It’s supposed to be conservative demagogues trolling for votes who want to pull the plug on rap musicians — not vice versa. Right?
Seems K’Naan didn’t get the memo.
On Wednesday the Somali-born Canadian rapper announced he’d take legal action to prevent Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign from further use of his hit “Wavin’ Flag,” which played during the candidate’s Florida primary victory speech Tuesday night. The Obama campaign, K’Naan stressed, is free to use the song with his blessing.
On Monday the campaign of Mr. Romney’s GOP rival Newt Gingrich was hit with a lawsuit for using “Eye of the Tiger,” the theme song from “Rocky III,” at its events. The suit was filed in federal court on behalf of Rude Music Inc., owned by Frank Sullivan, who co-wrote the song, which was performed by Survivor.
Although most such complaints don’t make it to the lawsuit stage, grumbling about the unauthorized use of their music by Republican politicians has become something of a pastime among pop musicians. Indeed, Survivor previously complained about the same song’s use by the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. Mr. McCain was a favorite target of aggrieved pop stars. Others who demanded his campaign stop using their songs include ABBA, John Hall and John Mellencamp. After a protest from the Foo Fighters, even “My Hero” was off-limits to the former carrier pilot who survived torture as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.
Mr. Gingrich, too, might as well write off the rock-star vote. Just days before he was sued for his use of “Eye of the Tiger,” the British rock band the Heavy angrily demanded that he stop using its song “How You Like Me Now?” after it was played at a Gingrich rally in Tampa, Fla.
Is it any wonder a cranky Mr. Gingrich, stung by musicians twice in less than a week, zinged President Obama Tuesday night for channeling Al Green during a recent appearance in Harlem? “I’m not gonna compete with Obama in singing because I’m not running for entertainer in chief,” the primary loser taunted in his Florida “concession” speech. “I’m running for president.” Of course, dogged as he has been by the character issue, the twice-divorced Mr. Gingrich is one candidate who might profitably take to heart the core sentiment of the timeless ‘70s soul ballad essayed by Mr. Obama: “Let’s Stay Together.”
Conservative politicians — no less than their liberal counterparts — need campaign music, familiar tunes with lyrics that easily imprint an audience with a desired message. But for every act like Brooks & Dunn, whose “Only in America” has been adopted by candidates of both parties without objection from the artists, there are many more eager to bar politicians from using their music — be it for genuine philosophical reasons or to gain cred from liberal fan bases.
Here is a select list of musicians who’ve warned politicians, “Stop the music!”:
Tom Petty — Talk about petty; the nasal-voiced classic rocker enjoys a second career griping about Republican use of his music. When then-candidate George W. Bush played “I Won’t Back Down” at campaign rallies, Mr. Petty promptly sent a cease-and-desist order. Last year, Mr. Petty’s ire was raised when Michele Bachmann played “American Girl,” and once again out came the lawyers. Mr. Petty was more tolerant with Hillary Rodham Clinton, though, allowing her to use the latter song during her unsuccessful 2008 presidential run.
Bruce Springsteen — “Born in the U.S.A.” might be the most commonly misinterpreted song of the past few decades, with its synthesized sounds and bouncy chorus suggesting a patriotic anthem. In fact, the lyrics are a blistering critique of America’s role in the Vietnam War and the plight of working-class soldiers. When Ronald Reagan mentioned Mr. Springsteen as the bringer of a “message of hope,” the singer repaid the intended compliment by mentioning the president before playing “Johnny 99,” a bleak song about an impoverished autoworker. In contrast, Mr. Springsteen supplied the theme song of John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, electrifying Kerry rallies with live performances of his anthemic “No Surrender”: “No defeat, baby, no surrender.” Well, the Boss got it half-right.
Katrina and the Waves — Mrs. Bachmann can’t buy a break with famous musicians. Between Mr. Petty’s spite, the vulgar song (“Lyin’ Ass Bitch”) Questlove used to introduce her on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” and Katrina and the Waves demanding that she cease use of their hit “Walking on Sunshine,” it’s a wonder her campaign wasn’t reduced to introducing her with “4‘33,” avant-garde composer John Cage’s infamous four minutes, thirty-three seconds of … silence.
Jackson Browne — After Mr. Browne ‘s “Running on Empty” was used in a 2008 ad ridiculing Mr. Obama, the folk-rock balladeer sued Mr. McCain, the Republican National Committee and the Ohio Republican Party for using his song without permission, winning an undisclosed financial settlement and an apology from the parties concerned.
Heart — Sarah Palin acquired the nickname “Sarah Barracuda” for her aggressive style on the high school basketball court, so the Heart song “Barracuda” must have seemed like an obvious choice for her appearance at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Not so much to the Wilson sisters, who promptly lashed out at the Republicans and requested the song be shelved, citing the “irony” of their “rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business” being used to promote Mrs. Palin.
John Hall — The musician and Orleans band member claimed he had not planned to get involved publicly in the 2004 presidential election until he saw that the Bush campaign was using his song “Still the One.” A cease-and-desist letter was sent, and the Bush campaign stopped using the song. Later, Mr. Hall was elected to Congress as a Democrat and was again angered when the McCain campaign used the tune. Mr. Hall, however, admitted that he had no objection to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign using the song during her bid.
Cyndi Lauper — The pop singer recently was aghast to discover that her song “True Colors” was being used in an ad by the Democratic National Committee to lambaste Mitt Romney. Miss Lauper declared herself a supporter of Mr. Obama but objected to the use of her inspirational anthem in a negative context, adding that “Romney can discredit himself without the use of my work.” The ad was pulled shortly thereafter.
Sam Moore — In a rare case of a musician objecting to his music being played in support of a Democratic candidate, Sam Moore of Sam & Dave sent a letter to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, requesting a halt to the use of “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” one of the iconic Stax soul duo’s signature hits. The Obama campaign complied, and there must not have been hard feelings, as Mr. Moore performed at the Creative Coalition’s inaugural ball for the new president. In 1996, Mr. Moore had sung a version of another Sam & Dave classic, “Soul Man,” at rallies for Bob Dole’s presidential campaign, tweaking the lyrics into “Dole Man.” (Owners of the publishing rights to the original song — written, like “Hold On, I’m Comin’ ,” by Isaac Hayes and David Porter — eventually forced the Dole campaign to stop using it.)