Monday, 14 February 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 91 (Top Ten): Strange Censorship Decisions




Amazing isn’t it – translate your censor-baiting into German and the time-pressed censors let it pass. Perhaps Grace was still smarting from the fact that the censors hadn’t banned her drug-filled song ‘White Rabbit’ – after all, banning a song did give it a kind of kudos in 1967. In a nice piece of synchronicity this week we’re looking at five other songs that avoided the censors’ discriminating ears – as well as five songs banned on such unusual grounds that you have to ask ‘what on earth were they thinking?!’ Naturally, most of our examples ehere are from the 1960s – most of our site does involve bands from that decade after all – but modern readers neededn’t feel so smug looking back and laughing at the mistakes made 40 years ago. For instance, how on earth did lines like ‘I tore your clothes off and filled you on the bonnet’ (Babybird’s ‘You’re Gorgeous’ 1995), not to mention ‘Don’t marry her, f*ck me’ (Beautiful South 1996) get past the censors when the likes of Oasis have to stick ‘parental guidance’ stickers on their CDs for flipping instrumentals?! The world’s gone ‘bark’-ing...

Anyway, here is the first part of our top five : - AAA songs that were banned from radio airplay without good reason

5) Run Around (Jefferson Airplane, single from 1966; offending line ‘The nights I’ve spent with you have been fantastic trips’): The Jefferson Airplane’s promising career was cruelly nipped in the bud when censors took exception to what was, even in 1966, quite an innocent line. The narrator of the song is excited by finally meeting the girl of his dreams and she ‘transports’ his grey, dull life in the most magical means. Try telling that to the censors, though, who saw far more of an entendre in this line about their ‘journey’ together than the band probably meant. 

4) Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing (from the Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 album ‘Buffalo Springfield’; offending line ‘Who should be sleeping but whose writing this song? Wishing and a-hoping he weren’t so damn gone’): Unbelievably, the only time to date that Neil Young has skirted with censorship was with his very first published song, as performed here by fellow Buffalos Stephen Stills and Richie Furay. The band’s first single, this song was banned from radio broadcasts partly because of the now laughably unoffensive swear word ‘damn’ (not necessarily enough to get an outright ban back in 1966 but frowned upon all the same) and the song’s groundbreaking three-and-a-half minute length. The Springfield needn’t have worried – follow-up single ‘For What It’s Worth’ gave the band their only real hit, but even that classy pacifist song came close to being banned for ‘inciting unrest’, would you believe!

3) Dead End Street (Kinks single from 1966; offending line – all of it): There was a movement to ‘ban’ this song from radio-play because it was ‘morbid’ – luckily common sense prevailed on most of the stations that mattered (after all, if you could ban a song for being morbid then surely 99% of the 1980s has to go!) However, the fallout surely prevented this song being a bigger hit than it actually was (barely top 10 in the UK), as did the banning of The Kinks’ first ‘proper’ promo video, featuring the four band members messing around with coffins. By contrast, this video wasn’t deemed to be ‘morbid’, just in ‘seriously bad taste’ as the band sought to equate death with humour!

2) Let’s Spend The Night Together/Street Fighting Man (Rolling Stones singles from 1967 and 1968 respectively; offending lines include the title phrase on the former song and the whole of the latter): ‘Let’s spend some time together’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but that’s what an unhappy Mick Jagger was forced to sing live on air on the ED Sullivan TV show. Some, but not all that many, radio stations followed suit even though the phrase sounded fairly tame even at the time (after all, as the band pointed out, the couple in the song aren’t necessarily sharing the same bed are they?) Fans are curious about this decision now and yet most of them accept the even weirder decision to ban ‘Street Fighting Man’ from 1960s radios because it ‘incited violence’ – even a cursory listen to the lyrics reveal that the character is despairing because nobody else is joining him in protest in ‘London sleepy town’. Oh and while we’re on the subject, how come these two songs rubbed the censors up the wrong way and they let the band get off scot free with the Satanist celebration ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, underage groupie ode ‘Stray Cat Blues’, the rapist as hero song ‘Midnight Rambler’ and the horribly offensive black slave girl song ‘Brown Sugar’ which is still played happily on radios today?! 

1) A Day In The Life (the final track on The Beatles’ 1967 LP ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; the offending line ‘4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire’): ‘Sgt Peppers’ was trailed as being such an ‘event’ in the summer of love that even the censors took note of reviews of preview copies of the Beatles’ latest eighth LP. Reading that the LP was ‘all about drugs’ they poured over the lyrics of the album (printed proudly, for the first time, on the rear sleeve) and amazingly missed the most obvious one of all, the LSD initials of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. They did, however, read a seemingly nonsense lines about ‘holes’ that made no sense in the context of the song. ‘Aha!’ went the censors, ‘this line is clearly about a drug user shooting up in his arm’ and banned the album’s final epic song (in truth, of course, it’s a typical Lennon piece of gibberish about how such trivialities as roadworks sit side by side with war and death in our newspapers which genuinely was in the Daily Mail with the caption ‘there is now 1/40th of a hole per resident in Lancashire). Thankfully the ban on this song was lifted sometime in the 1970s.

