We’ve all seen political candidates come out to address a crowd with a popular song blaring in the background, but have you ever stopped to think about whether the candidate has the permission of the artist who sang the song, or the publisher who owns the rights to the song? I never have, and apparently neither have many candidates.
Last week Donald Trump pissed off Queen, who have requested he not use their music at his campaign events many times, when he took the stage at the Republican National Convention to their hit song, “We Are the Champions.” Queen guitarist, Brian May, took to Twitter and made it clear that he, and the rest of the surviving members of Queen, do not approve:
Apparently believing that all mentions on Twitter are good mentions, the Trump campaign then used the Beatles classic, “Here comes the Sun” as Ivanka Trump took the stage on Thursday night. While she was the sole ray of sunshine in an otherwise nasty festival of name calling and mudslinging, the campaign again failed to get the proper permissions and the Estate of George Harrison, the song’s writer, was not amused, stating that it was unauthorized, offensive and against their wishes.
The issue isn’t new and one of the song use conflicts goes back to the 1980’s, when Ronald Regan was one of the first to use Bruce Springsteen’s massive hit, “Born in the USA.”
There is a great article, written in November of 2012, by Eddie Deezen for Neatorama.com, in which he describes how many Americans from every walk of life have so badly misunderstood the true meaning of the words of Springsteen’s song, and have turned it into the “ultimate All-American song,” when, in fact, it is an angry song about how horribly the Vietnam Veterans were treated upon their return home from war.
Over the years artists have taken offense to having their songs affiliated with campaigns and candidates haven’t always chosen songs wisely when trying to communicate their messages:
- 1984 – Ronald Regan (Republican): “Born in the USA” Bruce Springsteen says that his song is, “far from a Rah, Rah America song…that the song has a much darker side” he asked for the Regan campaign to stop using it and they did.
- 1996 – Bob Dole (Republican): He got shot down twice. First by Isaac Hayes and David Porter who co-wrote “Soul Man,” as performed by Sam Moore, and later the Blues Brothers; then Bruce Springsteen, who again did not want “Born in the USA” used by a politician.
- 2004 – John Kerry (Democrat): He made a choice that backfired on him when he chose Creedence Clearwater Revival’s, John Fogerty penned, “Fortunate Son,” which he wrote in response to the romance between Eisenhower’s son & Nixon’s daughter, making the dig that neither family would see a son sent to Vietnam. Kerry, a proud Vietnam Veteran, likely chose the song as a dig at the incumbent George W. Bush, who never saw action in Vietnam because of his wealth and family ties that kept him stateside. Kerry lost the election.
- 2008 – Rudy Guiliani (Republican): “Rudi Can’t Fail” The Clash penned the song as an ode to an irresponsible young man being criticized by his elders. FYI, Rudy Guiliani, while dubbed “America’s Mayor,” citing his grace, strength and stamina in the days, weeks and months following 9/11, did fail. He lost in the primaries and never made it past the nominating process.
- 2008 – John McCain/Sarah Palin (Republican): First McCain chose ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me” then he switched the campaign theme song to Heart’s “Barracuda” after adding Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate because it was her nickname in high school. Heart, of course, wanted nothing to do with that dumpster fire of a campaign. It failed.
John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, highlighted a few of the ironic songs the campaigns have used this campaign cycle with a touch of snark and then got a group of musicians who’ve had their music used without their permission, to collaborate on a very tongue-in-cheek song and video to try and get the message across to politicians in a way they might understand, a video resembling a campaign ad:
Copyright law and publishing rights are on the books for the protection of the artists. It’s time they put some muscle behind their tweets and start making the campaigns, who thumb their noses at them and continue to blatantly use their music, pay for their offenses. Take them to court when a standard cease and desist letter doesn’t get the desired result. Hmmm!
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