The GOP can't hold a tune

Jackson Browne, one in a long line of musicians to tangle with Republicans, settles suit against the McCain camp

By Vincent Rossmeier
Published July 22, 2009 4:23PM (UTC)
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Tuesday, singer Jackson Browne settled a law suit with the Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and the Republican Party over the McCain campaign's use of Browne's song "Running on Empty." Browne received apologies from both McCain and the GOP, but perhaps even more unfortunate for Republicans was that the settlement also included a pledge requiring the party to ask for a musician's permission before using his or her music in any future campaign. To be fair, singer Sam Moore also asked President Obama's campaign to stop using "Soul Man," but when it comes to recent political-musical run-ins, pop has certainly had a liberal bias. Here's a look at the musicians who have caused the GOP the biggest headaches over the past few years.

  • John Mellencamp -- It seems like every four years, Republicans try to claim the staunchly Democratic Mellencamp's music as their own. In 2008, the singer, who had been a supporter of John Edwards at the time, told McCain to stop using his tunes "Our Country" and "Pink Houses" at campaign rallies. But it wasn't the first time Mellencamp has rebuked a Republican politician for what he considered improper use of his songs. Mellencamp drew the ire of the right wing in 2003 when he criticized former President George W. Bush on one of his albums. But the singer/songwriter had a history with Bush -- during the 2000 presidential campaign, Mellencamp tussled with the GOP over what he considered the Bush campaign's improper use of "R.O.C.K. in the USA."
  • Van Halen -- He might not have been the most successful presidential candidate, but McCain did have a talent for ticking off musicians. Legendary rockers Van Halen became incensed after McCain's campaign used the band's "Right Now" at the August 2008 rally in which he introduced Gov. Sarah Palin to those of us who live outside Alaska.
  • Tom Petty -- Petty told Bush not to do him like that in 2000 when he demanded that the Bush campaign stop playing his "I Won't Back Down" at rallies. The campaign complied and instead decided to use a Billy Ray Cyrus track.
  • Orleans -- Both McCain in 2008 and Bush in 2004, received the wrath of band member John Hall for using the group's "Still the One" without permission.
  • Don Henley -- In June of this year, the lead singer of the Eagles sued Chuck Devore, a Republican running for Sen. Barbara Boxer's seat in California in 2010, for copyright infringement. Devore created musical parodies that criticized Boxer and Obama using two of Henley's songs. 
  • The Dixie Chicks -- In 2003, country radio stations across the nation pulled the Dixie Chicks from the airwaves after the band's lead singer, Natalie Maines, said that she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas" during a concert in London. The ensuing controversy involved Fox News and Bill O'Reilly, but in the end, the Dixie Chicks had the last laugh, generating huge sales with a 2006 album that refused to back down from Maines' criticism.
  • Kanye West -- In one of the most iconic moments of the TV coverage of the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, Kanye West had a very simple message about Bush's priorities.

  • Bruce Springsteen -- There's no love lost between the Boss and the GOP. Springsteen constantly criticized Bush throughout his presidency, including during a memorable performance on the Today Show in 2007. "Born in the U.S.A." has also been misinterpreted by presidents as a patriotic jingle since Ronald Reagan first made the mistake in 1984.

 Update: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Don Henley as the former lead singer of the Eagles -- the band has reunited and is currently touring. 

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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Bruce Springsteen John Mccain R-ariz.