Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Brief History: Music in Political Campaigns

For almost 200 years, politicians have been using recognized songs as campaign "hooks." Andrew Jackson used "The Hunters of Kentucky" for his presidential campaigns in 1824 and 1828. As far as we know, Jackson started a trend that continues to this day.

The problem occurs when politicians decide to use songs without gaining permission from the artists first.

Such a situation has only recently come to light with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who has been using "Eye of the Tiger" as his campaign entrance song since 2009 without permission from Survivor. Gingrich is being sued for "damages" and Rude Music Inc. is requesting that he be banned from using the song [Source].

But Gingrich is certainly not the first politician to get in trouble for using a song they were not authorized to use:
  • Bruce Springsteen was displeased when Ronald Regan tried to use "Born in the U.S.A." in 1984.
  • Sam Moore re-recorded "Soul Man" for Bob Dole's campaign, changing the lyrics to "Dole Man." The problem was, Moore was not the copyright holder for the song, and the actual copyright holders at Rondor Music threatened to sue if Dole continued to use even the "parodied" version of the song. Issac Hayes, the real writer of "Soul Man" told The New York Daily News: "As a U.S. Senator, he ought to know that you can’t do that." Dole discontinued use of the song [Source].
  • Michele Bachmann and George W. Bush each received cease and desist letters from Tom Petty for use of "American Girl" (Bachmann) and "I Won't Back Down" (Bush). 
  • Bachmann was also asked to stop using "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves.
  • Former Florida governor Charlie Crist was sued by David Byrne (Talking Heads) for using "Road to Nowhere" (which, really, is that something you want associated with your political trail? Isn't that what got Sarah Palin in trouble back in '08?).
  • Speaking of which, Heart were very annoyed when Sarah Palin used "Barracuda" without permission. The Wilson sisters said: "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" [Source].
  • John McCain managed to stir up several well-known musicians. Jackson Browne sued him for his use of "Running on Empty" and John Mellencamp issued a cease and desist letter for McCain's use of "Pink Houses" and "Our Country" during the presidential run. McCain stopped using all three songs and issued an apology to Browne for using "Running on Empty" in an attack ad directed at Barack Obama. Bon Jovi ("Who Says You Can't Go Home") and The Foo Fighters ("My Hero") also both requested that McCain stop using their songs in the 2008 presidential campaign.
  • "Pink Houses" was also questioned for its use in a NOM (National Organization of Marriage) event. Mellencamp sent a letter to NOM, telling them his views were at odds with theirs and requesting that they "find music from a source more in harmony with your views than Mr. Mellencamp in the future."
  • Mike Huckabee was asked by Tom Scholz of Boston to stop using "More Than a Feeling." 
  • Barack Obama got into trouble for using "Hold On, I'm Comin'" by Sam and Dave at his rallies.
The funny part to me is that most of these politicians then support things like SOPA when they come up in legislation, yet they break similar rules with complete disregard.

Musicians are not always at odds with politicians though. When candidates request permission or at least have similar political ideology, things tend to go more smoothly:
  • "Pink Houses" was used in for the presidential campaigns of John Edwards in 2004 and 2008 and Mellencamp played "Pink Houses" at Obama's inaugural celebration in 2009.
  • Hilary Clinton did receive permission to use Tom Petty's "American Girl."
  • Eddie Rabbit authorized use of "American Boy" for Bob Dole's campaign.
  • Bill Clinton's official campaign song in 1992 was Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop."
  • "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive was the theme song for Al Gore's 2000 campaign as well as being the theme song for the Democratic party in 2006.
  • "Beautiful Day" by U2 was also used by the Democratic party in 2006 and by John Kerry in 2004.
  • and other various artists composed "Yes We Can" around one of Barack Obama's speeches.
Now, whether the songs used for political campaigns are lyrically suited is another matter entirely (and one I'm sure I will cover).

Bottom line? Just like any other arena in life, it's best to get permission before using an artist's song. Because it's far more embarrassing and expensive to have to clean up later.

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