Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published October 6th 2021
Because banning music is a thing
I had a version of this list ready to go on September 15, after my son asked me how many songs were banned from the radio in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001. I had a spiel about the attacks and how United Estatian citizens took it. I had some stuff about politics and why the attacks occurred which would have got me hung, drawn and quartered… and it was just not a good feel or look.
But the idea of banned songs – that was something I could focus on.
Now, there has been a long history of songs banned by radio and TV over the decades. Some, you can understand. Bad language is still a taboo in many quarters (which is why I have taken to putting NSFW warnings when bad words occur). Religion can still be a topic of controversy. Songs promoting hatred, hate speech, misogyny, homophobia, abuse are generally (and I mean generally) not played. Songs about certain private physical acts are also offensive to some. And in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks (I refuse to call it 9-11; what's the 9th of November got to do with anything?), I can even understand a temporary ban on songs about blowing things up, explosions, airplanes and the like.
But what about songs that were banned, and then you look at the song and wonder what they were thinking?
That's this list.
'Strange Fruit' by Billie Holiday (1939) Reason: Too morbid! Could upset racists!
Okay, the first reason the song was banned, when it came out – that it was too morbid – makes sense when you consider it's about the hanging of an African-American. That reason you can let pass. But when the song was banned again some fifteen or so years later because it made racists feel uncomfortable… wasn't that the point of the song? People who did not like those with a different skin colour had the song banned in some areas because they did not want sympathy for the victim here. And radio complied.
'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' by Jimmy Boyd (1953) Reason: An extra-marital affair is implied!
Even though the song definitely hints that the Santa is the singer's father in a costume, several markets banned it because the idea was that the singer's mother was having an affair with Santa Claus. In some places, this banning lasted for more than 10 years!
'Wake Up, Little Susie' by The Everly Brothers (1957) Reason: A boy and a girl sleeping together before marriage!
This innocent song from early in the Everly Brothers' career was banned because there was an implication that by falling asleep together, the characters in the song had sex. The song makes it clear that sleep meant just sleep, but sleeping together has other meanings and these were used to ban this track in some places.
'Great Balls Of Fire' by Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)
Reason: The singer married his 13 yr old cousin!*
This is probably the first example of cancel culture that has been recorded. The song was gaining traction when it became known that not only was Lewis' new wife 13 (not 15 as he had claimed), but also his first cousin. In the wake of this revelation, the track was pulled and his career suffered for a long time. It was nothing to do with the song, but the person himself.
'Rumble' by Link Wray And His Ray-Men(1958)
Reason: Inciting youths to violence!
This track was one of the early examples of a guitar-led track, an instrumental that evoked a feel without lyrics. And yet, despite not having any words, some authorities felt that the song could still cause young people to want to go out and fight! In fact, what it did cause was a generation of young people to go out and buy a guitar.
'Hard Headed Woman' by Elvis Presley (1958)
Reason: Mentions Biblical figures in a non-Biblical context!
A short song, a fun song, covered by other artists, this Elvis track was deemed blasphemous in some areas of the USA because it mentions Biblical figures out of the context of the Bible. That's it. Biblical allusion got the song pulled. I guess nowadays it'd be "cancelled" for misogyny.
'Mack The Knife' by Bobby Darin (1959)
Reason: Glorifying a murderer!*
Despite being written more than 30 years before Darin released his version, his was the one to get banned for making a man who killed others seem like a hero. It might be because of its popularity and the fact this was an English translation of a German work, it wasn't the description of the acts of violence, but the fact it was seen as a good thing (allegedly) that saw this track pulled.
'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' by The Shirelles (1960)
Reason: Implied pre-marital sex/teenaged one-night stand!
The implication is not all that subtle, to be honest, because the woman singing wants to know if, after spending the night together, the male will love her as he claims now. That part of it being banned in some areas is almost understandable. But other places banned it because it indicated teenagers would indulge in one-night stands, and that was seen as something the song was encouraging to happen, especially in those who had never had sex.
'Monster Mash' by Bobby 'Boris' Pickett And The Crypt-Kickers (1962)
Reason: Too scary!
A comedy track written to highlight Bobby Pickett's Boris Karloff impersonation and the rise at that time of horror movies in popular culture. But the mere fact that famous movie monsters were mentioned had the song deemed too horrible for the general public in some jurisdictions.
'Louie Louie' by The Kingsmen (1963)
Reason: Alleged obscenity!
This song was banned and then subjected to an FBI investigation (one source indicated it lasted ten years!) because of an alleged obscenity. People were sure they could hear it, but the fact is the lyrics were just sung unintelligibly, and it was eventually allowed to go ahead into the world uncensored. Here's the irony: there is an obscenity on the track. When it was remastered, eagle-eared listeners were sure they heard the f-word in the background. Yes – the drummer said it was him because he'd dropped a drumstick. So, it was there and no one found it!