And now, five songs that did escape censorship, even though they still have a shock factor nowadays...

5) Arnold Layne (Pink Floyd single from 1966 – lines that, erm, are a bit suggestive – all of it): This is a song from a cross-dresser who steals women’s underwear from washing lines, released by a band who were then unknown and hardly in a position to put pressure on the censors to let it pass. And yet amazingly nobody seemed to think this song was strange at the time – perhaps they couldn’t understand Syd Barrett’s slurred and sly lead vocal or simply didn’t understand the words, but surely to modern ears they couldn’t sound more obvious? I’m amazed no censor echoed the judge in this song and said ‘Pink Floyd, don’t do it again!’

4) Lola (a single by The Kinks from 1970 – lines that are suggestive, err all of it): ‘Hang on a minute’ the knowledgeable listener will be saying, ‘Lola was banned by the BBC’. Very true and they even went to the extent of forcing Ray Davies to fly back to London from an American tour so that the line ‘coca-cola’ would be changed to ‘cherry cola’ (the BBC aren’t allowed to ‘plug’ individual confectionary products like this). But I’m amazed that the song wasn’t banned outright for other reasons – after all, a song about transvestites causing controversies nowadays, never mind in 1970 and Ray doesn’t exactly hide what’s happening in the song, even if his narrator’s too  naive to work it out for himself. And yet lines like ‘I bet I’m a man, so’s Lola’ and ‘I’m not dumb but I can’t understand, why she walked like a woman and talked like a man’ were allowed to pass. The line ‘foggin’ up my eyes’ from the Kinks’ follow-up single ‘Apeman’ also sounds deeply suspicious to me and like another f-word entirely, despite the band’s claims of innocence.

3) The Games We Play/ Step Inside (two songs by The Hollies from their 1967 ‘Evolution’ and ‘Butterfly’ albums respectively): The Hollies managed to bypass every single ‘ban’ during their career, which is impressive given how close to the wire some of them go, especially the strip-club scenario ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ (I’ve even read that successful singles like ‘On A Carousel’ is about drugs, but that sounds questionable to me so I’ve left it out of this list) But the two most risqué lyrics of all are this pair of psychedelic album gems. The first drips with sarcasm and mock-innocent voices over the ‘games’ the narrator and his girlfriend ‘play’ when the ‘grown-ups’ are out the house, with lines like ‘leaving us alone, the temptation’s far too strong’ leaving everything clear in the listener’s mind. The second song, a delightful pop song with a narrator urging his girlfriend to stay the night, features the line ‘if it gets too late I have a bed that you can use’ – not that suggestive a line nowadays, but in the same year that the Stones’ ‘Let’s Spend the night together’ got banned this is tantamount to getting away with the musical equivalent of the Great Train Robbery!

2) Here Comes The Nice (a Small Faces single, also from 1967, with several offending and suggestive lines): Perhaps someone on the 1967 censor board should have had a background as a drug addict, because there’s no way the Small Faces would have got away with this song if someone official had known even a little bit about drug slang terms from the 1960s. ‘He’s got what I want, he knows what I need, he’s always around if I need some speed’ is so blatant it almost comes with a flashing warning sign and there are plenty of others – ‘you don’t need money to open your eyes’ ‘make me feel like no one else could’, there’s plenty more. As if miffed by missing such an ‘obvious’ drug song, the censors do try and ban the band’s follow-up ‘Itchycoo Park’ for the line ‘we’ll get high’ but  a lot of lies from the band’s management over how the park was a ‘real’ one at the top of a hill’ let them get away with it!

1) White Rabbit (a Jefferson Airplane single from 1967, with drug references throughout!): Hmm, ‘one pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small and the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all...’ Later on there’s even a ‘hookah-smoking caterpillar!’ ‘No, nothing wrong with that!’, say the censors, ‘but that ‘A Day In The Life’ is all about drugs!’ What were they thinking?! To be fair, Grace Slick’s song (her first ever for the band, would you believe!) is pointing out how hypocritical society is – the fact that the children of the 1960-s were being warned not take drugs when 1) their parents did (The Stones’ ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ is even more damning) and 2) so many drug references appear in perfectly respectable children’s fiction. This song takes most of its images from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There’ to give the book its official title, which seems to have been a popular hippie tome given that John Lennon uses it for ‘I Am The Walrus’ later on in the same year. Perhaps the censors, themselves brought up on the book, didn’t see anything wrong with these references – but you have to ask how anyone can miss Grace’s final yell of ‘FEED YOUR HEAD!!!!!’ and still miss it’s meaning!

And that’s all for another week. We’ll be back soon – if the censors don’t get to us first!


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