12 Times Musicians Told Republicans To Stop Using Their Hits
Queer REM frontman Michael Stipe hates Twitter, but not nearly as much as he hates Donald Trump. The Republican presidential candidate recently appeared with Senator Ted Cruz at a Stop The Iran Deal rally in Washington, alongside terrifyingly well-known conservative personalities including Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the old man from Duck Dynasty. Trump decided to walk on stage to the strains of REM’s 1987 tine “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” and boy did Michael Stipe not like that one bit at all, unleashing an angry string of words via the Twitter profile of bandmate Mike Mills.
“Go fuck yourselves, the lot of you–you sad, attention grabbing, power-hungry little men. Do not use our music or my voice for your 1)
— Mike Mills (@m_millsey) September 9, 2015
This happened hot on the heels of the band Survivor flipping out when their song “Eye of the Tiger” was used in a rally for Kim Davis, the Kentucky woman who rakes in $80,000 a year despite a total inability to do what she’s told.
Political rallies put musicians in tricky places. On the one hand, blanket licenses from publishing companies like ASCAP allow organizers to play basically whatever they like. On the other hand, hearing someone’s song at a political rally pretty much guarantees that half the people there will assume the song’s being played with the express consent of the performer. It’s been happening for decades.
Here are twelve earlier examples of musicians putting their foot down against politicians using their songs during election campaigns.
Bruce Springsteen, “Born In The USA”
Springsteen’s story of a working-class anti-hero is a man who really wishes he’d never been born in the USA. He comes home from serving in Vietnam, can’t get a job at the local refinery, and ends up doing ten years of hard time for unspecified crimes. Reagan’s people probably only listened to the chorus, and realized they had a hit on their hands when they started playing it at campaign rallies. Springsteen was not amused, and has continued to not be amused whenever Republican candidates try to use the song.
Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
When Reagan’s VP, the elder George Bush, ran for his boss’s old seat in the Oval Office, he started using Bobby McFerrin’s inescapably perky a capella hit. A #1 single that first appeared on the soundtrack to Tom Cruise comedy Cocktail, the song’s optimism didn’t get Bush very far. McFerrin got so mad that he stopped performing the song altogether for a while, and the campaign agreed to stop playing the song.
Boston, “More Than A Feeling”
2008 was a big year for candidates using songs against the wishes of the original performers. Take ultra-conservative Mike Huckabee, who vaguely tried to give himself a hip young rock and roll image by learning how to play the bass part of Boston’s hit single from 1976. They were not impressed.
Martina McBride, “Independence Day”
The John McCain/Sarah Palin team started using Martina McBride’s 1994 country hit for their 2008 campaign, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it’s a song about domestic abuse. Songwriter Gretchen Peters didn’t actually ask them to stop, instead donating all of her royalties that season to Planned Parenthood.
John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses”
John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” better known as the “ain’t that America” song, seems a little downbeat for a political rally, but then again people know the words and it has the word America in the chorus so why not. Unfortunately for McCain, Mellencamp’s a diehard liberal who’s considered running for office himself, and he requested the campaign stop using the song immediately.
ABBA, “Take A Chance On Me”
John McCain just couldn’t get it right! The members of Swedish quartet ABBA, two divorced couples who haven’t agreed on anything since about 1981, were very unhappy when McCain chose their unusually cheery song to win over undecided voters.
Rush, “Tom Sawyer”
Canadian prog rock isn’t exactly what you’d expect a Kentucky Senate candidate to use for mood music, but Rand Paul’s nothing if not kooky. Last time Paul ran for Senate he tried out their song “Tom Sawyer.” Unfortunately, his favorite band wasn’t interested, telling him that they’d rather not get into American politics, and also that they’d prefer not to have their copyright violated. He chose not to listen.
Tom Petty, “American Girl”
Like “Born In The USA,” “American Girl” isn’t a very patriotic song. It has a catchy guitar line, but the subject matter — a confused young woman jumping to her death — seems a little grim. Tom Petty took offense to Michelle Bachmann playing the song in 2011, but she ignored his cease and desist letter anyway. Luckily no one died.
Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together”
Obama enthusiast Al Green was not happy that Mitt Romney’s campaign started using his hit “Let’s Stay Together” in a 2012 attack ad that appeared on Youtube. Unfortunately, a copyright infringement claim by Green’s record company was denied, with Youtube pulling the ad but later agreeing that the commercial constituted fair use.
Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s all but forgotten 2012 sidekick, used Twisted Sister’s catchy “We’re Not Gonna Take It” at various stops along the campaign trail. Twister Sister frontman Dee Snider publicly denounced its use, and Ryan’s campaign quickly stopped using the song.
Dropkick Murphys, “I’m Shipping Off To Boston”
Boston’s worker-friendly band were definitely not pleased when union-busting Wisconsin governor Scott Walker used one of their socialist, Woody Guthrie-penned songs early this year at an Iowa campaign rally.
Neil Young, “Rockin’ In The Free World”
Michael Stipe isn’t the only musician mad at Donald Trump. Neil Young, leftist and Canadian, was none too pleased when The Apprentice host began using his bitter “Rockin’ In The Free World” back in June.