Tom Petty
Tom Petty is displeased with an American girl. Image: musicisentropy/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Singer/songwriter Tom Petty sent a cease-and-desist letter to presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann Monday. Petty demanded she stop using his songs in her campaign. Bachmann, in a nationally televised speech Monday, announced her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. As she left the stage, Tom Petty’s  “American Girl” played. Petty responded quickly, demanding she not use his music in her campaign.

More Petty theft

Petty has once before balked at his music being used in Republican campaigns. In 2000, George W. Bush used Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down.” Neither did Petty. His music publishers immediately dashed off a note to the then-candidate. “Please be advised that this use has not been approved. … Any use made by you or your campaign creates, either intentionally or unintentionally, the impression that you and your campaign have been endorsed by Tom Petty, which is not true.”

The Boss and the Gipper

There have been many incidents of musicians being opposed to politicians using their music. One of the most publicized was back in 1984 when Ronald Reagen used Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA.” Reagan said, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.” Springsteen was not pleased, but no legal action was ever filed.

Other song misuses

In 1996 Sam and Dave demanded Bob Dole not parody their song “Soul Man” by playing “I’m a Dole Man.” Last year Don Henley reprimanded California Senate candidate Chuck DeVore for use of the song “Boys of Summer.” The same year, David Byrne of Talking Heads demanded and got an apology from Senate candidate Charlie Crist for unauthorized use of the song “Road to Nowhere.”

2008 and McCain

But 2008 was a banner year for musicians taking umbrage with political campaigners. John McCain gets the award for biggest offender. McCain used Heart’s song “Barracuda” to introduce his running mate Sarah Palin. McCain was contacted by the band Foo Fighters over  the use of the song “My Hero.” McCain also managed to raise the ire of Van Halen for his unauthorized use of “Right Now.” McCain even used the Orleans song “Still the One” in the same 2008 campaign, even though four years earlier George W. Bush had been admonished by the band for unauthorized use of the tune.

Other songs to ruffle musicians’ feathers were Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” used by Rand Paul, Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty,” used in Republican Party web videos, and Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” played more than once by Mike Huckabee.

Not just on the Right

Not to feel “left” out, Democrats have also perturbed musicians over unauthorized song usage. Sam Moore, of the duo Sam and Dave, admonished Barack Obama for using “Hold On, I’m Coming” during his 2008 presidential bid.


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