Over its near 100-year history, the BBC has taken its role as gatekeeper of the nation's moral standards seriously. And never has that been more obvious than in the songs that have been deemed unsuitable for its audience’s ears.
The range of reasons why songs have been censored reveals how controversies surrounding youth culture have changed markedly over the decades. So here for your pleasure is a list of songs deemed ‘too dangerous’ by the BBC and completely cleared from its airwaves. Among the unlikely names to have met its wrath include Bing Crosby, a band of dancing monsters, and the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz.
Deep In The Heart Of Texas, Bing Crosby
Reason: Too jaunty
What could possibly cause the celebrated clean-cut crooner to be banned by the BBC? In 1942, in the middle of World War Two, the controllers found reasons to ban songs they felt would stir the wrong emotions in its audience. Deep In The Heart Of Texas was judged to be so jaunty that it was banned from the airwaves in case factory workers downed their tools to clap along with the song. Another Crosby song, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, wasn’t allowed because controllers felt that the saccharine lyrics might lower morale. Or in their parlance at the time: “We have recently adopted a policy of excluding sickly sentimentality which, particularly when sung by certain vocalists, can become nauseating and not at all in keeping with what we feel to be the need of the public in this country.”
Hold My Hand, Don Cornell
Reason: Religious references
Hold My Hand was a popular 1953 hit by US crooner Don Cornell. It is, on the surface at least, pretty harmless stuff – the lyrics betray nothing more temperature-raising than a kiss and a held hand. But BBC mandarins had issues with the following lines: "So this is the kingdom of heaven/So this is the sweet promised land”. A relationship equal to heaven itself? An innocent nation was spared the very thought.
Monster Mash, Bobby Pickett
Reason: Too morbid
The undisputed champion of novelty Halloween songs, Monster Mash was an inspired brainwave dreamed up by sometime actor Bobby Pickett. He and co-writer Leonard Capizzi merged the recent dance crazes like the Mashed Potato with a deadpan Boris Karloff delivery, and created a 1962 hit that’s as deathless as the monstrous cast that inhabit it. But the BBC’s toes were not tapping. They declared it “too morbid” and banned it from the airwaves for 11 years. Pickett’s single was finally allowed to stalk the airwaves in 1973 – and it promptly became a Top 5 hit.
Leader Of The Pack, The Shangri Las
Reason: Death references
An anthem of teenage devotion, The Shangri-La’s’ Leader Of The Pack is a widescreen tale of undying teenage love, motorbikes and death on the streets. Too much of the latter, it appeared, for the BBC, who banned it for its overt references to teenage death. However, there was one occasion when the censors were thwarted. In 1964, a live broadcast of a choir performance at Keele University Chapel was disturbed when Leader Of The Pack was played in the background – a student had placed a record player backstage as a prank. Proof a classic record can never be denied airplay.
Lola, The Kinks
There are many “rock ‘n’ roll” ways to get a record banned from the airwaves – drug references, swearing, graphic sexual content spring to mind. But despite The Kinks’ Lola being about the confusion created by a character who "walked like a woman but talked like a man", as far as the BBC were concerned the namechecking of Coca-Cola in the lyrics was a far more serious matter. The song was banned until the band hastily re-recorded it, substituting ‘Coca-Cola” with the non-brand-specific “cherry cola”. Outrage was averted.
Give Ireland Back To The Irish, Wings
Reason: Political content
The Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland in 1972, when British troops opened fire and killed 13 protesters, shocked the nation. A post-Beatles Paul McCartney and wife Linda were among those left reeling. Two days later, the newly formed Wings recorded the song at Abbey Road, and released it as their first single. The song got a critical mauling, mostly because writers thought McCartney was jumping on a bandwagon to sell records, and the BBC banned it claiming it was “unsuitable to broadcast” due to its political nature. There was speculation that McCartney was trying to “out-do” John Lennon in rallying around a Republican cause, something McCartney always denied.
God Save The Queen, Sex Pistols
Reason: Anti-monarchist views
Amid the political turmoil of late-70s Britain came one of the most cartoonish examples of pop music’s ability to offend. The Sex Pistols’ second single created such hysteria in 1977 – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year – that some outlets could not bear to even print the song’s name. The BBC, in a display of traditionalism, refused to play the song, partly for the description of Her Majesty as both a “fascist” and inhuman. A boat trip with the band sailing past the Houses of Parliament to promote the single has become one of music’s most infamous publicity stunts. Despite the ban, it supposedly outsold the official number one record of that week – Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It/The First Cut Is The Deepest – though ended up at number two in the singles chart. It’s unlikely a pop record will ever have the same effect again.
Six Months In A Leaky Boat, Split Enz
Reason: The Falklands conflict
One unlikely casualty of the short war between Argentina and the UK over the South Atlantic islands was Kiwi art-rock outfit Split Enz, Neil Finn’s band before he formed Crowded House. The song, which was inspired by the long voyages of discovery that led to the colonisation of Australia and New Zealand, had something of a sea-shanty feel. Harmless stuff? Not when the Royal Navy was sailing half way around the world to fight a war. The mention of “leaky boats” was deemed inappropriate when the fleet was under the threat of air attack.
Killing An Arab, The Cure/Atomic, Blondie
Reason: The First Gulf War
A decade later, another conflagration caused all manner of songs to be temporarily excised from the airwaves. No less than 67 songs – from Edwin Starr’s War! to Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack – were dropped from the charts in case they were seen to be in bad taste. In Blondie’s case, the “atomic” of the title was an allusion to nuclear warfare – very much a worst-case scenario.
Ebeneezer Goode, The Shamen
Reason: Drug references
The BBC didn’t always cotton on to drug speak hidden within the lyrics of pop songs – they didn’t ban Donovan’s Mellow Yellow, for instance, which was rumoured to be about the psychedelic effects of smoking banana skins, (Spoiler alert: it’s not). However, when The Shamen’s Ebeneezer Goode was released in 1993, with its chorus loudly exhorting “Eezer Goode/Eezer Goode/He’s Ebeneezer Goode”, even the BBC managed to put two-and-two together and spot the reference to ecstasy – a drug never far from tabloid headlines at the time. The ban was eventually relaxed, possibly because it sat at the top of the charts for four weeks.
Fairytale of New York, The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl
Reason: Homophobic language
It remains probably the greatest Christmas song ever written, if only for its accurate description of arguments and melancholy amid the tinsel and figgy pudding. The Pogues, aided by the late Kirsty MacColl, had a bona fide hit with the song on its release in November 1987, and it became a staple of Christmastime playlists – including on the BBC – until 2007. It was only then that the use of the words “faggot” and “slut” in the song – throwaway insults by McColl’s and Shane MacGowan’s characters – caused enough consternation for BBC Radio 1 to edit the song, and remove the offending words on 18 December. There was public uproar, including from MacColl’s mother, and the censoring was rapidly reversed.
Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, The Wizard of Oz Film Cast
Reason: Disrespecting the deceased
Following the death of Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 2013, anti-Thatcherites campaigned to get the song from the Wizard of Oz movie to the top of the UK music charts. The song wasn’t played on the BBC, but the fact that it made it to number two meant that the BBC would have to play it on its music chart show. After complaints that the BBC was letting the charts be hijacked for political purposes, Radio 1 played a brief excerpt of the song in a short news report during the chart show, which then explained to the audience why the song was at the top of the charts.
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