Campaigns rock at their own risk

Story highlights

Rock band Silversun Pickups asks Romney's campaign to stop using its song at events

Band says its song, "Panic Switch," describes Romney's campaign

Reagan, Bush, McCain came under fire for using music of artists who disagreed with them

Even Beethoven couldn't avoid his music being co-opted for a variety of political purposes

Washington CNN  — 

Mitt Romney’s campaign can now point to at least one thing it has in common with Ronald Reagan’s – a musical act is asking it to stop using its music at campaign stops.

The rock band Silversun Pickups this week served Romney’s campaign with a cease-and-desist order after it says Romney’s campaign used its song “Panic Switch” at an event earlier this month.

“Seems as if the GOP is once again whimsically ignoring our great nation’s laws to do whatever it wants to do, and shooting itself in the foot in the process,” band representative Ken Weinstein said in a statement.

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The band’s lead singer and guitarist Brian Aubert couldn’t resist making a political point: “We were very close to just letting this go, because the irony was too good. While he is inadvertently playing a song that describes his whole campaign, we doubt that ‘Panic Switch’ really sends the message he intends.”

A Romney spokeswoman, Amanda Henneberg, responded to the request, saying, “The song was inadvertently played during event setup before Gov. Romney arrived at the location.”

“As anyone who attends Gov. Romney’s events knows, this is not a song we would have played intentionally. That said, it was covered under the campaign’s regular blanket license, but we will not play it again,” said Henneberg.

Squabbles between artists and campaigns over artistic sensibilities, political compatibility, and rights issues have become as much a political tradition as campaign buttons.

Among the most famous of these is the clash between Reagan and Bruce Springsteen.

During the 1984 campaign, Reagan told a New Jersey crowd, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”

But Reagan apparently hadn’t heard the lyrics. “Born in the U.S.A.,” the song he referred to, wasn’t a message of hope and pride but of “how this country is going to pot, essentially, and do something about it,” said Lorraine Ali, pop music editor at the Los Angeles Times.

Springsteen wasn’t amused.

Springsteen later told Rolling Stone magazine, “I think people have a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what’s happening, I think, is that that need – which is a good thing – is getting manipulated and exploited. You see in the Reagan election ads on TV, you know, ‘It’s morning in America,’ and you say, ‘Well, it’s not morning in Pittsburgh.’”

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Springsteen so much wanted to convey the actual message of his song that he “took to playing ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ on an acoustic guitar so it wouldn’t sound so rousing anymore,” said Joe Levy, editor of Billboard Magazine

Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign also came under fire for using music from artists who did not support it.

In 2008, the band Heart asked the campaign to stop playing its song “Barracuda” in honor of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s nickname on her high school basketball team, “Sarah Barracuda.”

The band even went on national television to express its outrage.

“Sarah Palin’s views and values in no way represent us as American women,” Ann and Nancy Wilson told Entertainment Weekly. “We ask that our song ‘Barracuda’ no longer be used to promote her image.”

McCain also settled out of court with Jackson Browne for using his 1977 hit “Running on Empty” in a campaign ad without the artist’s permission.

Foo Fighters, John Mellencamp and Boston asked McCain and other candidates to stop using their music.

And Tom Petty didn’t find Michele Bachmann his type of “American Girl.” The rocker’s manager asked the Bachmann campaign to stop using his 1977 hit “American Girl” after it was played during the kickoff event for the Minnesota representative’s presidential bid.

Petty also asked President George W. Bush not to use his music during his campaign, The Washington Post reported.

But those artists were alive to protect their music. Ludwig von Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has been co-opted by everyone from dictators to revolutionaries.

Esteban Buch’s book “Beethoven’s Ninth: A Political History” chronicles the symphony’s use in clashing political contexts from Hitler’s birthday, to the deadly protests in China’s Tiananmen Square, to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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