Censorship organizations have somewhat of a trigger finger; they are quick to censor a song or fully ban it; whether it’s a single word in a lyric or the entire song completely. And radio stations have banned songs and full records for as long as they’ve been playing them. While it sure sucks for the music artists that just want to spread their music around but for some reason, it is deemed inappropriate; there are sometimes actual justifiable reasons for taking the song off the radar. I’m pretty sure you heard about the recent decision to ban the song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside.’
That one, I gotta admit, has its merit. But we’ll get to that. In general, however, way too many songs (that you probably never even knew were banned) have been taken off the circuit for some pretty absurd reasons. These are songs that have been banned from radio or television airplay. Why? You’ll soon find out…
The Rolling Stones have been around for a while and believe it or not; Mick Jagger still rocks the stage at age 76. The Stones’ early days were among their most “devious,” if you remember. Their music was being highly censored, and in 1965, when they were performing on the radio variety show ‘Shindig!’ their hit song “Satisfaction” became something of a problem.
The lyrics “trying to make some girl” was met with real criticism for its sexual innuendos and statements about commercialism. The song was then banned from getting air time on that radio station. Ironically, when The Rolling Stones performed at the Super Bowl in 2006, this was actually the only song that didn’t have to be censored.
Madonna had her fair share of controversy throughout her career. She constantly raised eyebrows and still does to this day. But one of her songs made headlines, and Madonna has kind of reveled in the controversy that her songs have created. “Like a Prayer” was one that people were having some trouble with, apparently. The American Family Association and The Vatican condemned the music video for the song because of its “blasphemous imagery.”
All the hullabaloo caused so much pressure that Pepsi ended up canceling an entire advertising campaign that featured the song in 1989. It went so far that the Pope (the Pope!) even asked people to boycott Madonna’s concerts in 1990. Subsequently, Madonna has been banned in Egypt, and her music faces lots of restrictions in Russia.
I got to admit; this one surprised me. Adele of all singers got banned!? You might be surprised, too, (and maybe even pleased?) that an Adele song was censored and banned from a bunch of radio stations. Which song was the big no-no? It was “Rolling in the Deep,” and it was censored because – and get this –the word “ship” was ambiguous.
No, I’m not kidding. This is real. Websites stated that the song included the word “ship” instead of a swear word that sounds very similar. Oh no! But her original handwritten lyrics feature the swear word. When she performs the song on TV, she uses the word “stuff.” Come on, people; I think everyone can handle some “ship” sometimes.
The Doors, unsurprisingly, were met with their share of finger shakers. Their style and their music, as awesome as it is, didn’t meet the likes of those who were trying to keep things PG-13 on the radio as well as on TV. The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’ became the subject of controversy when they were blacklisted from ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1967. Why? Because they purposely chose not to change the lyrics “Girl; we couldn’t get much higher.”
It was considered as referencing drug use. While Jim Morrison agreed to self-censor for the show’s performance, he just couldn’t resist presenting his work in its true form. Can you blame him? BBC banned the song all but 24 years later during the time of the Persian Gulf War because of the word “fire.”
The song “Physical” was incredibly popular in both the U.S. and the U.K., likely because of its music clip where Olivia Newton-John is parading around in tight neon-colored spandex and basically doing a workout video. But the song’s popularity didn’t prevent some radio stations from banning the song as they had issues with the lyrics.
The line “there’s nothing left to talk about unless it’s horizontally” was one of the song’s censored lyrics. Basically, the idea of sex can’t even be subtly referred to in songs, at least at the time. The music video added controversy as well because it showed a gay couple holding hands while they ignored Olivia’s advances throughout the clip. And believe it or not, even MTV censored it.
So this one has become the talk of the town recently. Local radio stations across the US have started to play their Christmas songs. But for Cleveland’s Star 102’s festive lineup, one classic tune won’t be heard. ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside,’ which has been performed by artists like Louis Armstrong, Michael Buble, and Sammy Davis Jr. (to name a few), was a fan favorite in the past. But I don’t think people really, and I mean really, paid attention to the lyrics.
Just look at what one verse says:
“I ought to say no, no, no — Mind if I move in closer?
At least I’m gonna say that I tried — What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
I really can’t stay — Baby don’t hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside.”
Yeah, I’m kind of surprised it didn’t get banned sooner.
Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow wrote the song “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and while they insisted that the song was not actually written about marijuana, people weren’t buying it. One of those people was then Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew. He deemed it as a song that was promoting drug use, and he called for a ban of the tune, which was granted to him.
