Tom Petty asks Michele Bachmann to stop using 'American Girl,' joins long list of rockers unhappy with politicians


Image Credit: Richard Shotwell/PR Photos

You know election season must be in full swing when rock stars are issuing public statements getting candidates to stop using their songs at rallies, speeches and events.

The inaugural music-related strike of the 2012 presidential race comes from Tom Petty, who issued a cease and desist letter to Michele Bachmann’s campaign to get her to stop using Petty’s 1977 hit “American Girl.”

This isn’t even the first time Petty has bristled at the idea that somebody from the right borrowed one of his tunes—he issued a similar letter in 2004 when George W. Bush used Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” as one of his campaign themes (like Bachmann, Bush complied).

Ever since Bruce Springsteen took umbrage with Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born in the U.S.A.” during his re-election campaign in 1984, it has become something of a tradition for rock musicians (many of whom, you may have noticed, have views that tend to skew to the left) to publicly disassociate themselves from right-wing candidates who borrow their music.

For example, John McCain couldn’t do very much right in 2008. Not only did he lose the election, but he also felt attacks coming from a number of different musicians, including John Mellencamp (who was bothered by the fact that McCain was using both “Our Country” and “Pink Houses”), Foo Fighters (“My Hero”), Van Halen (“Right Now”), Orleans (“Still the One”) and, most notably, Jackson Browne (who actually filed a lawsuit against McCain after his song “Running on Empty” showed up in a McCain campaign ad; the issue was settled a year later for an undisclosed amount).

McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin wasn’t immune to rocker ire either—she took heat from Nancy Wilson of Heart (who was irate that Palin used her band’s “Barracuda,” announcing “I feel completely f—ed over. Sarah Palin’s views and values in no way represent us as American women”) and country star Gretchen Peters (who was so angry that Palin was using her song “Independence Day” that she encouraged people to make donations to Planned Parenthood under the name “Sarah Palin”).

And it isn’t just presidential candidates who get themselves entangled with angry rock stars. Former Florida governor Charlie Crist felt David Byrne’s ire after he borrowed the Talking Heads’ classic “Road to Nowhere” and California senatorial candidate Chuck DeVore had to apologize to Don Henley after he used both “The Boys of Summer” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” without permission. (As an aside, how is “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” a campaign song?)

As the Republican field widens and the individual profiles of Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and the rest all get larger and more public, expect more of these incidents to happen.

Here’s a free tip for any candidate looking to make a splash: As rousing an anthem as it is, stay away from Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” He will not like it.

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Comments (95 total) Add your comment
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  • Rob

    The way Bachmann mixes up people she must have thought it was Tom JONES.

    • Loch Ness

      Bachmann Crazy Overdrive thinks “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

      • Kayla


      • RaivynSkye

        ROFL, Right on, Loch Ness!

      • side3


  • raymond

    That comment about Neil made me laugh out loud…feels like something off his Living With War album would have to be appropriate for the right candidate though!

  • Hey Now!!!

    Look Tom. No one is going to think that you are a Republican. Heaven forbid!!!! I am willing to bet at least half of your audience is Republican and have paid for a couple of your mansions. What a way to thank them by giving them the finger.

    • LOL

      Only 2 types of Republicans: Millionaires and Suckers.

      • Amber

        Theres only two types of Democrats: idiots and Fa&&0t$

      • oh yeah

        That’s very nice, Amber. You represent your party well.

      • Hans M.


      • Sam

        Oh Amber! Your the reason Abortion should be legal!

      • John Wayne

        See You Next Tuesday AMBER!!!!!!!

      • Simon Jester

        @Amber – Wow, a Republican homophobe. Imagine my surprise.

      • Ian

        Aunt Mom and Uncle Dad taught Amber well…

      • Jerry

        I knew my favorite liberal stooge wouldnt miss out on a chance to spew this week’s liberal talking points/kool-aid. Way to go LOL!

    • Russ

      What a way for Republicans to help the country, supporting idiot radicals like Bachmann.

      • Keith

        Though I pretty much agree with your sentiment, let’s not stoop to that level by addressing a legit candidate as an “idiot”. She’s entitled just as you or I.

    • Nancy

      Well it IS his music and he has every right to tell her or any other politician to stop using it regardless of what party they belong to.

