Tom Petty to Bachmann: ‘back down,’ plus more music vs. politician fights

06.28.11 6 years ago

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Tom Petty has penned some pretty iconic songs in the past, but the liberal-leaning artist isn’t always keen on letting politicians use his tracks on the campaign trail. In the latest example of artists dissenting to politicians’ use of their songs for polling gain, the rocker has told Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann to quit using his song “American Girl” at rallies.

Bachmann reportedly played the track during her stops in Iowa this week. There is no word yet if Petty has served a cease-and-desist letter to prevent its further use.

Petty had a similar problem with former president George W. Bush’s use of “Won’t Back Down” during his campaign in 2000, and a letter was served then. However, the same song was approved for use from  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Democratic presidential run in 2008. Virginia’s Jim Webb and New Jersey’s Robert Menendez used the track in their Senate races and Eliot Spitzer had it during his gubernatorial run.

A cease-and-desist letter sometimes stops a song’s use dead in its tracks; sometimes there is a disconnect between an artist’s personal endorsement and copyright holders’ and performance rights groups’ allowance for a song’s usage. Sometimes politicians continue to use songs without securing license for a song use and risk going to court later. Some have even rewritten tunes under the auspices of “parody,” a legal use of a melody. And some candidates an continue

Below is a short history of other somewhat recent stand-offs between politician and musicians. In many cases, the fight is against Republican or right wing-leaning candidates. Can you think of some more?


  • Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U.S.A.” vs. Ronald Reagan

This infamous working man’s anthem was famously co-opted by Reagan’s presidential campaign — as was Springsteen’s name. Reagan claimed that the New Jersey songwriter backed his run in 1984. Springsteen’s camp soon distanced themselves from the claim — and actually gave the thumbs up to Reagan’s rival.

  • Jackson Browne, “Running on Empty”
    Van Halen, “Right Now”
    Heart, “Barracuda
    Foo Fighters, “My Hero”
    ABBA, “Take a Chance”
    John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses” and “Our Country”
    Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”
    Bon Jovi, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
    John McCain and Sarah Palin

In this age of intellectual property and large-scale copyright holdings, the McCain/Palin ticket upset a good many artist for their songs’ usage during the 2008 presidential bid. Nancy Wilson made a very public outcry against Sarah “Barracuda” Palin’s co-opt of the Heart track during the National Convention, for instance, but many tracks continued to be spun against the artists’ wishes. A blanket license had been acquired for large-scale evens like the Convention through BMI and ASCAP. There was a legal right in these cases for song use, but it certainly resulted in bad PR for McCain and his running mate.

But not all was lost: Browne actually got a settlement out of a lawsuit.

  • Don Henley/Eagles, “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” and “The Boys of Summer” vs. Chuck DeVore

This Republican Senate candidate borrowed these tunes in 2009 for some remakes that took aim at Democratic foe: “All She Wants to Do Is Tax” took aim at Senator Barbara Boxer and “Hope of November” at President Obama. Henley gave DeVore a lawsuit over the latter’s claim that the songs were adapted for the sake of parody. A judge ruled last year that those songs — posted to YouTube — were no parodies and were unlawfully remade without license or permission from the publishers and artist. This didn’t go to trial, but DeVore’s claims were rejected in pre-trial.

  • David Byrne/Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere” vs. Charlie Crist

Resulted in a lawsuit. Crist lost. Now, that was embarrassing.

  • Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t Stop” vs. Bill Clinton

Initially, Christine McVie dissented to Clinton “thinkin’ about tomorrow” to the tune of this classic. But then the campaign acquired license AND the band’s support: Fleetwood Mac went on to play the tune during his inauguration. A happy ending for both.

  • Whitesnake, “Here I Go Again” vs. Mitt Romney

In frontman David Coverdale’s words, on the Republican prez candidate earlier this year: “Under no circumstances did I, or anyone else in my organisation approve the use of my song, ‘Here I Go Again’  for Mr Romney’s political campaign. Now if President Obama wants it … it’s his!” The song has been out of rotation lately.

  • Tom Scholz/Boston, “More Than a Feeling” vs. Mike Huckabee

This 2008 prez candidate even played bass live to the tune and had help at times from former Boston member Barry Goudreau at rallies. However, Tom Scholz who was still in the band, had these words, in a public statement: “Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for… Although I”m impressed you learned my bass guitar part on More Than a Feeling, I am an Obama supporter.”

That fight went beyond the political face-off. Goudreau had filed a lawsuit against Scholz after the former left the band in 1980, claiming the latter had damaged his solo career. They settled, outside of the Huckabee scuffle.

  • Sam Moore/Sam & Dave, “Hold On, I’m Comin'” vs. Barack Obama

Soul man Sam Moore said “Hold On” to President Obama’s use of this track during 2008. He sent a C&D, and the campaign stopped. Moore stopped by to help out at Obama’s inaugural ball in 2009, however — alongside Sting and Elvis Costello. The hatchet seemed to be buried in time for the festivities.

  • Honorable Mentions:

Steve Miller Band, “Take the Money and Run” vs. Marco Rubio

Rush, “Spirit of Radio” vs. Rand Paul

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