Despite all the controversy, the song ended up being a smash hit for singer Peter, Paul, and Mary, who performed the song. Lipton and Yarrow repeatedly rejected the drug interpretation. Yarrow frequently explained that the song is actually about the hardships of growing older and has no relationship to drugs. He also said the song “never had any meaning other than the obvious one,” which is the “loss of innocence in children.” So take that, Agnew.
Of all songs, John Lennon’s most peaceful song ever created? Seriously? Sure, John Lennon was a very controversial figure, but a song that was meant to encourage peace in the world really shouldn’t be censored. From Lennon’s activism to his songwriting, he happened to make himself an easy target for censorship.
His song “Imagine” was censored after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and also in 1991 during the Gulf War. Ironically, the song peace was causing a war. Well, a war for those who didn’t like the lyrics of the song. The line “imagine there’s no heaven” was what caused a problem. It had religious groups up in arms. While it did get censored, it never stopped the song from being a chart-topping smash hit.
When talking about controversial music, this song is sure to make an appearance somewhere in the conversation. I mean, just look at the tile of the song: “Cop Killer.” Body Count is actually Ice-T’s rock group, and the song is a heated one. It’s about a victim of police brutality who takes matters into his own hands, albeit violently.
It really comes as no surprise that this song got banned. It faced criticism from then-President George W. Bush and lots of other law enforcement agencies. Some people were protesting the song, which only worked in Body Count’s favor as the sales of the single skyrocketed. In New Zealand, however, the group has been banned completely – them and their songs altogether.
Jimmy Boyd was only 13 years old when he recorded this classic Christmas song in 1952. I’m sure you’ve heard the tune countless times, but as a refresher, the song is about a boy who wakes up to find mom and dad (who’s in a Santa costume) kissing under the mistletoe. Sweet, right? I think many of us would like to find our parents kissing under the mistletoe! But not everyone thought it was sweet.
The innocence of the song didn’t prevent it from being temporarily banned from radio. The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston shamed the song for its “suggestive language.” The Catholic Church claimed it linked Christmas to sex. Boyd met with the church leaders to explain his idea behind the song, and it was pulled from the ban.
Let me just put this out there – I personally find this song to be the cheesiest that they get. So, in other words, I’m not a fan. But as it goes, even cheesy songs face controversy. People were obsessed with the movie ‘Grease’ (not me!) and equally in love with the song ‘Greased Lightning.’ But fans may not have known that the song was banned from the radio.
The song was actually banned from radio play because of a certain line in the song’s lyrics. Do you know which line it was? Try to guess.
The phrase was “it ain’t no s***,” and it is usually cut from radio play. Ironically, the word “fongool,” which is an Italian swear word, isn’t censored in other Grease songs.
The movie The Wizard of Oz came out in 1939, but this song from the film wasn’t banned back then. It was following the death of ex-UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. BBC banned the song “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead” in 2013. Thatcher was definitely a polarizing figure in UK politics, and thus the song ended up reaching number two on the charts after her passing.
The BBC then refused to play the whole song after it peaked on the charts, having stated that it was clearly a celebration of Thatcher’s death. Well, duh. It’s interesting, considering how old the song is and how it probably has never been played once in the last 60 years. It also goes to show you how many people weren’t a fan of Margaret Thatcher.
Like Madonna, Lady Gaga is a controversial figure who has faced the faces with raised eyebrows. Gaga also couldn’t care less about the naysayers – she has enough fans to keep her head up. But the cultural and musical icon had to deal with some of her songs getting banned from radio play. One of her many songs that got some backlash was ‘Love Game.’
The song was censored for what people considered were heavily suggestive themes. Specifically, the ban of the song targeted some context regarding a “disco stick.” You can probably figure out on your own what Gaga was referring to. The pop star has also been banned in the country of Lebanon for the song “Judas,” which was deemed offensive to Christianity.
I can just guess what you’re thinking right now: how can anyone want to ban a song that has such an iconic drum solo? The harmless song ‘In the Air Tonight’ in all of its drum-filled glory was nonetheless banned on not one, but two separate occasions. The first time was in 1991, and it was because of a perceived connection to the Gulf War. Okay, fine, whatever. But then it happened again 20 years later.
The second time the song was banned was in 2001 when Clear Channel Communications prohibited a list of 162 songs from the airwaves after the 9/11 attacks happened. Phil Collins’ smash hit was one of them. It’s not clear as to exactly why, but perhaps the words “in the air” were problematic.
This single by Britney was controversial, to say the least. And if you’re wondering why just say the title five times fast and you’ll see. Go ahead, do it. Here is a hint: it spells out the “f” word and then add the word “me” at the end. Get it? Yeah, know you understand why the song was being debated. At first, they were unsure of whether the apparent double entendre was actually censorship material, so the U.S. stations changed the title to “If U See Amy.”