'My Generation' by The Who (1965)
Reason: Offensive to people who have a stutter!
One side effect of taking amphetamines can be stuttering speech patterns. Speed was the drug of choice for many "mods" in the 1960s. So, when Townshend wrote 'My Generation' about the attitude of these kids, stuttering was a part of the song, to mimic this drug-induced state. But the BBC thought real stutterers would be offended and so the song was banned.
'God Only Knows' by The Beach Boys (1966)
One of the very best songs The Beach Boys released, a glorious tune about a deep love, was banned because it took the word God in vain. Now regarded as a classic song, with complex music and deep lyrics, at the time many places in the USA would not play it because of that word in the title. In fact, I have heard cover versions which have changed it to 'Heaven Only Knows', released in the past few years… so that attitude is still there.
'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' by The Beatles (1967)
Reason: Possible hints about drug usage!*
As I have mentioned previously, this song is based on a picture John Lennon's son Julian drew, and which can be found with a Google search. But because drugs were on everyone's lips (pardon the pun), the initials LSD appearing made a lot of markets assume it and its trippy imagery were about LSD. This is just one of many Beatles songs banned; I chose this one because of that asterisk.
'Give Peace A Chance' by The Plastic Ono Band (1969)
Reason: Opposing the Vietnam War!
A song about wanting peace. There is nothing controversial about the lyrics (and some of them – "bagism" – make no sense), nothing currently political, just a desire for people to not fight wars. But a number of USA radio stations banned it because it was seen as anti-Vietnam War. And that was, apparently, not a good thing.
'Timothy' by The Buoys (1971)
Okay, it is obvious why a song about two men eating their friend when trapped in a mine would be banned. But what happened was funny. The record company told people the titular Timothy was their mule. The song was played and enjoyed some chart success. Then the songwriter Rupert Holmes spoke up and told everyone that, no, Timothy was a person. So, the song was banned after it had had its success, and the banning of it saw it have a second run of chart success. But, yes, a song about eating your fellow man reached the upper echelons of the charts.
'Sailing' by Rod Stewart (1972)
Reason: Could offend some English in wake of the Falklands War!
In the early 1980s, Argentina and the UK fought what has been called a war over a hunk of rock in the southern Atlantic Ocean ruled over, in part, by penguins. Many songs were banned by the BBC in light of that conflict, but in 1982 this ten year old track about just enjoying life on the sea, was banned because it was about being on the sea. That was it.
'Only The Good Die Young' by Billy Joel (1977)
Reason: Offensive to Catholics!*
Catholics were offended because the song said they don't indulge in things other teenagers did. That seems to be what I could work out. The Catholic girl didn't want to do the naughty things of other teenagers; good on her – she has morals. But people were offended by it. There was some talk about the phrase of the title being a problem, or that it denigrated Catholic iconography, but the reports indicate that only came later.
'Physical' by Olivia Newton-John (1982)
Reason: Suggestive lyrics!
This seems to be not so much about the lyrics – there were already plenty of songs with lyrics far more suggestive than this one out in the world – as about the singer. Olivia Newton-John was seen as so innocent that her run as Sandy in the film Grease was seen as just her; it was said, the leather-clad ending was the only time she played a character. So when this song came out, her with a short hairstyle and dressed in lycra, it was too much for those who remembered the sweet singer from 1970s Australia and this song copped it. The video, on the other hand, was banned because of the ending.
'Money For Nothing' by Dire Straits featuring Sting (1985)
From the classic Brothers In Arms album, this song was a huge hit and resulted in a wonderful 'Weird Al' Yankovic parody. Then, in 2010, in Canada, it was banned from radio airplay in some markets because one person declared the song homophobic (and "promoting hate speech") through the use of one word in the lyrics. The ban lasted some time as well.
'Walk Like An Egyptian' by The Bangles (1986)
Reason: Could offend American sensibilities in the wake of the start of the 1991 Gulf War!*
A harmless song, almost a novelty track, about dancing using stereotypical Egyptian moves taken from the way ancient Egyptian people were depicted in paintings and bas reliefs of antiquity, was removed from radio in 1991 because of the Gulf War the USA launched against the Middle East. Apparently, dancing was seen as bad.
All those asterisks? Those songs marked with an asterisk were amongst the list of more than 150 songs banned (or, technically, suggested they not be played) from United States radio in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
I will point out that none of these bannings were permanent.
Now, these tracks are all older, and many of the bannings occurred in the time before a more liberal society developed. However, some of these songs were banned in the twenty-first century, some were banned long after the song was released, and some were banned for reasons that don't make sense today. But with the "cancel culture" still so prevalent in Western society, maybe some of these songs would have been banned if released today anyway.
My opinion? It's art. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. But for things to be banned because of personal opinion is the start of a slippery slope to everything being banned because someone is offended by something somewhere.
But that's my two cents. Hope you enjoyed the list.