Bon Jovi Allegedly Rips Off Song


August 6, 2008

Bart Steele wrote a love song to the Red Sox that changed his life–until, he says, Jon Bon Jovi (allegedly!) ripped it off, and changed his life all over again.

Chris Faraone of the Boston Magazine reports that on October 4, 2007, Steele’s friend Chadbyrne Dickens, who lived in New York, was watching the Yankees on TBS when he saw an MLB advertisement featuring Bon Jovi. “I was like, ‘Holy fuck. It’s Bart’s song,'” says Dickens, a former executive at Paramount and Miramax. “Not like, ‘They stole it,’ but like, ‘Bart’s song is on TV. They must have bought it.'” Dickens found a clip of the Bon Jovi spot on YouTube and forwarded it to Steele. Two hours later Steele called him back, almost crying. Major League Baseball had licensed nothing, and to Steele the lyrical likeness seemed too blatant for coincidence. “I felt raped,” Steele says.

His song goes “Have you heard the news that’s goin’ round?/Our hometown team is series-bound,” while the Bon Jovi track goes “Let the world keep spinning ’round and ’round/This is where it all goes down/That’s why I love this town.” It didn’t matter to Steele that Bon Jovi’s track was country-pop glossy and his was hoedown gritty; it didn’t matter that few of the lyrics were the same. “If somebody kidnapped my daughter and gave her a nose job and dyed her hair yellow and I saw her 20 years down the line, I’d know that was my baby,” he says. “I knew this was my song.”

It got worse. TBS, in a move that paralleled Steele’s marketing concept, aired team-specific versions of the commercial in different cities. Furthermore, it appeared to Steele that the spot was edited not to fit Bon Jovi’s song, but rather to line up with “Man, I Really Love This Team.” At two minutes and 30 seconds, the original Bon Jovi promotion was nearly the exact length of Steele’s recording. And despite the spot’s putative purpose of advertising postseason coverage of National League and American League teams, Steele believes there was a disproportionate amount of Red Sox footage in the montage. He had a Berklee friend lay down “Man, I Really Love This Team” over Bon Jovi’s video.

When Steele sings, “Word is out on Yawkey Way,” the TBS video cuts to the intersection of Brookline Avenue and Yawkey Way. When he belts, “The Tigers, Rangers, and the Jays,” it cuts to shots of Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez running and an unidentifiable Ranger crossing home plate. This thing was the advertising equivalent of Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

Steele says he sent letters to Major League Baseball, the Red Sox, TBS, and Bon Jovi, but to no avail. (The Red Sox and Bon Jovi did not respond to requests for comment for this article. MLB’s publicists deny any involvement with the production of the “I Love This Town” campaign. Turner Sports, which produced the ad, denies all malfeasance.)

In January, Steele became further enraged when Bon Jovi Tours announced the “Bon Jovi Loves My Town” contest, in which fans were given opportunities to have their homemade “I Love This Town” videos played at concerts. Later that month, after earning $95 in bartending tips but getting a $75 parking ticket in the same night, Steele returned home and slipped on a patch of ice. Lying there, staring at the moon, he contemplated walking to the Tobin Bridge and jumping off. In the days that followed, he saw conspiracies everywhere. When Bon Jovi backed out of planned July 2008 Fenway shows, Steele figured it was out of shame.

And then Steele found someone willing to hear him out. In January, he had brought his evidence to ASCAP, requesting a review of potential conflicts, and on March 25 he received a letter from the organization’s repertory services department. It stated that ASCAP had “received multiple claims for the composition” from several parties. This was huge: ASCAP only seldom acknowledged an aggrieved songwriter’s claim. The letter was copied to management firms representing Jon Bon Jovi, bandmate Richie Sambora, and songwriter Billy Falcon, who split credit for their song three ways. (Their lawyers could not be reached for comment on Steele’s claims.)

In a follow-up phone conversation with ASCAP’s Andrew Rodriguez, Steele says, he was informed the group’s next move would be to “get all parties together” and reach a compromise. (Rodriguez declined to confirm Steele’s account of the conversation.) Steele assumed that would happen in April in L.A., when Jon Bon Jovi and Sambora were to commemorate their band’s 25th anniversary with a Q&A session at ASCAP’s “I Create Music” Expo. Perfect: Steele had planned to attend the expo anyway.

He was sure Bon Jovi would understand his plight. He even packed his mandolin in case the rocker needed backup for some West Coast dates. “If this goes right,” Steele told me, “we’ll be best friends.”

Three days before the expo, he received a promising e-mail from Universal Music Publishing Group. “We will be working on [Bon Jovi’s] behalf to resolve this matter with you,” it said. The day the expo got under way, however, Steele found the involved parties changing their postures. He says ASCAP was now reluctant to connect him with Jon Bon Jovi. He also got an e-mail from the singer’s attorney rejecting his claim “to any interest whatsoever in the composition, whether as songwriter or publisher.” That afternoon, as he was waiting for Bon Jovi’s Q&A to begin, Steele talked to ASCAP staffers, who, he claims, told him Bon Jovi’s management had said to keep him at a distance.

Upset, Steele decided to skip the event to drain Heinekens in the hotel bar. “The gloves are coming off,” he fumed. “My whole strategy has changed. This has to get messy immediately.” He began composing a cease-and-desist letter.By his last day in Los Angeles, having gotten nowhere near Bon Jovi, Steele was determined the “shit fight” would resume back home. On a TV in the hotel bar, the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in their second 2008 face-off. He was still too angry to watch.

Two weeks later, Steele is onstage in the Middle East’s corner room, setting up for his band’s weekly Thursday gig at the Cambridge nightclub. He’s optimistic: A lawyer friend tells him that she might have convinced a major Boston firm (he can’t say which one yet) to take his case on contingency. Steele seems more confident than ever that rock stardom is looming, notwithstanding the threatening letter from Bon Jovi’s attorneys and the sudden, absolute silence from ASCAP.

His cell phone rings, blaring the same ringtone he’s had since last October: a digitized snippet of Bon Jovi’s “I Love This Town.” “I’ll be collecting royalties on that one of these days,” he says.

The complete story can be read at

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