was irritated by "I Won’t Back Down" being purposed for the Republican cause.
- Paul Ryan: Both Twisted Sister and Rage Against the Machine have spoken publicly and distanced themselves from Ryan. Twisted Sister front-man Dee Snyder did not like Ryan using "We're Not Gonna Take It" at campaign rallies. And Rage guitarist Tom Morello wrote an op-ed against Ryan titled "Paul Ryan Is the Embodiment of the Machine Our Music Rages Against."
Paul Ryan's love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. Charles Manson loved the Beatles but didn't understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn't understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine.
Ryan claims that he likes Rage's sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don't care for Paul Ryan's sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage.
- Michelle Bachman: George W. Bush was not the only politician to get on the bad side of Tom Petty. Bachman used "American Girl" during her presidential campaign. Once Petty found out about it, the lawyers started making phone calls. But Petty did allow Hillary Clinton to use the song during her 2008 presidential campaign. Bachman also received a cease-and-desist from Katrina & The Waves, and their former lead singer Katrina Leskanich, for using "Walking On Sunshine."
As the singer of 'Walking on Sunshine' I don't endorse its use by Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign. I've performed ‘Walking on Sunshine’ for so many years in so many different countries that it’s become the one constant in my life and the one thing I can count on to bring happiness to myself and others. The song is used in commercials and movies as a vehicle for a feel good moment or empowerment but if I disagree with the policies, opinions or platforms for its use, I've no choice but to try and defend the song and prevent its misuse. Music can be both powerful and moving and sometimes even a little dangerous.
- Charlie Crist: The Talking Heads song, "Road to Nowhere," was used by Crist's Senate campaign in attack ads against Republican Marco Rubio in 2010. David Byrne filed a $1 million lawsuit, and as part of a settlement Crist had to publicly apologize for using the song.
- Sarah Palin: Ann and Nancy Wilson of the band Heart strongly protested Palin's use of "Barracuda" in 2008 at the Republican National Convention. There have been some interesting interpretations as to what the song means, including the idea that it's about oral sex (e.g., "You’d have me down down down down on my knees. Now wouldn’t you, barracuda? ") However, the song is actually a response to the scumbags at Heart's record label of the time, who ran ads claiming the Wilson sisters were involved in an incestuous relationship as a way of promoting the band.
Sarah Palin's views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women. We ask that our song 'Barracuda' no longer be used to promote her image ... The song 'Barracuda' was written in the late '70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. (The 'barracuda' represented the business.) While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there's irony in Republican strategists' choice to make use of it there.
- Barack Obama: Both Cyndi Lauper and Sam Moore of Sam & Dave asked Democrats and the Obama campaign to stop using their songs. However, unlike most of the examples above, neither objected to their use on philosophical grounds. In the 2012 campaign, Lauper's "True Colors" was used in commercials to go after Mitt Romney. Lauper, who supported Obama, was upset she was not asked for approval and stated, "Mr. Romney can discredit himself without the use of my work." During the 2008 campaign, Sam & Dave's "Hold On! I’m Coming" was used at Obama rallies. But Moore had not been consulted about its use.
From Stephen Davis at Slate:
Moore’s gracious letter wished Obama well with his campaign for the Democratic nomination, adding:
Having been hit with rocks and water hoses in the streets, in the day with Dr. King as part of his artist appearance and fundraising team, it is thrilling, in my lifetime, to see that our country has matured to the place where it is no longer an impossibility for a man of color to really be considered as a legitimate candidate for the highest office in our land.
But please, Moore continued, stop using my song. "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."
Obama's team agreed to stop using the song.