Prepare for 16 more months of this.
Although presidential campaigns have adopted theme songs since Abraham Lincoln was running for office, squabbles between candidates and musicians have only become commonplace since 1984, when President Ronald Reagan name-dropped Bruce Springsteen and his “message of hope” while stumping in New Jersey. (Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” was a rising hit at the time, and although Reagan never reportedly played the song on the trail, the singer complained that his image had been co-opted.)
Since then, this trope has played out during every campaign season like a broken record. Sometimes the disputes go unresolved. Artists can take legal action when a politician uses their music in a campaign advertisement without permission, but they have little recourse against candidates who pump the singers’ hits at public appearances — aside from shaming them in the pages of Rolling Stone.
Despite Petty’s request, Bachmann played “American Girl” again
Tuesday after a speech in Myrtle Beach, S.C., but refrained from playing it as she made four tour stops across South Carolina on Wednesday. (A representative for Petty declined to comment on the candidate’s continued use of the tune, and her campaign did not return calls.)
Is that 30-second burst of rock-and-roll before every stump speech worth the blow back?
“This has been an age-old question, for Republicans in particular,” said Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “It’s an impediment to the extent that it diverts resources from the campaign.”
But dust-ups over song choices didn’t hurt George W. Bush’s campaigns. He was rebuffed by four artists during his winning presidential runs in 2000 and 2004. The tunes he was slapped on the wrist for using: Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” Sting’s “Brand New Day” and “Still the One” by Orleans.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had worse musical luck during his losing 2008 presidential run. Mellencamp and the Foo Fighters asked the candidate to stop playing their hits. McCain was chided by Heart after running mate Sarah Palin took the stage at the Republican National Convention to “Barracuda.” And McCain eventually had to settle out of court after using Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” in a campaign ad without permission.
Charlie Crist must not have been paying close attention to all of that. After the Republican’s failed 2010 run for U.S. Senate, the former Florida governor was sued by Talking Heads singer David Byrne for $1 million over the use of his song “Road to Nowhere” in an online campaign video. Crist settled out of court — and apologized to Byrne on YouTube.