Music and Politics

by Colin Peters (Journalism), published February 1st 2012

Newt Gingrich – he may be the underdog, but he damn sure isn’t Rocky Balboa. For that reason, Frankie Sullivan, guitarist of Survivor — a band that broke onto the scene and disappeared simultaneously with Rocky III — is suing Newt Gingrich for using their song, “Eye of the Tiger.” He claims there’s no political motive, only an artist’s attempt to protect copyright…or get people interested in a non-Probst related Survivor. Here’s a list of some other noteworthy politicians who found themselves in similar situations.

“America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs a man so many young Americans admire, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.” – President Ronald Reagan (@ 1:04). Springsteen’s case may be the best known instance of musicians and politicians butting heads. While Reagan was campaigning for president, politicians and pundits were citing “Born in the U.S.A.” as an anthemic tribute to the red, white and blue. They saw the album cover, heard a man screaming “U.S.A.” and made some dangerous assumptions. By now, everyone knows (or should know) the song is an account of the Boss’ friends returning from the Vietnam War and being treated poorly.

Michele Bachmann – I understand why she wanted to use Tom Petty’s “American Girl” for her campaign; it makes sense to a degree. Still, don’t we know that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it? George W. Bush tried to use Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” during his 2000 campaign. Petty threatened to sue and Bush dropped the song. Bachmann, I don’t blame you for trying but you could’ve saved yourself some trouble by using a Dixie Chicks song…kidding.

Speaking of President Bush, did you know he tried to rock the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” for his 2004 campaign? You have to give credit to the Foo Fighters on this one, though. Rather than take legal action, they instead decided to dedicate their efforts to the more productive action of campaigning – albeit for Bush’s opponent John Kerry – in order to positively associate themselves with politics rather than engage in a legal battle over their music.

Unfortunately for the Foo Fighters, 2004 wouldn’t be the last time their music was thrown into the political arena. In 2008, “My Hero” was used by John McCain’s campaign. Like “Born in the U.S.A.,” it’s another example of misunderstanding a song’s meaning. McCain may be or consider himself to be a hero – his military service is certainly admirable – but the song is about Grohl’s personal heroes. In a statement published by the band, he wrote: “The saddest thing about this is that My Hero was written as a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential. To have it appropriated without our knowledge and used in a manner that perverts the original sentiment of the lyric just tarnishes the song.”

Honorable Mentions:

Al Gore — He’s a repeat offender. 1992 fundraisers for his vice-presidential run featured Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song. But, besides name/title, what do Al Gore and “You Can Call Me Al” have in common?…besides both maybe wondering why they’re soft in the middle now.

Perhaps the funniest song on this list is Fatboy Slim’s 1999 hit “Praise You.” The song was used in his 2000 presidential run against George W. Bush. Slim’s response was easily the best part of this situation: “Thank God it wasn’t the Republicans.” I can’t write anymore on this because I’m fearful of Gore’s power on the internetz. (See :49)

Last but certainly not least: Mitt Romney. This isn’t a case of politician using an unwilling artist’s tune. This is an unrelated case I had to include because it makes no sense. LMFAO wrote a song inspired by an encounter with the Republican favorite. A band with members named RedFoo and SkyBlu somehow had an encounter with Mitt Romney that inspired a song. You can’t make that shit up. “We Came to Party”

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