When Politics and Pop Collide

When the Ohio GOP used Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” for a John McCain ad late in the 2008 presidential election, the idea was to attack Barack Obama for the suggestion that proper tire pressure can help save gasoline. But with McCain behind in the polls, and in donations, the title seemed more like a description of his campaign. Then Browne sued over the suggestion that he supported the McCain-Palin ticket.
President Ronald Reagan
When Ronald Reagan name-dropped New Jersey’s favorite son at a 1984 stump speech in Hammonton, New Jersey, most were dubious that the president was a great fan of the blue-collar rocker. Walter Mondale responded, “Bruce Springsteen may have been born to run but he wasn't born yesterday,” and claimed that Springsteen had in fact endorsed him. He soon backpedaled.
Elvis Presley wrote a letter to Richard Nixon in 1970 suggesting that he be made a “Federal Agent-at-Large" with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. President Nixon invited him to the White House, where the singer presented him with some family photos and a Colt 45. Reproductions of the photo documenting their meeting are the most requested item in the National Archives.

"Road to Nowhere" wasn't an ideal campaign song to begin with—shouldn't you be going somewhere?—but Charlie Crist's use of the song in a campaign ad still got him sued by David Byrne of The Talking Heads. Mr. Byrne's statement didn't speak ill of the outgoing governor, but said he didn't want the song to be used to sell any product or person.

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Sam Moore, the surviving half of the classic R&B duo Sam & Dave, was fairly outraged to find out that Barack Obama had been using the group’s “Hold On, I’m Coming” at rallies. “No one called me, no one sent a telegraph, no one did anything. They just did it, and I think that’s rather rude,” Moore told the AP. The campaign stopped using the song after the complaint.
“I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is a popular campaign tune for its fighting spirit. John McCain, Carl Paladino, John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer have all used it at some point in their political careers, but George W. Bush’s use of the tune for his 2000 presidential bid earned him a cease and desist from Petty. Later, Petty played the song for Al Gore live—curiously, after Gore’s concession of Florida.
Rand Paul isn’t the only person with a bad haircut to like Rush, but he appears to be something of a superfan. Not only did he use “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of Radio” in various rallies and ads, but he even quoted the latter in a campaign speech. This was not okay with the group, who sent now-Senator-elect Paul a cease and desist.
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The Virginia GOP must have thought it pretty clever to use Sheryl Crow’s song “A Change Would Do You Good” in an anti-incumbent House ad this past election season, but they overlooked the minor fact that Ms. Crow is a vocal supporter of liberal causes. This misstep earned the party the usual artist complaint, but the campaign was ultimately successful in defeating Democrat Tom Perriello.

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