Song Sung Blue
However, other recording artists have not followed his lead in this polarizing election season. Candidates enter and leave the stage as rock stars, but the songs they play are the subject of intense controversy and in some cases, vehement protest. For instance, Heart's 1977 song "Barracuda" echoed through the Xcel Center during the Republican National Convention as Sarah "Barracuda" Palin (her nickname as a high school basketball player) claimed the vice presidential nomination.
Since taking to the campaign trail in the intervening weeks, the song has continually greeted Palin at successive stops, and Ann and Nancy Wilson, Heart's songwriters, in coordination with Sony BMG, issued a cease-and-desist letter to the McCain-Palin campaign. They suggested that Palin does not represent them as "American women."
Van Halen has voiced similar objections, asking McCain-Palin to pull "Right Now" from its play list, and it did the same in 2004 when President Bush warmed up crowds in his re-election bid. Van Halen wants to disassociate itself from politics altogether, ideological considerations aside.
As early as 1984, John Mellancamp (then Cougar) refused to allow Ronald Reagan to use the ditty "Pink Houses" as his election theme song, and he protested once more this year when McCain blasted the timeless hit. You might remember that Mellancamp campaigned this year for Senator John Edwards.
The list goes on and on, including Foo Fighters ("My Hero"), Jackson Browne ("Running on Empty"), and Warner Music Group for McCain's use of Franki Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."
I know of no similar protests among recording artists directed at the Democratic ticket, though I did find it ironic that shortly after Senator Obama's convention speech ended, Brooks and Dunn's "Only in America" blared throughout Investco Field. President Bush played the song repeatedly at campaign performances in 2004, and the band even performed at the Republican National Convention that year in New York City.
The McCain-Palin campaign has found an end-around for this dilemma, purchasing a so-called "blanket license" through the American Society of Composers, Authors and Performers (ASCAP), and thus continuing to play "Barracuda" and "My Hero" to the delight of fawning crowds.
As Sprigman and Vaidhyanathan argued in an op-ed piece that ran in yesterday's Washington Post, these conflicts pinpoint the tensions between copyright laws and the First Amendment. They clearly side with the latter protections, arguing that candidates should be allowed to use popular songs to make a point, for these actions constitute nothing less than political speech, the original basis for the First Amendment. They also seek to enable critics to raise their voices, writing "...if the Wilson sisters (from Heart) want to mock Republican misuse of a feminist anthem, them let them sing from the mountaintops."
John Rich, of the band "Big and Rich," took matters into his own hands. A devoted supporter of the Republican ticket, he penned a song for Senator McCain, titled "Raising McCain." Perhaps in this era of polarized politics, pop culture is but an extension of these battles. Thankfully, the First Amendment stands strong and the marketplace of ideas, not censors, dictate our discourse through music.