Hello and welcome members of the Republican Party. Welcome to your 2016 National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome to Freedom Plaza* (*pending credentials for approved and strictly monitored outlets and individuals). What is up, you Republicans? GOPpers. Elephant people. Red staters. Tea baggers and Trump pumpers alike, welcome. Trickle-down economics! Viva Alito! Lincoln’s party what is up?! Look, there’s 2010 Super Bowl commercial star Tim Tebow! Oh, he cancelled? Well, uh, check out the C+ celebs like Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato! Jr! And over there is one of the aliens from V, Ted Cruz! And don’t forget to pick up your lamé totes with Trump steaks and a “TRUMP” insignia on both sides!
Sorry. This isn’t meant to be a bashing of Republicans, but rather a little something about the bash for Republicans that goes down every four years. Today, the Republican Party is defined by, well, whatever Obama is doing and then going in the absolute opposite direction. But the face of the Republican Party in the past 30 years has altered so drastically that it’s just so hard to know where they stand and what defines the Grand Old Party sometimes. One must imagine Nixon’s corpse has spun so many times in its grave that it’s a toothpick.
But there’s one thing Republicans have been great at for over 50 years: being asked time and again to stop using popular artists’ music. It’s wild. Pick a prominent Republican presidential nominee, and the playlist of prohibited music could fill dozens of iPods. So, in the spirit of the Republican National Convention, and getting in trouble over copyright laws for misuse of arts at public events, we’re looking back at 10 distinct moments when artists said “no” to Republicans. Because there are few things funnier than the RNC, the party that rock music seems to hate, being hosted in the city of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Let’s hit play*.
(*But not before checking with Neil Young first.)
Senior Staff Writer
Carol Channing and Louis Armstrong
Pulled From: Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Campaign
This is kinda sad.
Not because Goldwater got busted by the producers of Hello, Dolly! And not just because “Hello, Dolly!” is just such a super mushy show tune from a warbly-voiced Carol Channing. But the fact that Goldwater pulled an Alfred E. Newman and tried to parody a show tune from a Channing movie. Pretty lame, Milhouse. The parody? “Hello, Barry!” That’s like the world’s dweebiest birthday theme right there, but such is life in the fast lanes of the 1964 Republican campaign for the presidency.
In July of 1964, Goldwater took the Republican presidential nomination (he lost to Johnson). Around the time of the RNC, “Hello, Dolly!”’s composer and lyricist, Jerry Herman, had gotten wind that Goldwater was playing the song in jest at presidential rallies. Now, supposedly Herman was just too gosh darn nice a guy to say anything or really put up a fight. So naturally the song’s producer, and a lifelong Democrat, David Merrick took bold action!
Yep, he politely asked Goldwater’s campaign to stop using the parody out of respect for copyright laws. And wait’ll you hear what happened next.
Goldwater respectfully apologized, pulled the track from campaign events, and the matter was resolved in a very civil manner.
Wow. That’s like the most polite and least showy anecdote from this list. Maybe it’s the 2016 talking, but it’s wonderful to hear of peaceful accords and respectful communications across ideological aisles. It was still very uncool what Goldwater did, but at least this was a time when a politician could be contrite pre-spin and actually do something to control their message. Those were crazy times in 1964. And the song is still dorky.
But there’s a bitter twist to this story. Channing re-tinkered the song for Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic National Convention. Somewhere, Goldwater may have been pulling out his hair.
“Born in the U.S.A.”
By Bruce Springsteen
Pulled From: Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Campaign
Ask a political nerd or a music nerd to name the most famous instance of a politician using a song without the permission of the artist, and odds are this is the one that’ll get mentioned. It’s just so delicious and on so many levels. As legend has it, Reagan didn’t merely co-opt the title track of Bruce Springsteen’s just released but already wildly popular album. He attempted to trade on Springsteen’s massive popularity just by dropping his name.
Reports vary on when, or even if, the Gipper actually used the tune at an event. What’s clear is that he tried to jump on that Bruce bandwagon, and it was all this guy’s fault.
It all started because George Will — yes, George Will — went to see the Bruce in person and got all patriotically hot and bothered. On September 13th, Will published a piece about attending a Springsteen concert in the Washington Post. The thing is packed with gems (“I may be the only 43-year-old American so out of the swim that I do not even know what marijuana smoke smells like”), but Will wraps it up thusly: “Springsteen’s tour is hard, honest work and evidence of the astonishing vitality of America’s regions and generations. They produce distinctive tones of voice that other regions and generations embrace. There still is nothing quite like being born in the U.S.A.”
Six days later, President Reagan started slipping Springsteen’s name into his stump speeches — and the first was in New Jersey, for god’s sake. How’s that for pandering? Suffice it to say, the Boss was not thrilled. He asked the Reagan campaign to stop using the song, and they complied.
There are two delicious ironies about the “Born in the U.S.A.” kerfuffle. The first, of course, is that “Born in the U.S.A.” is a terrible choice for a campaign song. Lyrically, it says pretty much the exact opposite of what politicians imagine it to say. Springsteen acknowledged this in live performances at the time, joking that he was pretty sure that Reagan had never heard Nebraska, but then again, he obviously hadn’t actually listened to “Born in the U.S.A.” either.
