5 Nonsense Reasons Music Was Banned
Censorship in the arts is a prickly topic. First of all, anytime you want to discuss freedom of speech, you’re going to be bombarded by people who’ve passed their own mental version of a Constitutional Law course in which pretty much the entire curriculum is filmed by a webcam and put on YouTube. The gist of which usually comes out to “I should be able to say slurs, but books where boys kiss should be illegal.” Censorship isn’t always for reasons that will end in a fistfight or a brief imprisonment, though.
Sometimes, censorship can be for no reason at all outside of the right people’s blood pressure spiking momentarily. Especially when it comes to art that’s filled with flowery language and metaphors, like music, it only takes one very confused Senator or FCC head to shut the whole thing down. Sometimes it turns out to be shortsighted. Other times, it turns out to be straight up stupid.
Here are 5 songs banned for absolutely absurd reasons.
My Generation - The Who
It’s not that surprising that a song by The Who was banned by the BBC, given Pete Townshend chaotic energy and penchant for guitar smashing, combined with a culture so repressed that the word “fanny” is still a swear there. Weirdly, though, the song “My Generation” wasn’t banned for any exciting sort of counter-culture reason, or saying the Queen was dumb, or any of the things you might assume.
The song instead was banned by the BBC on release because the vocals of the song feature a stylistic stutter, something they thought would be offensive to people with a stutter. The 1960s: absolutely full of absolute snowflake liberals, am I right? Roger Daltrey covered the occurrence in his memoir, explaining that the stutter was inspired by famous blues musician John Lee Hooker’s song “Stuttering Blues.”
God Only Knows - The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys, at least outside of their personal lives, are not exactly the wild rockers that The Who were. But their gentle harmonics and “ba ba ba”s did manage to get them banned from the radio at least once, for their song “God Only Knows.” Don’t bother scanning the lyrics for some sort of hidden message or counterculture message: the song is pretty much what you think it is. A soft, sweet ballad.
The problem, in fact, cropped up before a second of the song had been heard: the fact that the word “God” was used in the title of a song that wasn’t explicitly religious was enough to get it banned from the radio. Because even as napalm was being dumped on humans in Vietnam, God’s biggest concern was apparently Brian Wilson committing melodic blasphemy.
Walk Like An Egyptian - The Bangles
After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, as you may remember if you were alive, it was pretty big news. All sorts of panicked reactions and changes were made in the shadow of the event, including a huge list of 164 songs that were banned from the radio. You can see the full list here.
Some of them make some sort of sense, even if the reasoning is almost more offensive than the song… for example “Holy Diver” by Dio. I don’t think anyone was making that connection, but NOW they are. One of the most inexplicable though, is the banning of the song “Walk Like An Egyptian” by The Bangles, banned for… just generally mentioning the Middle East? My best guess is that they were saying that to suggest “Walking Like An Egyptian” would be to walk like Egyptian hijacker Muhammed Muhammed el-Amir Awad al-Sayed Atta? Which I can follow maybe, but given the tone of the song, it’s still pretty ridiculous.
Rumble - Link Wray
One way to be sure that the lyrics of a song are completely unobjectionable to anyone you can imagine is to simply not have any. A complete lack of lyrics, unfortunately, did not prevent the fate of the song “Rumble” by Link Wray. “Rumble” is a completely instrumental song that clocks in under two minutes and thirty seconds, but apparently that was more than enough for it to get banned from the radio, because of the title’s reference to that old-timey adorable euphemism for gang violence, and concerns in New York in Boston that it would LITERALLY start knife fights.
To this day, it remains the only instrumental ever banned from the radio. It looks even stupider in retrospect when you start to learn more about the massive influence of not only Link Wray but “Rumble” in particular on the future of music. Jimmy Page reportedly called it “pivotal” and Iggy Pop said it’s the song that inspired him to make music. For good reason, too, because the 1958 jam is still, honestly, a banger today.
Louie Louie - The Kingsmen
The 1963 recording of “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen is iconic. It’s also famously completely indecipherable. Like an overconfident karaoke performer climbing the stage to perform “Don’t Stop Believin’”, you might THINK you know the words to the song, but in reality, you really only know a very small, very famous portion. Outside of the double-Louies and a couple random, innocuous exclamations, the rest of the song is a continuous, soupy slurring that makes Tom Waits songs sound like an Obama speech.
As it usually is with things they don’t understand, in this case literally, this terrified the people in charge. Enough that the FBI conducted a two-year investigation into the song to try to decide if it was indecent, after the Governor of Indiana requested that it be banned. In reality, it was teenagers making up, as they do, disgusting fake lyrics for a song that was sung unclearly. Not that it was always that hard to hear: it was a cover of an older song with very clear lyrics. It’s not the Kingsmen’s fault that, for example, the line “I smell a rose in her hair” went through a game of telephone with teenage hormones to become… well, you can read all the variations.