Political Wisdom: How to Avoid Getting Embarrassed by Bobby McFerrin

Say you’re running for office. You want to latch on to an inspirational song. Something peppy and uptempo, with a message of optimism. Here’s what you do: you call up the band that made that song and ask politely if you can use it in your campaign. Why? Because that way you can avoid having them angrily request that you stop using their song, at which point you kinda have to switch to a new song anyway. Just this week Maroon 5’s Adam Levine has angrily requested Fox News stop using his song, calling the channel “evil” and across the pond Conservative pol Teresa May has found her usage of a Dandy Warhols song met with a threat to politely cease doing so “tear their fuggin heads off.”

The point being, this is all very avoidable! And yet, historically, this has happened over and over, and over again. Especially to Republicans because, let’s face it, most musicians aren’t quite so into the GOP. A brief history.

  • 1984: In perhaps the most famous such incident, Bruce Springsteen disapproved of Ronald Reagan use of “Born in the USA.”
  • 1988: Bobby McFerrin asked George H.W. Bush to not use his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” which kinda seems like it runs counter to the message of the song.
  • 1996: Sam Moore of Sam & Dave asked that Bob Dole not use the duo’s song “Soul Man,” rewritten as “Dole Man.”
  • 1998: Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Rossello told to not use Ricky Martin’s “Cup of Life.”
  • 2000: George Bush used Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” But when Petty sent a cease and desist letter, Bush, um… backed down.
  • 2004: George Bush’s campaign agreed to stop using the song “Still the One” by Orleans. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except for that Orleans’ John Hall, one of the co-writers of the song, had held office as a Democratic county legislator. Also, Shania Twain’s similarly titled song is way better, if perhaps less politically appropriate. Also, she’s Canadian. And she divorced that dude.
  • 2008: Democrats aren’t totally immune, as Sam & Dave’s Sam Moore (him again!) requested Barack Obama stop using the duo’s “Hold on, I’m Comin.'”
    2008: The Foo Fighters requested James Van Der Beek John McCain stop using their song “My Hero.” Frontman Dave Grohl: “To have it appropriated without our knowledge and used in a manner that perverts the original sentiment of the lyric just tarnishes the song.”
  • 2008: Heart requested the McCain campaign stop using “Barracuda” in honor of Sarah Palin, adding, “Sarah Palin’s views and values in no way represent us as American women.”
  • 2008: John McCain also used the song “Still the One” by Orleans, which was met with predictable results, particularly since by this point John Hall had become a congressman.
  • 2008: Warner Music Group requested McCain not use Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
  • 2008: John McCain also used John Mellencamp’s “Our Country” without permission. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t one of five (!) such incidents for the McCain campaign and John Mellencamp had actually given permission to John Edwards to use his songs.
  • 2009: Jackson Browne and John McCain settled out of court over his usage of “Running on Empty.” The GOP pledged to never use a song without an artist’s permission again.
  • 2010: Talking Heads frontman David Byrne on why he sued Charlie Crist over using his song “Road to Nowhere” “I’m a bit of a throwback that way, as I still believe songs occasionally mean something.”
  • 2011: Tom Petty, who evidently did not become a Republican since 2000, disapproves of Michele Bachmann using “American Girl.”
  • 2011: Sony/ATV Music Publishing requested Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega stop using Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.”

So, what’s the lesson? Ask for permission before you start implying that you have a band’s endorsement and that way you can avoid having them publicly ask you to stop using their songs on account of your crappy policies. And a John McCain presidency might’ve meant the end of copyright law.

The unapproved political songs mixtape tracklist, for your enjoyment:

  1. Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen
  2. Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
  3. Soul Man – Sam & Dave
  4. Cup of Life – Ricky Martin
  5. I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty
  6. Still the One – Orleans
  7. Hold on, I’m Comin’ – Sam & Dave
  8. My Hero – Foo Fighters
  9. Barracuda – Heart
  10. Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – Frankie Valli
  11. Our Country – John Mellencamp
  12. Running on Empty – Jackson Browne
  13. Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads
  14. American Girl – Tom Petty
  15. Stand By Me – Ben E. King
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