Banned Song Lyrics: The Nonsense of it All

I was scrolling through various sites earlier today, looking for interesting articles to post on Facebook, as I do daily. As always, I looked to This Day in Music,” as I always find great content there. I came across a post in their “on this day” section about an Everly Brothers song from the 50s being banned on radio. Wait … what?!?!?!

Yes, in 1957 they banned the song “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers for “suggestive content.” So I started digging a little further. Lots of songs have been banned from radio play. Some are pretty self-explanatory. And some are just head scratchers. I always knew this, yet I’m still just a little gobsmacked.

Of course, you have the obvious ones – anything even slightly drug-related has always been frowned upon by the conservative establishment. Songs like “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton got the kibosh pretty fast on mainstream radio. Some songs, like “Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles seemed to reference drugs, and while the origin of the song was very benign, the lyrics themselves seemingly take you down an acid trip road of “Tangerine trees and marmalade skies.”

Then you come to the sexually suggestive material. Songs like “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and “I Want Your Sex” by George Michael are pretty blatant in their explicitness. “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John sent people into total fits of apoplexy. You don’t need any explanation as to the “why” there – it was obvious.

Of course, political songs were always heavily scrutinized. Banned from the radio? Well okay then, we’ll just buy the album. By adding “forbidden” to a song created album sales by the millions.  Songs like “Ohio” by CSN&Y, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” by the Beatles, and “My Generation” by the Who being banned only served to pique interest, and drive album sales up.

Which begs the question, did the music industry have anything to do with any of that? It would have been a huge gamble on their part, but history has shown that any form of prohibition created supply and demand amongst consumers. Still, not too many labels are willing to bargain with their bottom line.

Some of the songs that were banned were pretty laughable. During the Gulf war, the reliably literal BBC wasn’t taking any chances, and expunged 67 songs – featuring even the vaguest and most metaphorical references to armies, fighting, boats, killing, cavalry or the Middle East – from its playlists. Among them, Abba’s notoriously hawkish love song, “Waterloo,” with only the vaguest reference to Napoleon. Didn’t that happen in the early 1800s?

I rarely listen to mainstream radio nowadays. I prefer Pandora, Spotify, YouTube or any number of other resources to listen to music. On the rare occasion I do tune into a radio station, it never lasts long, especially with pop music. I’m not a fan of auto-tune, preferring bands who actually write their own stuff, and play instruments. I guess I’m now “the establishment.”

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected].