Published on February 2nd, 2012 | by Alan Cross


Where’s a Republican to Get Their Campaign Music?

It’s tough being a campaign organizer for a Republican candidate.  All those issues.  All that travel.  All those volunteers.  All the negative campaign ads.  And then there’s the matter of a theme song.

As far as I remember, the first candidate to use rock music as part of their campaign was–wait for it–Ronald Reagan when he kept playing Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” at his rallies.  (Yes, the message of the song is totally inappropriate for such use, but that didn’t stop him.)

Almost a decade later, Bill Clinton–America’s first president of the rock’n’roll era–did very well with Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” as an official fight songs.  Since then, it’s been important for every candidate from both sides of the aisle to rock out a little for the faithful.

Musicians don’t seem to have a problem with Democrats appropriating their material for campaign fight songs.  While Clinton was heartily endorsed by Fleetwood Mac, Springsteen was greatly annoyed at Reagan for using “Born in the USA.”

Here’s a little history of Candidates campaign theme songs.  First, the Democrats

Barack Obama:  Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising;” Stevie Wonder, “Signed, Sealed Delivered;” Ben Harper, “Better Way;” U2, “City of Blinding Lights;” Jackie Wilson, “Higher and Higher.”  Hell, Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas even wrote “Yes, We Can” just for Barack.

John Kerry:  U2, “Beautiful Day;” Bruce Springsteen, “No Surrender.”

Al Gore:  Bachman-Turner Overdrive, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet;” The Call, “Let the Day Begin.”

Bill Clinton:  Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t Stop”

George McGovern:  Simon and Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Rock being rock, the conservative values of Republicans have resulted in slightly more, uh, conservative choices.

George H.W. Bush:  Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land”

Bob Dole:  “Dole Man,” reworked from the original Sam & Dave song, “Soul Man”

George W. Bush:  Billy Ray Cyrus, “We the People.”

John McCain:  ABBA, “Take a Chance on Me”

Beyond Reagan’s use of Sprinsteen (which Springsteen hated, by the way), there have been some exceptions.  George W. did get to use Van Halen’s “Right Now” without much flak.  John McCain was okayed to use “Our Country” by John Mellancamp.  And then there’s…uh, that’s about it.

I seem to recall the first instance of a Republican being publically denied the use of a rock song by the artist who wrote it came when George W. used Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” in 2000.  Petty threatened to sue.

There have been other skirmishes since.  For example, Heart demanded that Sarah Palin stop using their song, “Barracuda.”  Mick Huckabee, a Republican hopeful in 2008, got a letter from Boston telling him to stop with the playing of “More Than a Feeling.”

And during the primary run-up to the 2012 election, K’Naan has asked Mitt Romney to cut it out with “Wavin’ Flag.”  Tom Petty demanded that Michelle Bachman stop using “American Girl.” Some of the guys in Suvivor aren’t crazy about Newt Gingrich’s use of “Eye of the Tiger.”

About the only contemporary rocker okay with a Republican using his stuff is Kid Rock.  He has no trouble with Mitt Romney using “Born Free.”

What’s a Republican to do if he/she can’t secure some cool music for the campaign?


About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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One Response to Where’s a Republican to Get Their Campaign Music?

  1. chapliana says:

    Am I wrong in remembering John Cougar (pre Mellencamp)'s "Little Pink Houses" being used in a republican campaign add and then having to be pulled?

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