I guess they figured that would make a difference. Then there were U.K. radio stations that changed the title completely to “Amy.” It wasn’t enough in the eyes of many, as lots of people were mad that the song was getting played at all.
There are artists on this list that really don’t surprise any of us for being banned (and there are ones that do the opposite). Eminem is one of those unsurprising ones. His whole persona is meant to be bada$$. The FCC fined a Colorado Springs Radio station back in 2001 when they were playing the CLEAN version of the song.
While there isn’t even any explicit language in the clean version, the FCC still had a problem with the song’s sexual references and themes. The commission had put guidelines in place earlier that year stating that a track’s context and innuendo alone can get a radio station in trouble for violating their decency standards. That alone makes pretty much all Eminem songs hard to play on the radio.
The Kinks’ upbeat track about a man who has a romantic encounter with a transvestite in Soho, London, didn’t attract controversy for reasons you would think. Although there were radio stations who did ban the song for that reason alone, BBC Radio found another problem with the song.
There’s a line in the lyrics that says, “Where they drink champagne, and it tastes just like Coca-Cola,” which apparently was free advertising for a strictly non-commercial radio station. Ray Davies was then forced to take a 6000-mile round-trip flight from New York to London and make it back on June 3, 1970, while interrupting the band’s American tour, to change the words to a more generic “cherry cola.” Now the song could be played, and Coca-Cola can pay for its advertisements.
Billie Holiday’s song ‘Strange Fruit’ came out a very long time ago, in 1939, and at the time it was a compelling and emotional song. The song originated as a poem penned by A Jewish-American writer, teacher, and songwriter named Abel Meeropol (who published it under his pseudonym Lewis Allan) as a protest against lynching.
The song showed Holiday’s horror over lynching, and it was banned from U.S. radio for being too heavy and morbid. But still, many people felt that it was a song that needed to be heard at the time. Holiday had other songs that were banned as well, including ‘Love for Sale,’ which got banned in 1965 because it had to do with prostitution.
This classic hit by Van Morrison is such a feel-good song that we almost forget that it has lyrics that were the basis for banning the song. Can you remember the lyrics of the song? It came down to one line in particular, which was “making love in the green grass.” Oh, right, that one. Well, that line was got the song banned in 1967 for its “suggestive lyrics.”
That was where radio stations drew the line. Despite the pushback from the censorship, the song was still obviously a hit huge. Many radio stations must have understood that and compromised by releasing a radio-friendly version of the track that replaced the words with a phrase said earlier in the song which is, “laughin’ and a runnin’ hey hey.” I don’t know that version. I only know the real “racy” version, and I’ll stick to that one… because I live life on the edge.
This case is a reminder for songs to be more concrete and literal in their lyrics. This little ditty by Bobby Darin was popular in the 50s, and you probably sang it to your kids when you were giving them a bath. But back in the day, it was too risky to play on the radio. The song is about a guy who gets out of a bath and walks into a party in the next room.
Yes, back in the day, this is what people wrote songs about. While that really is the context of the song, it was banned. And for a somewhat obvious yet at the same time ridiculous reason. The problem was that the dude made no mention of putting his clothes back on. So, they decided in 1958 that the song was about a man walking naked into a party, and therefore, it needed to be censored.
Sometimes songs are censored for reasons that have nothing to do with the song itself. Similar to how Phil Collins’ was banned due to current events, this song was banned for something completely irrelevant to the song itself. In 2014, the listeners of two San Francisco radio stations wanted to make sure that they weren’t going to hear “Royals” anytime soon.
The song was banned in the area due to a huge upcoming baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. At the time, the song was the unofficial anthem for Kansas City, which meant the song basically antagonized Giants. So much so that they wanted it banned. But it was temporary; the ban was lifted after the World Series was over.
While this list could potentially consist of only Beatles songs, this is one particular song that caused issues on radio stations. The Beatles were known for stirring up controversy around the globe for their revolutionary sound, among other things. Their single ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ could have been predicted to be a problem with a title like that.
Like many of their tunes, this one was written by John Lennon, and it really had an effect on people; in particular, it had the BBC up in arms. Lennon was accused of singing about his sexual desire for Yoko Ono as a “warm gun.” The “phallic imagery” didn’t go over so well, and both British and American censors refused to give it any radio air time.
I think even people who don’t know Rage Against the Machine or any of their songs can understand why they would be problematic on the radio. Their ban name itself is a protest to the “machine” or the system that we live in. 20 years after their track “Take the Power Back” was released, it was seen as going against Arizona state law, which states that schools cannot “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
This was following a time when some high school teachers at a school actually used the song in a Mexican-American history class. The Superintendent of the school ended up issuing a “notice of noncompliance” to the school’s district in 2015. So that’s that.
