Do Rock Stars Get Mad When Democrats Use Their Songs?

Slate's Culture Blog
June 30 2011 4:15 PM

Do Rock Stars Dislike Democrats, Too?

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Photo courtesy of Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

After Michele Bachmann walked onstage to Tom Petty’s “American Girl” earlier this week, the musician’s lawyers sent the GOP presidential candidate a cease-and-desist letter.

When news broke of Bachmann’s legal troubles, reporters and bloggers who weren’t already mocking her John Wayne Gacy gaffe happily rattled off the names of other politicians who’d committed similar copyright crimes. The Toronto Star offered a long, decidedly Republican, list: Jackson Browne sued John McCain in 2008, for example, when the then-presidential contender used the song “Running on Empty” in campaign ads. Canadian rockers Rush (politely) told Rand Paul to stop using their song “Spirit of Radio” during his quest for the Senate. And when Sarah “Barracuda” Palin’s campaign team used the Heart song “Barracuda” in its marketing, the band served it a cease-and-desist letter. (Palin’s team responded that it had purchased the rights to the song.) This wasn’t even the first time Petty has barred a Republican presidential candidate from using his tunes: After George W. Bush used “I Won’t Back Down” during his 2000 campaign, Petty’s lawyers threatened to sue unless Bush's team pulled the song.

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That's gotten some people wondering: Have any Democratic candidates ever been asked to stop using a song in their campaign?

Well, the president has. In February 2008, soul music legend Sam Moore told Obama to stop playing the Sam and Dave song “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” The then-candidate’s team had been blasting the tune at rallies without Moore’s permission, and some audience members had been adopting their preferred lyrics: “Hold on, Obama’s comin’.”

Moore’s gracious letter wished Obama well with his campaign for the Democratic nomination, adding:

Having been hit with rocks and water hoses in the streets, in the day with Dr. King as part of his artist appearance and fundraising team, 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 in our land.

But please, Moore continued, stop using my song. “I have not agreed to endorse you for the highest office in our land....My vote is a very private matter between myself and the ballot box.”

Obama's team agreed to stop using the song.