But the sweetest morsel of all is that this incident pretty much turned the apolitical Springsteen into a political figure. For decades now he’s used his concerts as opportunities to support local food banks. And more importantly, he began to speak openly about the things his music had been saying all along, as in this interview with Rolling Stone: “You see it in the Reagan election ads on TV, you know, ‘It’s morning in America,’ and you say, ‘Well, it’s not morning in Pittsburgh.’”
Reagan wasn’t the first to use the song — Senator Bob Dole’s campaign also busted it out, and Springsteen once again slapped them down. Pat Buchanan used it, too. And he won’t be the last. As Springsteen put it in an interview with NPR in 2005: “This was when the Republicans first mastered the art of co-opting anything and everything that seemed fundamentally American, and if you were on the other side, you were somehow unpatriotic.”
“Don’t Worry Be Happy”
By Bobby McFerrin
Pulled From: George H. W. Bush’s 1988 Campaign
And this is why it’s always good to really think about your choices, children: Sometimes the person who wrote that song you like maybe doesn’t like you so much.
Bobby McFerrin’s a cappella, lighthearted tune topped the charts in five countries, including the US, and reached Billboard’s top slot in September of 1988. Bush, then the Vice President, may not seem like the perfect fit for a song first released on the soundtrack for Cocktail, but someone somewhere thought it was a good idea. Legally, they could use it, and so they did.
McFerrin, a renowned jazz musician experiencing his first piece of mainstream fame, was far from pleased. He protested openly, publicly stated that he would vote against Bush, and then refused to perform the song — not only his biggest hit ever, but what was then one of the most popular songs in the world — until Bush stopped using it as a part of his campaign.
And stop they did, moving on instead to “This Land Is Your Land”, which isn’t quite as tone deaf a choice as something like “Born in the U.S.A.”, but given Woody Guthrie’s political leanings, the song’s a pretty bad fit for anyone even somewhat anti-Union.
You’ve got to give Bush’s team credit for one thing, though: “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is just about the most honest song a Republican presidential candidate could have chosen, post-Morning in America.
“Brand New Day”
Pulled From: George W. Bush’s 2000 Campaign
Not to jump right in to heehaw stereotypes about good ‘ol boy W., but it should come as no surprise that our 43rd was a bit of a country-western enthusiast. The guy wore cowboy boots under his presidential suits for chrissakes. In a 2005 New York Times profile of Bush’s iPod and biking playlists, it was revealed that the President had artists like Alan Jackson, George Jones, Kenny Chesney, and other Stetson-covered crooners on his device. But more curiously, Bush had pop and rock tracks like John Fogerty’s “Centerfield”, a Texas Rangers staple. He had tracks like “My Sharona” (what?), “Brown Eyed Girl”, and even Joni Mitchell’s “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care”. It’s all very baby boomer, a bit southern fried, and a little ideologically at odds with the man what done signed that there Patriot Act. At the time, Rolling Stone editor Joe Levy quipped, “One thing that’s interesting is that the president likes artists who don’t like him.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sting’s bluesy, soft “Brand New Day” was getting played on the regular at Bush 2000 campaign events. It’s easy-going, acceptably middle-aged pop. New beginnings, granola love, real spiritual stuff – totally on-brand with Bush the Dubya from Texas.
Sting wasn’t having it, though. The noted environmental, social magnate, and all-around progressive asked that his “Brand New Day” be removed from Bush events. The reasoning he gave was that he considered himself a foreigner in the US and didn’t want his music being used in American politics. Or hey, you know, maybe that was code for “get my god damn song off that cowboy’s campaign playlist for the love of god please.”
But here’s the rub: Sting also asked that the song be removed from Gore’s campaign events, in an act of equity. So it was about not backing any dog in that race. What an inconvenient truth, as it were.
“Take a Chance on Me”
Pulled From: John McCain’s 2008 Campaign
When one looks at, or listens to ABBA, the experience is that of pure jubilation. The Swedish super singers practically bottled and sold the upbeat sound: perfectly harmonious and catchy ditties that would take a jumper off a roof. Or something like that. Anyway, ABBA rules and their songs are a breeze. It’s unfathomable to think they’d tell anyone to get bent in terms of their music; it’s all about the good feels, man!
Flashback to 2008 and John McCain’s unsuccessful presidential bid. McCain was using Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” for a good while at campaign functions. With a song name like “Johnny B. Goode”, how could you lose with synergy like that?! Well, Berry was supporting the other guy. Berry expressed a fondness for Obama’s color and rise and felt a certain kinship to the 44th prez. Berry requested removal, McCain joked that “Johnny B. Goode” was being used “because it’s the only one they haven’t complained about us using.” But then McCain had a wild idea. What about ABBA?
From Arizona radio at the time:
“ABBA was the largest selling (recording act ever) … Nobody likes them, but they sold more records than anybody in the history of the world, including The Beatles. But everybody hates them. You’re a no-class guy if you like ABBA. Why does everybody go see ‘Mamma Mia?’ Hypocrisy! Rank hypocrisy! I’m not embarrassed to say I like ABBA, ‘Dancing Queen’.”
Alright, calm down Senator McCain; you were being very hipster about this. Everyone loves the ABBA. McCain loved them so much, though, that “Take a Chance on Me” was a campaign rally regular.
But the ABBA didn’t love him and refused to take any chances on McCain. Förlåt, McCain!