The original version of “Louie Louie” was by Richard Berry and came out in 1955. But in 1963, The Kingsmen’s version of the song came out and was a bit of an issue. The song faced bans on U.S. radio due to its obscene lyrics. A 31-month FBI investigation ensued and looked into the song because the band tried to cover up the sexual content by slurring the lyrics. The Bureau’s investigation was inconclusive since they were unable to interpret the true lyrics.
The unintelligible (and also harmless) lyrics were misinterpreted. The Kingsmen’s version resurfaced again in 2005, but this time it was for a different reason. It was after a high school superintendent prohibited the marching band from playing the song.
Is a rap artist getting banned from airplay? No way! I’m sure you can sense my sarcasm. For anyone who knows Biggie’s music, almost all of his songs have at least one part of the song that justifies censorship. But this is one particular song that was banned. ‘Juicy’ is an example of how tragic events can provoke censorship.
The song has a line that reads, “Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade.” Now, keep in mind that the track was released in 1994. It was referencing the 1993 bombing attack on the World Trade Center, and he used the phrase “blow up,” which was slang for gaining fame quick. As you can expect, it was then removed from the song after the 2001 9/11 attacks.
This 1957 song by the Everly Brothers shows how easy it was in the 50s for a song to be banned on the radio. It was number 1 on the charts, but not all radio stations agreed to play it. Some stations in Boston banned it because of the lyrics, which apparently imply that the young couple spent the night together. In those days, staying out late with a girl raised some eyebrows. And they couldn’t allow teens to get the wrong idea.
For The Everly Brothers, it was the first of four #1 hits in America. It also went to #1 on the Country & Western charts. Four decades later, President George W Bush revealed that “Wake Up Little Susie” was his favorite song.
‘My Generation’ was The Who’s baby boomer anthem. It had everyone singing along and pumping their fists, right? But execs at the censorship boards weren’t as enthusiastic as the youth of the 60s. The song that sits at number 11 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time was a bit problematic.
And if you think it was the suggestion of swear words in the song or the depressing line, “I hope I die before I get old” that caused the ban, you’re wrong. That wasn’t what caused it. It was actually the constant stuttering that a lot of people saw as making fun of people who stutter. Who would have thought, huh? It goes to show that life is full of surprises.
While the First Gulf War was going on, new wave rocker group Blondie found themselves on BBC’s list of banned songs. The conflict started in 1990, and the BBC was weeding out any song that they deemed inappropriate for radio listening. The song “Atomic” was actually released 11 years before the war but was still caught in the net.
So, why was the song even on the list? The BBC claimed that it defies logic (I didn’t know that could be a reason for censorship, but okay…), and the title was said to be too inflammatory for airplay while the conflict was ongoing. That makes a little more sense. While the song is more about sexual explosiveness, the issue of explosions, in general, was the problem.
Before the song’s release in 1966, the word “God” was hardly ever seen in the title of a song. While the song never speaks about a specific religious figure, it was still banned by certain radio stations across the United States. The song was accused of being blasphemous, but Brian Wilson said that God could refer to “any higher force” and said the song was about moving forward after loss.
If you’re wondering what other songs have “God” in the title, here are just 10 examples (and there are hundreds):
“If God Will Send His Angels”—U2; “For The Love of God”—Steve Vai; “You’re A God”—Vertical Horizon; “God Bless the Child”—Billie Holiday; “With God On Our Side”—Bob Dylan; “God Save The Queen”—Sex Pistols; “You’re Still God”—Margaret Becker; “Back to God”—Randy Houser; “For The Greater Good of God”—Iron Maiden; and “Why God Made Love Songs”—Joel Crouse.
With a band name like theirs, you can only expect that some backlash and some naysaying is going to be involved in whatever they release to the public. “Anarchy in the UK” was the punk group’s debut single released on November 26, 1976, and it was featured on their album, ‘Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex.’
This time around, the song wasn’t banned for the song itself. It was banned after they did a controversial and potty-mouthed performance on the TV show ‘Today’ and outrage from the public poured in. The track still made it to number 56 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It also got to the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.’
The British post-punk era band Group of Four was no stranger to being censored. They had already been censored on the air in 1977 for their song “He’s a Tourist,” but it didn’t stop them from making more music that raises eyebrows and basically pisses people off. In 1982, they released their album, ‘Songs of the Free,’ which featured the song “I Love a Man in Uniform.”
