A History of Musicians Issuing Cease and Desists to (Mostly) GOP Politicians

by Abby Schreiber
(Photo of Donald Trump by Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com; Photo of Neil Young by Aleks Kocev/BFAnyc.com)

In light of Neil Young basically telling Donald Trump to fuck off after the billionaire played "Rockin' in the Free World" during his announcement that he was running for president yesterday, we're revisiting our story from the 2012 cycle that looked at the long, long history of musicians issuing cease-and-desist letters to (mostly) GOP candidates.




Barry Goldwater v. Broadway Producer David Merrick
When? 1964 presidential campaign
What song?
"Hello Dolly"
What happened?
Merrick threatened to sue Goldwater for his use of "Hello Dolly" (changing the lyric to "Hello Barry") during the 1964 presidential campaign. Incidentally, however, Merrick permitted Lyndon Johnson to use the tune and change the lyric to "Hello Lyndon."




Ronald Reagan v. Bruce Springsteen
When? 1984 presidential campaign
What song?
"Born In the U.S.A."
What happened?
Bruce Springsteen sent a cease and desist to Ronald Reagan for trying to use "Born in the U.S.A." during his 1984 presidential campaign against Walter Mondale.



George H.W. Bush v. Bobby McFerrin, 1988 Presidential Campaign
When? 1988 presidential campaign
What song?
"Don't Worry, Be Happy"
What happened?
Bobby McFerrin asked Bush Sr. to cease and desist from using his song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in his presidential race against Michael Dukakis.



Bob Dole v. Rondor Music International/Sam and Dave
When? 1996 presidential campaign
What song?
"Soul Man"
What happened?
During his race against Bill Clinton, Bob Dole tried to change the words to Sam and Dave's "Soul Man," written by the legendary Isaac Hayes, to instead say "Dole Man," leading Rondor International Music, who had rights to the song, to threaten a lawsuit.



George W. Bush v. Tom Petty
When? 2000 presidential campaign
What song?
"I Won't Back Down"
What happened?
Tom Petty sent Bush a cease and desist letter during the 2000 campaign against Al Gore.



George W. Bush
v. Sting
When? 2000 presidential campaign
What song?
"Brand New Day"
What happened?
Sting asked Bush and his team to stop using "Brand New Day" in their campaign rallies but apparently permitted Gore to use the song in his campaign, even though he initially said he didn't wish his music to be associated with either party (but, hey, looks like Sting is friends with Al).



George W. Bush v. John Mellencamp
When? 2000 presidential campaign
What song?
"R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A."
What happened?
Mellencamp asked Bush to stop using "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." during his 2000 campaign.



George W. Bush
v. John Hall of Orleans
When? 2004 re-election campaign
What song?
"Still the One"
What happened?
Kerry supporter John Hall objected to Bush using "Still the One" during the 2004 re-election campaign.  Interestingly enough, Hall went on to run for Congress and was elected as a Democrat in 2006. Later in 2008, McCain repeated Bush's mistake and tried to play "Still the One" during his own campaign. You can guess where that went.




Mike Huckabee
v. Boston
When? 2008 GOP presidential primary campaign
What song?
"More Than a Feeling"
What happened? Boston's Tom Scholz, who wrote the song, sent a letter to Huckabee asking him to stop playing it at campaign rallies.




McCain v. ABBA
When? 2008 presidential primary campaign
What song?
"Take a Chance on Me"
What happened?
McCain, a noted ABBA fan, played the Swedish group's hit on heavy rotation but finally dropped it due to the cost of using it and a cease and desist letter from the band.



McCain
v. Jackson Browne
When? 2008 presidential campaign
What song? "Running On Empty"
What happened?
As noted earlier, Jackson Browne actually sued McCain for using "Running On Empty" in a campaign commercial and a judge ruled in Browne's favor.  The terms of the financial settlement were not disclosed.




McCain
v. John Mellencamp
When? 2008 presidential primary campaign
What song? "Our Country" and "Pink Houses"
What happened?
During the 2008 primaries, John Edwards supporter John Mellencamp had to ask McCain to stop playing patriotic rock favorites "Our Country" and "Pink Houses" at his rallies.  For his part, Edwards apparently had been allowed to play those same songs at his campaign stops.



McCain v. Foo Fighters
When? 2008 presidential campaign
What song? "My Hero"
What happened?
When McCain started using "My Hero" on the campaign trail, the Foo Fighters released an official statement denouncing the association between their song and his candidacy.



McCain v. Van Halen
When? 2008 presidential campaign
What song? "Right Now"
What happened?
When McCain used the Van Halen song to close his big rally announcing Sarah Palin as his running mate, the rockers took offense and immediately issued an angry statement disassociating the band's music with the campaign.



