Pop and politics: Some campaigns hit high notes, some just off-key

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Right-wing presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and anti-gay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis stepped forward, hands clasped, arms raised, signaling triumph, imitating Rocky Balboa.

Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” anthem blared as a crowd cheered the homophobic former governor of Arkansas and an anti-gay public servant who refused to do her job and carry out her oath of office.

Perhaps they should have chosen “Dixie,” because soon after the grandstanding, Survivor issued a statement from founder Jim Peterik on Facebook: “NO! We did not grant Kim Davis any rights to use ‘My Tune — The Eye Of The Tiger.’ I would not grant her the rights to use Charmin!”

Fueled by an Onion-like website, rumors circulated that Survivor would file a $1.2 million copyright infringement suit against Davis and Huckabee. No suit followed. However, Peterik sought a cease-and-desist letter from his publisher and joined the chorus of other musicians who have decried and denounced politicians — most of them Republicans — for misappropriating their musical messages or infringing on copyrights.

Neil Young tangled with Donald Trump earlier this summer, alleging the candidate was not authorized to use “Rockin’ in the Free World” in his campaigns. 

Trump and Ted Cruz heard from Michael Stipe of R.E.M. after using “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The singer-songwriter informed both candidates, “Go f*ck yourselves.”

Dropkick Monkeys sounded a similar refrain in January, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stepped onto the stage at the Iowa Freedom Summit to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” “Please stop using our music in any way … we literally hate you!!!” the band tweeted.

There’s a history of rockers and pop stars objecting to Republicans playing their songs:

Heart repeatedly asked Sarah “Barracuda” Palin to stop playing “Barracuda” at her rallies and again at the GOP convention in 2008. In the same campaign, Jackson Browne curbed John McCain’s use of “Running on Empty.” Tom Petty ordered Michele Bachmann to cease and desist playing “American Girl” in 2011. Rush challenged Rand Paul’s right to use “Spirit of the Radio” in 2010. David Byrne sued Charlie Crist — before his conversion to Democrat — for using “Road to Nowhere” in 2010 campaign ads. Isaac Hayes objected to Bob Dole’s campaign rewriting “Soul Man” to “Dole Man.” John Mellencamp, who has said he’s as “left wing as you can get,” acted to stop Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and McCain from co-opting “Our Country,” “Pink Houses” and “ROCK in the USA.”

And, perhaps most famously, Bruce Springsteen took on Ronald Reagan for using “Born in the USA” at campaign rallies. Springsteen went on to object when Dole and Pat Buchanan used the song.

It’s not that Springsteen is apolitical. When Barack Obama closed out his 2012 campaign in Madison, Springsteen was onstage and opened the rally with “No Surrender.”

Springsteen hasn’t publicly endorsed a candidate for 2016, but Neil Young is in Bernie Sanders’ camp. After demanding Trump stop playing his music, Young gifted “Rockin’ in the Free World” to the Vermont senator. Other Sanders supporters include Buckwheat Zydeco, Belinda Carlisle, drummer Jon Fishman of Phish, bassist Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Henry Rollins, Roger Waters and Lucinda Williams. 

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton supporters include 50 Cent, Paula Abdul, ASAP Rocky, Tony Bennett, Beyonce, Jon Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Carole King, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Tim McGraw, Ricky Martin, Moby, Morrissey, Ne-Yo, Snoop Dogg, Faith Hill, Ice-T, Elton John, Kanye West, Young Jeezy, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams and Katy Perry.

Clinton included music by some of those artists on her first campaign playlist, released when she kicked off her campaign in Central Park, arriving onstage to Sara Bareille’s “Brave.” That song is on the 14-tune playlist, along with Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” American Authors’ “Best Day of My Life” and “Believer,” and Perry’s “Roar.”

Perry, in a tweet, offered to write a campaign song for the former secretary of state, senator and first lady: “I told @hillaryclinton that I would write her a ‘theme’ song if she needs it.”

Clinton replied: “Well that’s not a Hard Choice. You already did! Keep letting us hear you Roar.”

So, it’s a good bet there will be no objection from the musician when “Roar” rallies the crowds at campaign stops and Clinton arrives to the lyrics, “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire/’Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.”