Tom Petty – I Won’t Back Down

US Senator John McCain might hold the record for most times, for using songs without the permission of the artists. He used Van Halen’s Right Now. He’s also had John Mellancamp upset for using “Our Country.” Heart didn’t like McCain spinning “Barracuda.”

Other songs McCain pinched without approval: John Mellancamp’s “Pink Houses,” The Foo Fighter’s “My Hero,” Abba’s “Take A Chance on Me,” Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” and Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty.”

These are from McCain’s 2008 run for President as a Republican. He lost to Barack Obama.

Are there more?

Tom Petty objected to the Arizona Senator using “I Won’t Back Down.”

The general lyrics about not giving up in the face of adversity do fit well for an election campaign theme song. It was also a popular song on the radio following 9/11.

Not again!:

Petty had his 1989 song copped again, but this time by a non-politician. Petty got co-writing credits on Sam Smith’s similar-sounding “Stay With Me” (2014), even though he didn’t think it was such a big deal.

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54-40 – I Go Blind

54-40 is a well-known Canadian band that blends alternative and folk influences. Like many Canadian outfits experience, finding success in the larger American market has been challenging.

Their 1986 song was covered, near note-for-note, by Hootie And The Blowfish, 14 year later:

The American band had a hit with it. The song made the Friends TV show soundtrack, and is on one of their great hits compilations. Does 54-40 feel cheated? Their song could have been the hit, and breakthrough they desired.

The band took their name from this very problem.

“54-40 or Fight,” refers to 19th century expansionist tendencies or plans of the USA, into Canada. The numbers relate to territory between Oregon, and up to Russia’s Alaska. In between, of course, this would be what would become Canada. Americans appeared to want the land and might go to war for it.

U.S. Presidential candidate James Polk campaigned on winning all this territory, in 1844. His slogan: 54-40 or fight.” Polk won, but diplomacy and compromise created the present boundaries.

Likewise, 54-40, the band, no doubt still benefits from the royalties of Hootie And The Blowfish singing their song.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Rebels

Struggling to satisfactorily record this song back in 1985, Petty apparently hurt his hand, punching a wall.

The song’s narrator calls himself a rebel, born in Dixie.

By the dictionary, a rebel is a person who stands up for what they believe in, even if most others aren’t on the same page. Politically, a rebel could be a revolutionary or even a terrorist.

It is a debate whether citizens should have the right to rebel against their governments. Constitutions may entrench this, with freedoms of expression, speech and assembly (gathering, meeting). This typically means resistance using legal and conventional means. But violence can come from rebels.

And Petty is using the American Revolutionary War of the 18th century as a metaphor. This was the armed battles between Great Britain and the American colonies. These colonists – the rebels – resented British imposition of taxes.

More from Petty: American Girl

Lou Reed – Good Evening Mr. Waldheim

Kurt Waldheim was a Nazi oficer that later came to be the head of the United Nations. Lou Reed sings about putting controversial people in ironic positions of power, when you consider that the United Nations champions equal treatment of all.

He sings about the “common ground.” This usually means finding what ideas people share to unite them. Reed seems to mean this as giving other groups their fair shake, respect and acknowledging their past sacrifices and hardships.

Examples in the bouncy rocker are double standards for Reed: that some seek common ground with other groups in society, but not Jews? It is to him a reflexive anti-Semitism that is given a free pass. Reed feels this is hypocrisy from some people, like civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Champions of racial equality in America can better appreciate what Jewish people have endured.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – Power To The People

Apparently, Lennon didn’t think that much of this 1971 song as the years passed. It was inspired by an interview the singer gave to Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn of the Marxist newspaper, Red Mole. From this source, peaceful revolutions were inadequate to dismantle the existing capitalist system. It’s not clear if Lennon was writing from their perspective the way a fiction author may not necessarily believe in the thoughts and actions of their characters. However, the lyrics suggest support for a worker’s revolution of the kind that Karl Marx envisioned: to take to the streets and even violently usher in communism.

The Rolling Stones – Sweet Neo Con

Timeless protest songs aren’t so direct, but perhaps Keith and Mick were not trying to be metaphorical back in 2005. The song takes on George W. Bush, of course, who was quite the anti-muse for many artists.

“Neo con” is short for neoconservative. This goes back to the 1960s when the Stones started rocking. Conservatives were looking around at society and government and feeling that change was happening too fast. Conservatives are cautious of change, especially when alterations in public policy are untried and untested. But it just so happened that to get things back to the way they wanted them, would also require some dramatic shifts away from what they saw as socialism to classical liberalism.

Confused yet?

Neoconservatives were often like classical liberals who strongly value individual freedom and a limited role for government. They supported going back to the future, so to speak.

More informally, neo con is simply a put down, and the swearing and name-calling in this song might be considered intellectually lazy. It is not a Stones classic but an interesting, provocative part of their legacy, all the same.

Paul Kantner And Jefferson Starship – Mau Mau (Amerikon)

This is an early song critical of Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, decades later president. It comes from a concept album, Blows Against the Empire, that in 1970 attempted to tell the story of a rejection of American values. A spaceship would come to find a new home for people!

The specific jibe at Reagan begins having a B-movie star sending dogs in with the National Guard, to put down a protest at the University of California’s Berkeley campus,  back in 1969.

“Rock Against Reagan,” a punk tour and movement, came later the 1980s.