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The Long History Of Musicians Telling Republicans To Stop Playing Their Music

So you’ve decided to run for president! First things first, you need a staff, and a bunch of money from rich people. Then you’ve got to fill out a couple of forms with the Feds.

Next? You need an iTunes playlist of schmaltzy, kitschy American rock songs that are universally appealing and could just as easily be used to sell pickups during Indianapolis Colts games. The elevator music of American politics, if you will.

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But if you’re a Republican, you then have to navigate the minefield of aging — but no less beloved — rockers objecting to your political appropriation of their classic jams. Donald Trump is the most recent candidate to get yelled at by an artist. On Tuesday, after Trump used Neil Young’s song “Rockin’ in the Free World at his presidential campaign announcement, Young — a Canadian citizen — said he was actually a supporter of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and said Trump had no permission to use the song. (The Trump campaign said it obtained a license to use the song from ASCAP.)

People in the television, music and movie industries overwhelmingly support Democrats. About 74 percent of political donations from people in TV, music and movies went to Democrats during the 2014 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2008 election, 81 percent went to Democrats! This is not a fair playing field for the right.

I used Nexis to construct a history of artists who expressed some form of discontent with presidential candidates using their music. It’s occurred essentially every cycle at least since Ronald Reagan used “Born in the U.S.A.,” much to Bruce Springsteen’s dissatisfaction, in 1984.

  1. Springsteen objected to Reagan’s use of the song “Born in the U.S.A.” during the 1984 election.
  2. Reagan also got dinged in 1984 by John Cougar Mellencamp for “Pink Houses.”
  3. Bobby McFerrin objected to George H.W. Bush using the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in 1988.
  4. Sam & Dave objected to Bob Dole using the song “Soul Man” in 1996.
  5. Springsteen objected to Dole using “Born in the U.S.A.” in 1996.
  6. Mellencamp didn’t grant any more leeway to George W. Bush than to Reagan. Mellencamp complained when Bush used “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” in 2000.
  7. Tom Petty objected to Bush using the song “I Won’t Back Down” in 2000.
  8. That same election, Sting objected to Bush using “Brand New Day.”
  9. In a rare bit of bipartisanship in 2000, Sting also objected to Al Gore using “Brand New Day.”
  10. John Hall of the band Orleans objected to Bush using the song “Still the One” during his re-election campaign in 2004.
  11. Boston objected to Mike Huckabee using “More Than a Feeling” in 2008.
  12. Van Halen objected to John McCain using “Right Now” in 2008.
  13. Mellencamp is back! He complained about McCain using “Our Country” in 2008.
  14. In the same election, Mellencamp had a problem with McCain using the song “Pink Houses.”
  15. Heart objected to McCain using “Barracuda.”
  16. Jackson Browne objected to McCain using “Running on Empty.”
  17. Bon Jovi objected to McCain using “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”
  18. The Foo Fighters stopped McCain from playing “My Hero.”
  19. Tom Petty objected to McCain using “I Won’t Back Down.”
  20. ABBA complained about McCain using “Take a Chance on Me.”
  21. Sam Moore of Sam & Dave objected to Barack Obama using “Hold On, I’m Coming” during the 2008 election.
  22. Survivor objected to Newt Gingrich using the song “Eye of the Tiger” in 2012.
  23. Gingrich also was dinged by The Heavy for “How You Like Me Now.”
  24. Also in 2012, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister objected to Mitt Romney using “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
  25. Silversun Pickups stopped Romney from playing “Panic Switch.”
  26. K’Naan objected to Romney using the song “Wavin’ Flag.”
  27. Survivor objected to Romney using “Eye of the Tiger.”
  28. Tom Petty complained about Michele Bachmann using “American Girl” in 2012.
  29. Katrina and the Waves objected to Bachmann playing “Walking on Sunshine.”
  30. And finally, now we have Young’s complaint about Trump’s use of “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Note that, according to my research, only twice have Democrats been asked to stop using a song.

Regardless of your politics, can we take a minute and think about how much it must have sucked to be the guy making the playlists for McCain in 2008? ABBA’s objections must have particularly stung — McCain has been very public about his love for ABBA. In 2008, he was asked to list his 10 favorite songs. Two of them were ABBA songs. That is how much John McCain likes ABBA, which is great, because ABBA rules. McCain has great taste in music.

Anyway, how much must it have hurt him when one of his favorite bands called his campaign up and said they wanted him to stop playing one of his favorite songs as part of his run for president? That is genuinely heartbreaking.

Let’s not end on that sad thought. End on the mental image of McCain walking into the Senate cranking “Dancing Queen” to get hyped up for a hearing.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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