Stop The Music! Artists Demand GOPers Quit Playing Their Hits

(Clockwise from top left) Former President Ronald Reagan, Bruce Springsteen, Rep. John Hall (D-NY), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
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If stereotypes held true, you would think that the Republicans would be the ones telling folks to turn that blasted music down. But this year — and indeed in many past election cycles — it’s the GOP that has been attracting cease-and-desist letters for pilfering music against the artists’ wishes. So let’s take a look at some of the more notable GOP music fails from this cycle, and cycles past.

Senate candidate Chuck DeVore (R-CA) got burned for using for using altered-lyric version of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” and “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” for his campaign’s Web ads. David Byrne is suing Gov. Charlie Crist (I-FL) for using “Road To Nowhere” in a Web ad during his previous Republican Senate primary fight, and of course, as we reported yesterday, Rush cut to the chase and told Senate nominee Rand Paul (R-KY) to stop playing “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of Radio.”

The Orleans song “Still The One” has a special place in politics as it has been used not once without the band’s permission, but twice — and the first instance contributed to its author’s entrance into national politics. In 2004, the Bush campaign used the song at a rally. As the song’s main author, John Hall, told MSNBC in 2008: “George Bush was busy campaigning on an ‘ownership society,’ yet never asked me, the band, or the publishers for permission.” Hall and other stakeholders in the song quickly sent a cease-and-desist letter, and the Bush campaign dropped the song.

In 2006, Hall went on to be elected to Congress as a Democrat, defeating an incumbent Republican — an event that was spurred in part by his experience from 2004. “It was one of the things that got him even madder,” Hall press secretary Tom Staudter told TPMDC. And then in 2008, the Republicans used the song yet again, this time the ill-fated John McCain campaign. “This is yet another example of John McCain not learning anything from George Bush’s mistakes,” Hall told MSNBC, also adding: “The only one John McCain is Still the One for is George Bush.”

But that was only the tip of the iceberg for the McCain campaign — which was practically a walking Limewire setup. Jackson Browne also sued it for using his song “Running On Empty” in an ad, for which the two sides later reached an out-of-court settlement. Van Halen objected to McCain’s use of their song “Right Now” at a rally. The Wilson sisters from Heart strenuously objected to his campaign’s use of “Barracuda” to promote Sarah Palin. And finally, the McCain campaign used “Pink Houses” and “Our Country” by John Mellencamp, who sent a letter demanding that they stop.

Mellencamp had already been ripped off by the Bush campaign back in 2000, when they used “R.O.C.K. In The USA.” He asked them to stop — but that wasn’t the end of it. “They said OK, and then used it anyway,” Mellencamp told the Indianapolis Star, pointing out that the Bush campaign only stopped after the national media made fun of them for it. “I think they kind of said, ‘Oh, this isn’t playing the way we thought it would.’ So I think they quit using it — I think.” (The Indianapolis Star, September 3, 2000, via Nexis.)

The Bush campaign also used the Tom Petty song “I Won’t Back Down,” and the Sting tune “Brand New Day” — and was told in each case to stop. Randall Wixen, the publisher of “I Won’t Back Down,” told the Bush camp to stop after being asked to do so by Petty’s management, saying that the use of the song “creates, either intentionally or unintentionally, the impression that … [the Bush] campaign have been endorsed by Tom Petty, which is not true.”

Four years earlier, the Bob Dole campaign was threatened with a lawsuit for its rewrite of the 1960s soul classic, “Soul Man,” turning it into “Dole Man,” much to the chagrin of the song’s publishers at Rondor Music International. The campaign agreed to stop using the jingle, as the Chicago Tribune reported in September 1996: “Rondor announced on Tuesday that it had warned the Dole/Kemp campaign it could be held liable for damages of $100,000 for each unauthorized use of the song, plus legal costs, if a satisfactory settlement was not reached.”

Perhaps the most famous music fail was President Ronald Reagan’s invocation during his 1984 re-election campaign of Bruce Springsteen — Reagan did not actually play Springsteen’s music, but tied his brand to the Boss’s in a speech. “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts,” Reagan said. “It rests in the message of hope in songs of a man so many young American’s admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”

Springsteen fired back by declaring at a concert that he doubted Reagan ever listened to the “Nebraska” album. Then the Democrats tried to claim Springsteen’s support, only to have the Boss make it clear he was not endorsing anybody. (He later hit the campaign trail for John Kerry in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2008.)

Another music fail by the Reagan campaign involved their unsuccessful attempt to play John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” with its seemingly patriotic refrain, “ain’t that America” — and which is actually a cry of protest against a world of haves and have-nots. The Reagan campaign never ended up playing it, though — unlike the Bush and McCain campaigns, they dutifully sought Mellencamp’s permission, which the left-wing rocker refused. Mellencamp commented on the event in 1986, telling Newsweek: “Ronald Reagan appeals to people’s emotions, and not to logic. That’s what a guy in a rock-and-roll band does. Besides, if a dumb kid from Indiana can come from nowhere and have a hit record, it can happen to anybody. Isn’t that what America is all about? That’s what Reagan wants to represent. But that’s not logical. That’s not real.”

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