Stop Using My Song: 35 Artists Who Fought Politicians Over Their Music

From Springsteen vs. Reagan to Neil Young vs. the Donald

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Bruce Springsteen vs. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan
Photo by SGranitz/WireImage, AFP/Getty Images35/35

Bruce Springsteen vs. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan

When: 1984, 1996, 2000
Song: "Born in the U.S.A."
Controversy: Springsteen's 1984 classic has become an election-season go-to for politicians who don't seem to get the biting critique behind the song's ostensibly jingoistic title and chorus. The misappropriation began right out the gate, just after the single and its album became monster hits. A Reagan advisor asked if they could use the song in the president's reelection campaign, and Springsteen said no. Even so, Reagan referenced the musician in a stump speech: "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. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about." Springsteen began to speak out against Reagan, questioning during a show whether Reagan actually listened to his music, and later telling Rolling Stone, "I think people have a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what's happening, I think, is that that need – which is a good thing – is getting manipulated and exploited." Later, Bob Dole and then Pat Buchanan also used the song in their campaigns, until Springsteen objected.
Result: At least one commentator has argued that being co-opted by Reagan is in large part what politicized Springsteen, making him the outspoken liberal he is today. Whether this is the case or not, Bruce inarguably paved the way for other artists to take a stand by telling politicians to stop using their songs.