|1950 – 2000
1967. United Kingdom. Scott Walker
Scott Walker’s cover of Jacques Brel’s song ‘Jacky’ is the first record to be banned by BBC Radio 1.
1967. Greece. Mikis Theodorakis
The 1967 military coup in Greece led to the imprisonment and torture of internationally known singer Mikis Theodorakis. Eventually he was released as a result of international pressure and went into exile. Other, less well known musicians were not so fortunate.
Source: Index on Censorship no 6/1998, ‘Smashed hits’, p. 12.
1967. Italy. Luigi Tenco
Luigi Tenco, one of Italy’s most famous modern singers at the time, was found dead in his hotel room with a single gunshot wound to the head on January 27, 1967, hours after learning that his song had been eliminated from a national music competition. The doubts surrounding Tenco’s death was a typical Italian controversy in a land where nothing is taken at face value and where mysteries shroud countless tragedies and crimes. Tenco was only 29 when he died but had already made his name as a headstrong protest singer whose songs were often censored by state broadcaster RAI. In 2003, an investigation by three journalists highlighted the inconsistencies in the case and called for prosecutors to reopen their probe and consider the possibility of murder.
1968. Czechoslovaki. Karel Husa
Karel Husa wrote “Music for Prague: 1968” in protest of the Soviet invasion of his homeland, Czechoslovakia. It was banned by the Communist government, and not heard there until 1990, when he returned to Czechoslovakia to conduct it. Husa left Czechoslovakia in 1947 and became an American citizen in 1959.
1969. Estonia. Choral singing
A historic gathering took place in Estonia in 1969 when thousands of Estonians at a music festival defied the ban of a song which had become an unofficial national anthem, ‘Mu isamaa on minu arm’, or ‘Land of My Fathers, Land that I Love’ – written in 1947 with the lyrics from a traditional Estonian poem. They defiantly sang this song over and over again, even as the Soviet officials tried to shut the event down, and then tried to have the orchestra drown them out. They just kept singing it until the officials gave up and just let them go on singing.
Song again became the weapon of choice when, between 1986 and 1991, Estonians sought to free themselves from decades of Soviet occupation. During those years, hundreds of thousands gathered in public to sing forbidden patriotic songs and to rally for independence.
1969. Europe. John Lennon and Yoko Ono
‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ by John Lennon and Yoko Ono was banned by many radio stations because they found the line “Christ, you know it ain’t easy” to be offensive. It is banned by 50 percent of all US radio stations. It still gets to number one on the air charts.
1969. United Kingdom. John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Newark Police seize 30,000 copies of the album ‘Two Virgins’, featuring John and Yokonaked on the cover, and the vice squad shuts down a record shop in Chicago. In Britain, the album is packaged in a brown paper bag.
1969. United Kingdom and Europe. Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s song ‘Je T’Aime’ reached number three in 1969, but is promptly dropped by record company Phillips. The BBC banned it from both radio and television. “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus”. She loves him. He doesn’t love her. A roller-rink organ plays, backed by syrupy strings. All fairly innocuous. So why, when this seductive duet was released in 1969, was the record banned throughout Europe? It had a lot to do with Birkin’s orgasmic gasps. Not many sexy songs have the actual power to arouse, but anyone whose hormones don’t race when Birkin lets out a series of trembling moans should probably consider switching medications.
1970. United Kingdom. Ray Davies, The Kinks
Ray Davies of The Kinks traveled from New York to London to change one word in the recording of “Lola.” He changed “Coca-Cola” to “cherry cola” because the BBC banned commercial references in songs.
1971. United Kingdom. Wings
Paul McCartney’s and Wings’ single ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ is released after Bloody Sunday in 1972 as a commentary about the Britain-Ireland conflict. It was immediately banned by the BBC, but still reached the Top 20 in England.
1971. United Kingdom. Mott The Hoople
A minor riot broke out during an appearance by Mott The Hoople at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The hall’s management temporarily banned rock performances at the venue after that.
1972. United Kingdom / USA. John Lennon
John Lennon’s album ‘Some Time In New York City’ was considered to be so subversive that it was banned by the BBC when it was first released. ‘Working Class Hero’ was banned on radio stations, allegedly because of its use of the F-word. It is said that John Lennon was threatened with expulsion from the USA by Nixon and the FBI if he didn’t shut up about the Vietnam War. Faced with this ultimatum, that is exactly what he did. The Vietnam War ended, he retired to private life and never returned to political themes again.
