Rock ‘n’ roll has always been about breaking rules and pushing boundaries. So it’s no surprise that every entry on our list of the 10 best censored rock songs is an all-out classic. The songs were either changed or completely banned from radio, television, department stores and even the singles charts. The reasons for the censorship are more varied than you might think, from the usual sex and drug content to insensitivity and product placement.
10. MC5, “Kick Out the Jams”
The opening line from this proto-punk gem (along with the offending word printed on the album’s inner sleeve) caused an uproar when MC5 released their debut album in 1969: “It’s time to … kick the hell out!” The original edition of the LP was removed from store shelves and replaced with two versions: one with censored cover and audio and another with censored cover but uncensored audio (to be sold behind the counter only). But hometown Hudson’s department stores refused to carry anyone version of ‘Kick Out the Jams’, which eventually became a ban from selling all records from the MC5’s label, Elektra Records. To retaliate, the band took out full-page ads in Ann Arbor and Detroit newspapers with the words “Fuck Hudson’s!” printed at the bottom. Elektra then dropped the group.
9. The Beatles, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”
Debate continues over whether this psychedelic classic was about LSD. For his part, John Lennon always claimed he was inspired by his son’s art Julian brought home from school. When asked what the painting was, Julian told his father that he had painted his classmate Lucy in the sky with diamonds. John wrote the bizarre imagery of the song’s lyrics as a result, maintaining that the LSD initials were accidental. The BBC disagreed and banned the song from airwaves due to perceived references to the hallucinogenic. Years later, dude Beatle Paul McCartney claimed that it was “obvious” that the tune was about drugs.
8. Who, “My Generation”
In this case, it was a strain that baffled the good old British Broadcasting Corporation. After the release of ‘My Generation’ the BBC banned WHO‘s song from the air due to Roger Daltrey‘s stems from some lines. The official reason was that the single might offend listeners who had stuttering problems. In addition, there were rumors that some people at the BBC believed that the line “Why don’t you all fff-fade away” suggested another f-word. The real reason for Daltrey’s stutter is almost as elusive. Depending on who you believe, it was inspired by John Lee Hooker’s ‘Stuttering Blues’ to imitate stuttering mods or was an accident caused by Daltrey trying to learn the lyrics. Regardless, after the song became popular, the BBC reversed the decision and ‘My Generation’ got significant airplay.
7. Barry McGuire, “Eve of Destruction”
Barry McGuire never utters an obscenity in this protest cut (one of the few to make our list of the 10 best censored rock songs). Nor does he mention sex or drugs. But ‘Eve of Destruction’ was banned by many American radio stations (many of them in the South) because programmers disagreed with its ugly view of humanity. Some felt that the single, with lines likeyou are old enough to kill but not to vote“, was “an aid to the enemy in Vietnam.” PF Sloan was only 19 when he wrote the lyrics as a plea for humanity and as a rallying cry against the evil he saw in the world. Many fans agreed with what they heard, and sent the current hit all the way to No.1.
6. The Kinks, “Lola”
The BBC censored Ray Davies‘ode to a cute transvestite, but not for the reason you’d think. The broadcasters were fine with the title character who “walked like a woman and talked like a man,” but not so happy about the reference to Coca-Cola. At the time, the BBC had a policy against airing material with product placement. Paul Simon would later run afoul of the censors with ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ (it mentions Newsweek) and ‘Kodachrome’ (for obvious reasons). To circumvent the ban, Davies had to fly all the way back to London from New York – where the Kinks was on tour – to overdub “it tastes like cherry cola.” The song was then cleared for airplay and became a No. 2 hit in the UK
5. Tom Petty, “You Don’t Know How It Feels”
Tom Petty‘s steadily rolling single might not have become a radio and MTV staple without a single change. On the censored version, when the Florida-born rocker sings “Let’s roll another joint” in the chorus, the offending word was played backwards, and it ended up sounding like Petty somehow lost control of his mouth or just couldn’t come up with a proper rhyme for “point”. Not that it mattered. ‘You Don’t Know How It Feels’ reached No. 13 and won an MTV Video Music Award.
4. Dire Straits, “Money for Nothing”
Talk about delayed reaction. Dire StraitsThe 1985 mega-hit ‘Money for Nothing’ was not censored until 2011 when the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council deemed it unfit for airplay. The reason was front man Mark Knopfler‘s use of a homosexual slur in the second verse. The derisive term violated the council’s code of ethics and was banned on private Canadian radio stations. Some outlets objected to the ban due to the song’s continued popularity and that the offensive word was not used in a hateful manner. Knopfler wrote the song after overhearing an employee’s comment while watching MTV in his store. ‘Money for Nothing’ is written from the perspective of this unenlightened man. The CBSC reversed the decision a few months later, maintaining its position but allowing stations to use their own discretion.
3. Sex Pistols, “God Save the Queen”
The British establishment took offense at this single’s title (stolen from Britain’s national anthem), cover artwork (featuring a disgraced image of Queen Elizabeth II), content (“there is no future in England’s dreams”) and pretty much everything connected to it. Just in time for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Johnny Rotten equated the British monarchy with a fascist regime in an attempt to illustrate the divide between royalty and commoners. Because of this stance, the song was banned from the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. ‘God Save the Queen’ hit No.1 on the NME chart but only reached No.2 on the Official UK Singles Chart (it was suggested that it may have been rigged to keep Six guns from the top spot). In some publications, the chart ran as two black bars on top of each other because the publishers found both the name of the song and the name of the band in bad taste.
2. The Rolling Stones, “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
This tumult, sexually suggestive The Rolling Stones chestnut was never banned from the airwaves, although it earned the wrath of Ed Sullivan. The TV host objected to a performance of the band’s latest hit on his popular Sunday night show until a compromise was struck: Mick Jagger would sing”Let’s spend some time together” instead of the original text. Jagger (as opposed to Jim Morrison below Doors‘ performance of ‘Light My Fire’) held up his end of the bargain, though he repeatedly rolled his eyes at the camera. After the performance, the Stones returned to the stage wearing Nazi uniforms, whereupon Sullivan barked at them to put their other clothes back on. The band left the theater and were banned from the show for the next two years.
1. The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie”
Sometimes songs are banned for no real reason at all — as in the case of the No. 1 track on our list of the 10 best censored rock songs. The Kingsmen’s garage-rock nugget was banned from several radio stations, banned throughout Indiana (thanks to its governor), and the subject of a 31-month investigation by the FBI. All because some teenagers somewhere started a rumor that the words singer Jack Ely howled were about an explicit sexual encounter. In reality, the text (written by Richard Berry in 1957) recounted a sailor’s rather trite ode to the girl of his dreams. However, because Ely was singing in pidgin English, screaming at the top of his lungs and wearing new braces, his delivery was not perfect and the rumors escalated. The FBI then spent quite a bit of taxpayer dollars interviewing almost everyone associated with the recording and listening to the hit single at various speeds in an attempt to decipher the “true” meaning. Eventually, the FBI threw up their hands and declared their inability to interpret any of the texts. Despite, and because of, its reputation, ‘Louie Louie’ has become one of the most important songs in rock history.
20 changed album covers
Altered album covers must have a resume topped by at least one offense – be it death, nudity and general evil.