Sarah Palin
v. Heart
When? 2008 presidential campaign
What song?
"Barracuda"
What happened?
After Sarah "Barracuda" Palin played "Barracuda" on the 2008 campaign trail, the Wilson sisters emailed a statement telling her to stop immediately.  After Palin didn't listen, they rightfully fired back with another angry statement saying, "Sarah Palin's views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women."


Barack Obama v. Sam Moore

When? 2008 presidential campaign
What song?
"Hold On, I'm Coming"
What happened?
In the only instance we could find in which a musician
sent a cease and desist letter to a Democratic candidate, Sam Moore (from Sam & Dave) asked Obama to stop playing "Hold On, I'm Coming'" despite the fact that on a personal level, he thought it was "thrilling" that a black man was running for president.




Rand Paul v. Rush

When? 2010 senate campaign
What song?
"The Spirit of the Radio" and "Tom Sawyer"
What happened?
Though claiming it was a "copyright issue," the Canadian rockers nevertheless sent a cease and desist letter to Paul when he started playing the song at his senate campaign stops.


Charlie Crist  v. David Byrne
When? 2010 senate campaign
What song?
"Road to Nowhere"
What happened?
The former Governor of Florida used the Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere" in a campaign ad, prompting Byrne to sue him over unauthorized usage. Byrne won and Crist eventually -- and sort of bizarrely -- had to make a public apology on YouTube as part of the agreement. (You can watch the apology video HERE.)


Michele Bachmann v. Tom Petty
When? 2011 GOP presidential primary campaign
What song?
"American Girl"
What happened?
Though Hillary Clinton notably used "American Girl" during her 2008 presidential run, when it was Bachmann's turn, Tom Petty took offense and protested her using it.


Michele Bachmann v. Katrina and the Waves
When? 2011 GOP presidential primary campaign
What song? "Walking on Sunshine"
What happened?
Shortly after Bachmann started playing the song, the band issued a statement objecting to its use and saying that they had "instructed their lawyers accordingly."


Newt Gingrich v. Frankie Sullivan
When? 2012 GOP presidential primary campaign
What song?
"Eye of the Tiger"
What happened?
Earlier this year, Survivor band member and "Eye of the Tiger" co-writer Frankie Sullivan sued Gingrich over his use of the song during his campaign, adding that Gingrich had been using the track at political events as early as 2009.


Newt Gingrich v. The Heavy
When? 2012 GOP presidential primary campaign
What song?
"How You Like Me Now?"
What happened?
After using the song on the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich was ordered to cease and desist by the British band who posted the following message on their Facebook account: "If you heard "How You Like Me Now?" being used by Republican, Newt Gingrich, in his campaign, we'd like you to know it had fuck all to do with us and we are trying to stop it being used. TWATS."


Mitt Romney v. K'Naan
When? 2012 GOP primary campaign
What song?
"Wavin' Flag"
What happened?
Though he said he'd "happily grant President Obama's campaign the use of" "Wavin' Flag," the singer was unhappy when Romney started using it instead and threatened legal action.


Mitt Romney v. Al Green
When? 2012 presidential campaign
What song? "Let's Stay Together"
What happened?
When the Romney campaign put out an ad poking fun of Obama singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," representatives from BMG pulled the video from YouTube, citing a copyright claim.


Mitt Romney v. Silversun Pickups
When? 2012 presidential campaign
What song? "Panic Switch"
What happened?
Finally, in the most recent example -- and one of the only occasions in which a candidate attempts to use an "indie song" -- Silversun Pickups issued a cease and desist after Romney starting playing "Panic Switch" at his campaign events. We're going to guess that some twentysomething campaign intern, maybe the same one who helped Urban Outfitters dream up these funky-fresh '2 Legit 2 Mitt' shirts, suggested this. (Or is Mitt a secret hipster who is wearing those mom jeans ironically?)



Dee Snider v. Paul Ryan
When? 2012 presidential campaign
What song? "We're Not Gonna Take It"
What happened? After Ryan started opening his campaign stops with the classic glam metal party song, the Twisted Sister frontman quickly responded with the following barb, "I emphatically denounce Paul Ryan's use of my song 'We're Not Gonna Take It' as recorded by my band Twisted Sister.  There is almost nothing on which I agree with Paul Ryan, except perhaps the use of the P90X."  Zing!



DNC v. Cyndi Lauper
When? 2012 presidential campaign
What song? "True Colors"
What happened? The DNC used Lauper's song in a Romney attack ad. Cyndi was not a fan.

Honorable Mention:



Scott Walker v. Dropkick Murphys
When? 2015 (Though this was not during a political race)
What song? "I'm Shipping Up to Boston"
What happened? Walker played the song before he gave a speech in Iowa, prompting the Boys from Beantown to deliver one of the most withering tweets ever. It read: "@ScottWalker @GovWalker please stop using our music in any way... we literally hate you!!! Love, Dropkick Murphys."


Sources:
Daily Kos
The Toronto Star

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