R.E.M. Says ‘Don’t Use Song’: The Weird History Of That Song And Advertisers

While it’s not surprising that the progressive band R.E.M. is not pleased about their famous song “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” being used by the most certainly not progressive Donald Trump in his presidential campaign, it’s not the first time the song has been used for purposes that would make R.E.M. displeased. You wouldn’t think that people would want to use a song that says it’s about the end of the world in the title to promote something or even themselves, but people have tried it.

Of course, songs are hilariously misused by advertisers and politicians all the time – “Born In The USA” and the Reagan campaign, anyone? – but for some reason people have decided that “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” is just what they need to pep their product or cause up. The most famous of those is Microsoft. Windows 95 was promised to be the next great thing after the hugely successful Windows 3.1, and Microsoft decided that “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” was perfect as its theme song. While Trump’s use of the song isn’t technically breaking any laws, if the R.E.M. hit was going to be used to sell something, the company would need permission from the copyright holders. R.E.M. themselves. Their response was not as colorful as their response to Trump’s use of the song, but the refusal was still essentially “Don’t use the song.” (Microsoft would settle on the Rolling Stones‘ “Start Me Up,” leading to quips when the product wasn’t quite as great as Microsoft thought it was that they should have used the next verse in “Start Me Up:” “You make a grown man cry.”)

Any band that’s as deliberately political as R.E.M. (whose 1989 tour for the album Green included Greenpeace booths and who have frequently mentioned current political events at concerts) is probably going to get requests for song uses that will begin with “don’t,” but they have played for political campaigns before, most notably for John Kerry in 2004. But R.E.M. weren’t even the first musicians who had to warn Trump to not use their songs: he used Neil Young’s “Rockin In The Free World” in July, prompting a “don’t use that song” from Young and a later announcement that Young would be working in support of Trump’s political opposite, Bernie Sanders. Trump at least conceded at that point to not use the song in his campaign again. With the slightly more stronger worded “don’t use that song” from R.E.M. he will no doubt remove “End of The World” from his campaign playlist.

[Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images]