When Politicians Steal Music

Updated: Feb 28, 2016 05:44
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Kentucky Clerk and homophobe, Kim Davis made an unlikely enemy this week: the 80s glam band Survivor. She and Mike Huckabee played ‘Eye of the Tiger’ as she stepped to the podium to address her (sigh) supporters outside the Carter County Detention Center. Now there’s talk of legal action from the band. NBC is reporting that Survivor has filed a $1.2 million suit for Davis and Huckabee’s illegal use of the song (note: I couldn’t find this figure anywhere else.)

This isn’t the first time a politician has used a song out of context and without permission. It isn’t even the first time for this song. In 2012 Newt Ginrich defended his right to use ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in court and eventually settled with the band. Here are a few other cringe-worthy and legally dubious uses of rock and roll on the campaign trail.


‘Born in the USA’


Image: Rolling Stone


‘Born in the U.S.A’ tells the story of a Vietnam vet struggling to find blue collar work, haunted by the war. One critic wrote: ‘Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is an indictment of the government, the military-industrial complex, and the way we treat soldiers. Not exactly an election night anthem.’

The Great Communicator lost something in translation. His re-election campaign asked Springsteen for permission to use the song. They thought they might even get Springsteen’s endorsement. The Boss said no. Reagan’s challenger, Walter Mondale quipped ‘Bruce Springsteen may have been born to run but he wasn’t born yesterday.’


‘I’m Shipping up to Boston’


Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker could be a character in an Irish rebel ballad–playing the part of the miserly English landlord of course–like Trevelian in ‘the Fields of Athenry’ or Captain Ferrel in ‘Whiskey in the Jar.

When walker used ‘I’m shipping up to Boston’ at a GOP convention, Boston’s working class heroes called him out. They tweeted:

’@ScottWalker @GovWalker please stop using our music in any way. . . we literally hate you !!! Love, Dropkick Murphys.’

Their 2011 song ‘Take’em Down’ was written in solidarity with Wisconsin’s unions in their fight against Walker’s anti-union bill.


‘Don’t Worry be Happy’


Bush tried repeatedly to get permission to use this late 80s classic but the singer wouldn’t budge. George the First settled for a tune that had been decontextualized by so many before him, Woodie Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land.’


‘Hold on, I’m coming’


Image: Variety

This isn’t just a Republican thing. Not to be out-cringed, Obama supporters changed the words of this R&B classic to ‘hold on, Obama’s coming.’ Sam Moore asked the then candidate to cut it out. Moore said, “I have not agreed to endorse you for the highest office in our land. . . . My vote is a very private matter between myself and the ballot box.” Fair enough.



Image: playbuzz

The Arizona senator needed all the help he could get seeming relevant to the youth on his unsuccessful bids for president. He once compared himself to ‘Luke Skywalker, trapped inside the Death Star.’ I think he should have leveraged his experience as a Navy pilot with the hipster trend of watching Top Gun ironically, maybe appeared at a few screenings…

What he did was use a bunch of songs that were cool years before today’s young voters were born. His campaign used, and was asked to stop using, music by  Jackson Browne, Van Halen, Orleans, John Mellencamp, and the Foo Fighters.

His strangest choice was ABBA. McCain Claims ‘Dancing Queen’ is his favorite song. He used the desperate sounding ‘Take a Chance on Me’ in his 2008 campaign. According to the senator, the Swedish pop group ‘went berserk.’


‘American Girl’


Image: Rolling Stone

Tom Petty had already been through this with George ‘Dubya,’ who respected his request to stop playing ‘Won’t Back Down.’ He ‘backed down,’ as Rolling Stone Pointed out. Never one to let laws that weren’t chiseled on stone tablets get in her way, Bachman continued playing the song at her rallies after Tom Petty’s formal cease and desist letter.


This trend is not limited to serious candidates. Trump has already had issues with Neil Young and R.E.M, who called his campaign ‘a moronic charade.’ In appearance on CBS This Morning, Ted Cruz made the bizarre claim he stopped listening to rock music after 9/11.

Sources: the Daily Beast, NBC, Rolling Stone 

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