      • Al

        No, he doesn’t. He is a member of ASCAP and a precondition is that he must allow public playing of the song for a fee. Someone who wants to play songs doesn’t need prior approval. They just need to pay ASCAP, who in turn pays the rights holder. If he wants to stop this, he would need to specify that he is not allowing any public playing of the song and forego any fees. This would be different if she wanted to use it in a commerical.

      • outside agitator

        that’s not true…if he holds the publishing(or has a good relationship with the publisher), he can do as he pleases with the song. That’s why artists like Neil Young and Tom Waits have won lawsuits with corporations who use their songs without permission to shill their crap.

      • outside agitator

        if Bachman’s just playing the radio at a rally, that’s one thing. but if she uses Petty’s song regularly at her campaign stops, it becomes a “commercial” for her blather.

      • Michael

        Outside agitator’s right. As a musician I can tell you that Title 17 of the U.S. Code (Copyright Law) states the COMPOSER is the owner of the music and their work cannot be performed in a public venue without permission and without royalties being paid to the composer. Bachmann is a smart lady and knows that, and the fact that she’s openly defying copyright laws designed to protect the livelihood of artists says much about what she thinks of laws (that they don’t apply to her) or the rights of American citizens (that she can steal from them without remorse). What a joke, just like the rest of those people the GOP are trying to sell to us.

      • Gale

        @Al – Petty may be a member of ASCAP, but a campaign isn’t issued a blanket license. They have to get permission for each song they plan to use individually. You’d think they’d know this by know, maybe they feel the free press that they get for the artist issuing a cease and desist order is worth it…

    • TQB

      It’s his copyrighted material, thus it is his right to say who can and cannot use it. This isn’t about giving fans the finger, it’s about politicians stealing property.

    • Amy

      How is he giving his fans the finger by saying he doesn’t want his intellectual property being used to promote someone he doesn’t support? I assume that you are a Republican or Tea Bagger; if you wrote a hit song that was beloved by millions and President Obama started using it to rally his constituents, wouldn’t you put a stop to that? In all honesty, any smart business person wouldn’t want to be connected with Bachmann. Her crazy, bigoted, and moronic statements make anything look bad.

      • Michael

        You’re right, Amy. If Obama was playing a Hank Williams song at his rallies the teabaggers would go on a feeding frenzy. Let’s call it what it is, people.

    • kvivik

      I don’t think the whole problem is politics. Part of it is also royalties.
      If the politicians want to use the music, they must pay the same fees as an artist who wants record a cover of a song on an album.
      This is where the ‘asking for permission’ comes in. The artists/songwriters should have the chance to say yes/no to the use of their songs for any reason.
      Idiot politicians need to follow the rules, just like everyone else…unless the songs are public domain, then anyone can use them anytime.
      Maybe someone should look into those songs. 2011-99yrs=songs from 1912 and earlier are free game.

    • Jack

      He may be giving them the finger, but at least he’s not tea-bagging them……

  • Vince from NYC

    Which further proves you can’t be both cool and a Republican..

  • JCK

    I think it is fair that musicians have the right to ask for a cease and desist order. Regardless of the political party, I certainly wouldn’t want to have any part of me, especially my creative art, connected to a candidate that does not represent my views or beliefs.

  • ben

    Since they seem to base their decisions on partisan divides, does that mean that when a Democrat uses a song for their campaign, the value of that song is counted as a campaign contribution?

    • Jay

      Yes, yes it does

    • Linney17

      A genius at work, folks.

    • John Wayne


      Odds are that the Democrats at least got permission. The repubs just take and steal at will. They’ve stolen the constitution sowhy not a Tom Petty song???

      • Uncle Ted

        You Sir, are an idiot. No one has stolen the Constitution. You on the left are the ones who don’t like the Constitution the way it was written. Conservatives, by definition, want to CONSERVE the Constitution and follow it as it was written.

      • Outcast

        OMG! Uncle Ted, are you referring to the Constitution in 1776 or the latest 1991 version we use today?

      • John Wayne

        Uncle Ted,

        Obviously you are the Uncle no one talks about. Conservatives seem to be all about interpreting the constitution to suit their purposes. How else do you explain Bachmann making John Quincy Adams a founding father??? You’d think you all invented patriot, founding father, and flag. Of course after Bachmann said her little statment, her supporters changed the Wiki page to show this. I’m sure the Texas textbooks will be changed next since you know they can’t stand anything to do with evolution. The conservatives want us to be stuck in the same time period as the Constitution was written…hence the tea baggers. I love how your all against big govt but who do these repub governors call on for aid when disaster strikes???? Yup, the feds. Uncle Teddy, there’s a reason we don’t invite you to the house. Dearest Uncle, you deserve Bachmann and her like-minded cronies.

