Banned lyrics, or band lyrics that have been banned are nothing new. Banned band lyrics have made their mark by a variety of censors over the past 50 years. The most frequently banned lyrics have contained themes of sexuality, violence, race, politics and anti-religious messages.
Even though mores and values have changed over the past half a century, lyrics are still being banned by a variety of sources the world over. One just has to look as far as the Dixie Chicks shortly after the Iraq War started or the 2007 Eurovision controversy over an Israeli band’s political lyrics to know that censorship is alive and well.
But, let’s take a look at some of the more publicized banned lyrics from the 1950’s to today, so that one can see that even though things change, some things remain the same.
Banned Lyrics – 1950s
Dean Martin’s hit song “Wham Bam, Thank You Ma’am” is banned by radio stations for having suggestive lyrics. “There Stands the Glass” by Webb Pierce is banned from radio play for lyrics that promote drinking. The lyrics of a Cole Porter classic, “I Get A Kick Out of You” are changed for airplay due to a reference to cocaine.
Rosemary Clooney’s hit “Mambo Italiano” for having lyrics void of good taste. Pat Boone starts recording and sanitizing T-Bone Walker’s lyrics that contain messages of drinking and sexuality. Billie Holiday’s version of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” is banned for references to prostitution. The novelty song “Transfusion” by Dot and Diamond by NBC, ABC and CBS for grossness. Lloyd Price’s original lyrics to “Stagger Lee” are banned for themes of violence.
Banned Lyrics – 1960s
Bob Dylan’s lyrics for “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues” are banned from the Ed Sullivan Show. The lyrics for the Kingsmen hit “Louie, Louie” were temporarily banned for sexual content. The lyrics to the Barry McGuire song “Eve of Destruction” were banned for containing themes of suicidal ideation.
Radio stations across the country banned The Who’s hit sing “Pictures of Lily” for masturbation lyrics. Frank Zappa’s lyrics in “Money” were altered by MGM Records because of a sexual reference. Radio stations banned The Swinging Medallions’ lyrics to “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love” because of sexual references.
In order to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Rolling Stones agree to alter the lyrics to “Let’s Spend The Night Together”. Radio stations banned Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” because of the mention of pre-marital sex and teenage pregnancy. Jim Morrison temporarily agreed to change the lyrics to “Light My Fire” for the Ed Sullivan Show so that the listening public would not hear the words “Girl we couldn’t get much higher”, but when live and on air, sang those very same words.
Banned Lyrics – 1970s
A handful of radio stations across the country without consent, alter the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Working Class Hero”. U. S. radio stations banned Bob Dylan’s lyrics to “George Jackson” because of its political nature and an obscenity in the words. The lyrics to Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” are changed without knowledge or consent by their record label Chrysalis Records over an anatomical reference.
The lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” are banned by radio stations across the U. S. as they misunderstood the words to be racist and anti-female. John Denver’s hit song “Rocky Mountain High,” is banned by radio stations for a possible drug reference. Loretta Lynn’s song “The Pill” is banned for talking about birth control. The Sex Pistol’s song “God Save the Queen” was banned by the BBC since the lyrics were said to be too political and unpatriotic.
Banned Lyrics – 1980s
Mercury Records bans Frank Zappa’s song “I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted” and refused to release the single. Olivia Newton John’s hit song “Physical” is banned by Utah radio stations for being too suggestive for the Mormon population. Al Hudson’s song “Let’s Talk” is banned by radio stations across the country for sexual lyrics after a warning by MCA Records is released.
Sheena Easton’s hit song “Sugar Walls” is banned by American Bandstand because the lyrics have been targeted by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) as being sexually suggestive. After his death, Marvin Gaye’s song “Sanctified Pussy” is rewritten as “Sanctified Lady” by the record company. Radio stations across the country ban George Michael’s song “I Want Your Sex” because of sexual lyrics.
Banned Lyrics – 1990s
In Florida, 2 Live Crew’s song “Me So Horney” is banned for sexual lyrics. A judge in Tennessee ruled that all of 2 Live Crew’s “Nasty As They Wanna Be” and N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” lyrics are obscene under state law and thus banned. In regard to the 2 Live Crew song, four other states follow suit including Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
A Nebraska radio station banned lyrics from K. D. Lang because of her anti-meat beliefs. Wal-Mart discount stores banned Sheryl Crow’s self-titled CD because of the lyrics in her song “Love Is A Good Thing” depicted gun violence using Wal-Mart products. Insane Clown Posse’s album “The Great Milenko” is banned by stores nationwide because of unacceptable content in the lyrics. Prodigy’s song “Smack My Bitch Up” is banned by Wal-Mart and K-Mart stores after selling the “Fat of the Land” album for nine months, when the National Organization for Women object to the anti-feminist lyrics.
Banned Lyrics – 2000s
The New York Fraternal Order of Police ban Bruce Springsteen from New York performances for the lyrical content of his song “American Skin” about the controversial shooting death by police of student, Amadou Diallo. Producers of the Late Night with David Letterman TV show ban singer Ani DiFranco’s lyrics to her hit “Subdivision” because of the racial conflict inherent in the song.
Sarah Jones’ and DJ Vadim’s song “Your Revolution”, is banned by the FCC for profanity and Portland, Oregon radio station KBOO is fined for playing the song. Eminem’s hit song, “The Real Slim Shady” is banned by the FCC and two radio stations are fined for playing the song. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Clear Channel Communications put a temporary ban on popular hit songs including Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” and “Nowhere to Run” by Martha & the Vandellas.
In Turkey, the punk band Deli has had the lyrics to “Ö.S. Yeme” banned by authorities for verbal obscenities. Newstyle Radio 98.7FM in Birmingham, UK has banned all gangsta rap and “gun-slinging” lyrics from their airways. New York City has not only banned the “N” word from lyrics but from the lips of every citizen in the Big Apple.
So, you can see by the examples above that censorship is alive and well not only in the U. S., but around the world as well. While some of it may be merited for the public good, much of it is reactionary, over-reaching and flies in the face of free speech and expression.