Rock the Veto: Musicians on banning politicians from using music

Tom Morello was none too pleased with Paul Ryan's love of Rage Against the Machine.

The past week and a half has seen a number of musicians publicly complaining about their involuntary association with politicians. Responses have been uniformly biting and mostly funny. Last Wednesday, the Silversun Pickups issued a statement to the Romney campaign about the inappropriate use of their song “Panic Switch.”

“We don’t like people going behind our backs, using our music without asking, and we don’t like the Romney campaign,” wrote singer Brian Aubert. “We’re nice, approachable people. We won’t bite. Unless you’re Mitt Romney!”

Last Thursday, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine wrote an open letter via Rolling Stone to Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan, who said Rage was one of his favorite bands.

“Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing,” wrote Morello, “because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.”

And just this Tuesday, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister asked Ryan to stop playing his band’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

“There is almost nothing on which I agree with Paul Ryan,” Snider told a Talking Points Memo reporter,  “except perhaps the use of the P90X.”

We’re not gonna take it

Musicians who deny candidates from using their music is not a new thing.

» In the 1964 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater wanted to use “Hello Dolly” and change the words to “Hello Barry.” Upon learning that the song was being appropriated for rallies, the show’s producer, David Merrick, an outspoken Democrat, reportedly approached the campaign and said they were violating copyright law. Word got out to the campaign of Goldwater’s opponent, Lyndon Johnson, and they tapped Carol Channing, who was playing the lead in “Dolly,” to record “Hello Lyndon.” No one complained.

» In 1984, when Ronald Reagan mentioned Bruce Springsteen in a speech, the musician was very quick to publicly distance himself from the president.  

» In 1988, when George Bush ran for president, he used Bobby McFerrin’s hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and quickly received a cease and desist.

» In 1996, Bob Dole tried to pull a “Hello Dolly” and turn Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” into “Dole Man.” The  publisher of the song threatened to sue.

» Tom Petty sent George W. Bush a cease and desist order for using “I Won’t Back Down” in his campaign in 2000. Petty later performed the song at the house of Al Gore after he gave his concession speech when Bush was determined the winner of the election.

» In 2008, John McCain’s music choices seemed humorously self-aware, employing ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me” and Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty.” But the musicians weren’t exactly in on the joke, and in the only instance of a presidential candidate being sued by a musician, a California District Court ruled in fa-vor of Browne, forcing McCain to pay up. McCain also unsuccessfully tried to use songs by Heart, Foo Fighters, Van Halen and John Mellencamp.

» Republicans aren’t the only ones to get in trouble for their music choices. In 2008, when Barack Obama used Sam and Dave’s soul classic, “Hold On, I’m Coming” at appearances, singer Sam Moore (he who also objected to the use of “Dole Man”) asked Obama to stop. The singer didn’t endorse Obama, but said, “It is thrilling, in my lifetime, to see that our country has matured to the place where it is no longer an impossibility for a man of color to really be considered as a legitimate candidate for the highest office.”

Q&A with King Tuff

King Tuff makes anthemic music, but politicians probably won’t approach somebody with a song called “Alone and Stoned.” We find out what might happen anyway.

Would you ever let a politician use one of your songs?
Of course!
Would you have to support the candidate in order for him or her to use one of your songs?
Nope! “Keep on Movin’” or “Baby Just Break” would be good campaign songs. “Losers Wall” would not be a wise choice.
Regardless of issues, if the candidate offered you money, would you allow song use?
Obviously!
How much would it take?
$69 million.

Would you ever allow your music to be used by a politician?

» Alex Scally of Beach House:
I guess we’d have to wait until we were asked to know. My guess is no. I mean, I would obviously support Obama over Romney, but it’s not like Obama’s not total crap too. The state of politics in Ame- rica is just awful, so I don’t know. Probably not, but maybe.
» Heems of Das Racist: If it was a right-wing candidate, like if it was a Republican, we’d ask for a giant amount of money, probably like $10 million. If it was like a cornball, but slightly less bad candidate like Obama or whoever …. we’d ask for probably $1 million.

For more from Metro music editor Pat Healy follow him on Twitter @metrousmusic.


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