      • RobNJ

        My favorite political twisting these days is how the period of the Enlightenment has been twisted to be about religious discovery and not intellectual growth. Also the Enlightenment originated in Europe not with the Founding Fathers, although they did subscribe to it and it was the basis for the Constitution. but it is not religious. And I was taught that in my Catholic high school history class. too many politicians are skewing history for their benefit.

      • Michael

        @John Wayne, I’m a teacher here in Texas and I’m sorry to say it’s ALREADY happening. Back in May the Texas state board voted to amend to textbooks, and you’d never guess what they’re trying to push onto our kids: One, they want to remove any references to Tejanos (Mexicans who fought for Texas independance)who died at the Alamo, to make it appear that only Whites fought and died for Texas independance; Two, they wanted to remove the term “Slave Trade” from the history textbooks and replace with “Atlantic Triangular Trade” in an attempt to downplay one of the great tragedies of human history; Three, because Thomas Jefferson was not a devout Christian they want to remove his contributions to American history and politics from the history textbooks. I’m not partisan, but between the folks where in Texas and the latest history gaffs from Palin and Bachmann, it sounds to me the Republicans are trying to rewrite history to suit their right-wing agenda.

  • crispy

    I feel so bad for all the Republican candidates whose only musical option is Ted Nugent.

    • Amy

      Hahahaha best comment here.

    • AlfMolestMe

      LMAO!!! I would pay to be at a GOP event where Nugent gems like, “And I make the p*ssy purr with the stroke of my hand,” played in the air.

      • RaivynSkye

        Well when I hear most Republicans speak I do tend to think yank me and crank me…

    • RobNJ

      Bachmann should use “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” then. Alice Cooper is also republican. How about “Raped and Freezing” for the campaign?

  • Hans M.

    When I saw her on the news the other day with that song blaring behind her, I knew something like this would happen, just like Bruce got pissed with Reagan.

    • Sam


  • 8thcircuit

    I don’t blame him. The political climate is out of control.

  • PN

    Maybe those are the politicians’ personal favorite artists and they wanted to use their (artists’) music as the background music when they walk on the stage. But they forgot to get those artists’ permission before they played them. Some artists are very protective of their music and don’t want some people to display it in a negative fashion.

  • cfarias

    so turns out that Tom Petty….is Petty. dumb.

    • Bob

      Would you think Lee Greenwood was petty if President Obama was playing “Proud to Be an American” at his rallies and Monsieur Greenwood asked him to stop? Doubt it.

    • Michael

      I don’t know. As a musician I would want to be paid for my music and ask that my music be used to reflect my views. What’s so petty about it ff it’s MY music and U.S. copyright law (Title 17 of the U.S. Code)gives me the right to be paid for my work and have a voice in it’s use?

  • asher

    These right-wingers are a bunch of liars, so its not surprising that they would take a song and twist it to fit whatever view they want to get across. I would be p.o.’ed too if I was these rockers. (And no, I am not trying to say the left-wingers are perfect, I am just talking about the right this time since that is what this article is about.)

  • jcm

    I’m sure Meredith Brooks wouldn’t mind letting Bachmann use her #1 hit for her campaign song – Google it folks ;0)

    • AnnieTx

      Ha! I love that song.

  • Lee

    Weird that Gretchen Peters would react so strongly to Sara Palin’s use of her song “Independence Day” when it’s been the theme song for Sean Hannity’s radio show for years. Hmm… Are Palin and Hannity really all that different?

    • jj

      perhaps since she asked specifically for donations to planned parenthood, it was her specific stance on said institution that she had an issue with Sarah Palen?

  • Bob

    Makes me want to go out and buy a few Tom Petty CDs; also,while I respect the fact that many agree with her views, if they also do not realize that she is,at best,willfully ignorant…well, go join her on her ride to warn the British that they can’t take our guns.As a school teacher for 15 years, she offends me simply on GP.

    • Al

      I think you have her mixed up with Sarah Palin.

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