You might be coming up with reasons as to why you think it got banned. While the song was making its way onto and upward in the charts, it was soon declared as inappropriate because, at the time, British troops were entering the Falklands War. So they banned it, and all was well in the trenches. Not…
“Burn My Candle” was Shirley Bassey’s first single, and it was released in 1956 when the young singer was only 19 years old. The song was written for her to perform it in hopes of making her stand out and make her a star. And that is exactly what it did, just maybe not in the way her manager may have imagined.
At the time and also due to her young age, Bassey didn’t even really understand what the song was about. So when it was banned, it came to her as a bit of a shock. It was banned by the BBC for its “risqué connotations,” and a result, it didn’t make the charts. But this failure was only a minor blip in Shirley’s successful career, which spanned over 50 years and an estimated 135 million records sold to date.
Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” was released on his 1994 album titled ‘Wildflowers.’ It even reached number 1 on the Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks and made it onto the Hot 100 chart, too. So what was the issue with this song? It ended up getting censored by MTV and VH1 for its drug-related lyrics.
The way by which they accomplished getting the song censored was by playing some of the words backward for the listeners not to identify those specific words. Did it really work? I don’t know, but it looks like it didn’t matter either way because the song was still very successful. In Tom Petty’s words: “Every blue moon or so, I might have a toke on somebody’s… cigarette. It’s an OK way to live your life, but it’s not to be advised. I’m not going to say it’s good or bad.”
“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles made history when it became the first number 1 track on the Billboard’s Hot 100 by a black female musical group. The track was released in 1960, and the song was about something that wasn’t generally sung about in those days. It was about the day after a woman had an intimate night with a man.
Considering the era when this song came out, the lyrics were seen as scandalous, and thus the song was banned by radio stations. But that didn’t stop people from loving the tune as it still managed to sell over 1 million copies. It’s always funny to see how ironic things can be – when you restrict something, it makes it more appealing!
It may sound silly, but believe it or not, this song was banned for its title alone. The song is actually an instrumental version that didn’t even have lyrics! And it was banned! After its release in 1958, several radio stations in the U.S. banned the song from their airwaves. Why? Because the word “rumble” was a popular slang term in those days for a gang fight.
They were worried that the song glorified gangs as well as juvenile delinquency, so the stations opted not to air it. The song still proved itself a classic and has been featured in several films, from Pulp Fiction to SpongeBob SquarePants vs. The Big One. Talk about very different films!
This was a calypso-influenced song by The Drifters. “Honey Love” was released featuring Clyde McPhatter in 1954. But the lyrics were seen as highly suggestive, and the Memphis police were consequently not big fans of the song. More specifically, they weren’t so sure about what the word “it” referred to in the song (“I need it, I need it when the moon is bright. I need it, I need it when you hold me tight”).
They weren’t sure, so they erred on the side of caution and assumed the content was too risky for young listeners. As a result, the song was banned from jukeboxes throughout the city of Memphis, and cops actually confiscated copies of the record! Now that’s a first.
It’s not too difficult to guess why Dean Martin’s song “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am” ended up getting banned in 1951. Not only was it the early 50s, but it’s also pretty bam! – in your face. Many people found the lyrics too suggestive, which come on, you can hardly disagree with them. You can decide for yourself what Mr. Martin was hinting at with these lyrics…
“(Wham bam thank you ma’am) Hope you’re satisfied
You took my heart and tore it apart you hurt me deep inside
I’ll never be a fool again you really crushed my pride
(Wham bam thank you, ma’am) Hope you’re satisfied.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what he’s referring to. I’m totally not surprised by this one.
Here’s another undeniable song that got banned. If “Rumble” was a problematic title, then what about this one? The track, which came out in 1987, was George Michael’s first solo single after breaking up the band with former bandmate Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of their pop duo Wham. Michael wanted to try it out alone, and this was his intro.
At the time, it was one of the few songs that involved words of fornication in the title, and it was quickly (and obviously) banned by BBC. But, it wasn’t just the title that caused a problem. People thought the song was provocative and was encouraging participation in mindless physical relationships during a time when AIDS was a massive concern.
By 1976, there was no secret about Tom Robinson’s sexual orientation; he was out and proud. He originally wrote this song for a gay pride parade, which led to it becoming an unofficial gay anthem in the UK. After the track was released on EP, it was banned by BBC, and they refused to play it on the Radio 1 show.
This was mostly because the song was criticizing British police as well as the decriminalization of homosexuality by the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. No wonder it became the unofficial pride anthem.
So that’s it for now, folks. I hope you enjoyed seeing which songs pissed off a lot of people! You can now go and listen to the music you love. Are the songs you listen to also controversial?