Since 1984, when Bruce Springsteen took umbrage to Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born in the U.S.A.,” there’s been a long history of presidential candidates taking a brow-beating from musicians who don’t want their work used as an endorsement. This election season has been full of rockers getting hot under the collar at the thought of their work being co-opted, so here’s a handy guide to the most disgruntled rockers of ’08.
Artist: John Mellencamp
Songs: “Our Country,” “Pink Houses”
Controversy: John McCain used the tunes at rallies to underscore his “Country First” message. Mellencamp — who has been an ardent Democrat for years and supported John Edwards during the Democratic primaries by sanctioning his songs for his rallies — asked that McCain cease and desist.
Result: Several days after the request was made, McCain purged Mellencamp from his playlist.
Song: “More Than a Feeling”
Controversy: During primary season, one time Republican frontrunner Mike Huckabee capped off many of his events with “More Than a Feeling” — sometimes with former Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau in tow. “More Than a Feeling” writer Tom Scholz took exception to this, penning an open letter to Huckabee that explained his use of the song without his consent implied that Scholz supported his candidacy — not true, considering Scholz had already thrown his endorsement to Barack Obama.
Result: Huckabee’s campaign — and therefore his use of the song — ended shortly thereafter when he conceded the Republican nomination to John McCain.
Artist: Van Halen
Song: “Right Now”
Controversy: McCain used one of the dullest tracks from the Van Hagar era during a televised rally, which attracted the ire of the brothers Van Halen, who released a statement saying “Permission was not sought or granted nor would it have been given.” Sammy Hagar, the song’s singer and co-writer, doesn’t necessarily support the McCain campaign but was fine with the song being used.
Result: The song still shows up at McCain rallies; what’s perhaps more important is that this incident actually inspired communication between Eddie Van Halen and Sammy Hagar.
Artist: Foo Fighters
Song: “My Hero”
Controversy: Obama supporter Dave Grohl publicly condemned McCain’s use of the band’s The Colour and the Shape track. “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 saddest thing about this is that ‘My Hero’ was written as a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential,” the band said in a statement.
Result: In a response to what is clearly a recurring problem, a McCain-Palin spokesman said, “The McCain-Palin campaign respects copyright. Accordingly, this campaign has obtained and paid for licenses from performing rights organizations, giving us permission to play millions of different songs, including ‘My Hero.'”
Artist: Jackson Browne
Song: “Running On Empty”
Controversy: The McCain campaign used a portion of “Running On Empty” in an ad mocking Barack Obama’s statements about gas conservation. Browne, a lifelong Democrat, filed a lawsuit against McCain and the Republican Party. Browne’s lawyer said, “The misappropriation of Jackson Browne’s endorsement is entirely reprehensible, and I have no doubt that a jury will agree.”
Result: The lawsuit is still pending, but the McCain camp pulled the ad. In a recent interview, Browne’s lawyer said the response to the suit is due October 23.
Controversy: At the Republican National Convention, Sarah Palin used the Heart track as her theme song (based on the nickname she had in high school). This did not sit well with Nancy Wilson, who sent a cease and desist letter to the Republicans. Wilson said “I feel completely fucked over. Sarah Palin’s views and values in no way represent us as American women.”
Result: The song still shows up at rallies, and the McCain camp says they’ve secured the necessary licenses that allow them to use the song.
Song: “Still The One”
Controversy: McCain’s use of the song following the New Hampshire primary (one he won for the second time) invited the ire of former Orleans member and song co-writer John Hall, who also happens to be a Democratic Congressman from New York.
Result: Hall sent a cease-and-desist letter (just like he did in 2004, when the Bush campaign co-opted the same tune). The McCain campaign had no comment.
Artist: Gretchen Peters
Song: “Independence Day”
Controversy: Peters wrote the 1993 country hit, recorded by Martina McBride and used during Sarah Palin’s introduction at a rally. Peters lashed out at the campaign, saying “The fact that the McCain/Palin campaign is using a song about an abused woman as a rallying cry for their Vice Presidential candidate, a woman who would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, is beyond irony. They are co-opting the song, completely overlooking the context and message, and using it to promote a candidate who would set women’s rights back decades.”
Result: Peters is taking the matter into her own hands: She’s donating all of the election season royalties of the song to Planned Parenthood and is encouraging people to make similar donations under the name “Sarah Palin.”