Musicians Who Told Politicians ‘Don’t Use My Song’

Source: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

Campaign songs promoting candidates have been in use since the days of George Washington. Today, rather than dedicated campaign tunes, politicians often use popular hits. But because the use might imply the musician’s support of the candidate, some have asked politicians to stop playing their songs.

In cases such as John F. Kennedy’s use of “High Hopes” in 1960 that was sung by Frank Sinatra — one of the most popular Grammy winners of all time — artists approve the use of their music as a means of endorsing or at least subtly signaling their approval of the candidate. Other times, politicians use pop songs without the musicians’ direct approval, often leading to anger and dismay on the side of the songwriter – especially in cases where the songwriter holds opposing political views.

This has been happening with not uncommon frequency going back to 1984, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street — the most famous band from New Jersey — disapproved of Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born in the U.S.A.” And it has happened frequently since President Donald Trump began holding rallies some four years ago.

24/7 Tempo has identified 35 instances of musicians who told politicians to stop using their music. Some emerged victorious while others had less success.

Unfortunately for politicians within the Republican Party, the majority of complaints are made against them. It’s no secret that a large portion of the entertainment industry leans to the left and when right wing politicians use their work to promote policies the creators disagree with it can spell trouble. Musicians will often demand the politicians stop using their music and further use these opportunities to highlight their own, often opposing, political views by either publicly denouncing the politician in public or in the press.

Sometimes a public denouncement is the only way a musician can get a politician to abandon his or her music. Campaigns can procure blanket licenses from performing rights organizations such as American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers and Broadcast Music Inc., which work as the middlemen between copyright holders and those looking to license songs. And while performers may have no legal recourse, public attacks on the politicians using their music – such as Neil Young’s on stage denunciation of Trump over the latter’s legally cleared use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” – can lead to the song being dropped from rotation.

This is far from a guaranteed method. Elton John, one of the most popular artists on tour this summer, is on record in British newspaper “The Guardian” as asking that Trump refrain from playing his songs at rallies, though this has done little to dissuade the president.

John McCain similarly continued using Van Halen’s “Right Now” after being asked to cease in 2008 – although vocalist Sammy Hagar broke with the rest of the band by appreciating the song’s usage.