1974. Italy. Gigliota Cinquetti
At the age of 16 Gigliota Cinquetti won the Sanremo Music Festival in 1964 singing “Non Ho L’Età” (“I’m not old enough”). Her victory enabled her to represent Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest 1964 with the same song, and she went on to claim her country’s first ever victory in the event. She returned to big fame in 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, again representing Italy.
Performing the song “Sì” (“Yes”), she finished second. According to author and historian John Kennedy O’Connor’s “The Eurovision Song Contest – The Official History”, the live telecast of her song was banned in her home country by the Italian national broadcaster RAI as the event partially coincided with the campaigning for the 1974 Italian referendum on divorce which was held a month later in May. RAI censored the song due to concerns the name and lyrics of the song (which constantly repeated the word “SI”) could be accused of being a subliminal message and a form of propaganda to influence the Italian voting public to vote “YES” in the referendum. The song remained censored on most Italian state TV and radio stations for over a month.
1975. United Kingdom. Donna Summer
Just three years later, in 1975, the BBC bans something completely different: Donna Summer’s disco hit ‘Love to Love You’.
1977. United Kingdom. The Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols’ second single, ‘God Save the Queen’, was released to coincide with Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee celebration in June. The record, which begins “God save the Queen, she ain’t no human being,” reaches number two in the UK charts, despite a widespread UK media ban. Among others, it was banned by BBC’s Radio One.
It was later withdrawn from the shelves of retailers such as WH Smith, allegedly to prevent it from getting to number one during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. This story about that the chart was rigged by jittery regulators who felt the Queen might not be amused at having her Jubilee celebrations sound-tracked by a fevered anthem to monarchy bashing was labelled as “one of music’s most legendarily apocryphal tales” by the British newspaper The Times.
1980s. Russia. Sofia Gubaidulina
The classical composer Sofia Gubaidulina sought refuge abroad before the collapse of communism.
Forbidden underground reggae and music produced by bands like Israel provided some of the first cracks that would eventuelly lead to the fall of the communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe.
Source (radio report from Warszawa in Swedish language): sverigesradio.se
1981. United Kingdom. Heaven 17
Heaven 17’s song entitled ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ – a song that was anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-Thatcher and anti-Reagan – was banned by the BBC. It got to no. 45 in the charts even so.
1984. United Kingdom. Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s single ‘Relax’ is going down the UK charts when DJ Mike Read initiates a BBC ban. The single suddenly climbs to number one and stays there for five weeks, sparking off one of the biggest music promotional campaigns of the decade.
1984. United Kingdom. The Smiths
Boots & Woolworths ban the single ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ because it includes the track ‘Suffer Little Children’ about the Moors murders.
1987. United Kingdom. George Michael
‘I Want Your Sex’ by George Michael was banned by the BBC.
1988. Europe. Neil Young
MTV banned the video for Neil Young’s ‘This Note’s For You’ because it ridiculed MTV sponsors.
1990. The Dinaric Cultural Zone of Yugoslavia
Married women were not permitted to sing with or in the presence of their husbands, whether solo or as part of a female group. They should also avoid to sing in front of father-in-law, brother-in-law, son or any other men, because the songs could be interpreted as an “invitaton”.
Source: Ankica Petrovic: ‘Women in the Music Creation Process in the Dinaric Zone of Yugoslavia’, in: International Music Studies – Music, Gender and Culture, Wilhelmshaven, 1990.
1995. United Kingdom. Pulp
The band Pulp faced controversy when they released the single ‘Sorted for E’s & Wizz’. The song portrays a night out, lost on drugs at a countryside rave and Jarvis is forced to defend it after Radio One threatens to ban it. In addition, the sleeve contains detailed instructions on how to fold the sleeve into a paper wallet to hold drugs, like speed. Tabloid newspaper The Daily Mirror runs a front-page story with the headline “Ban This Sick Stunt” and insists that the single be banned. Pulp decide to change the artwork and Jarvis issues a statement saying, “I don’t want the sleeve to get in the way of the record being taken seriously because ‘Sorted’ is not a pro-drugs song. Nowhere on the sleeve does it say, ‘you are supposed to put drugs in here,’ but I understand the confusion. I don’t think anyone who listens to ‘Sorted’ would come away thinking it had a pro-drugs message. If they did I would say they had misinterpreted it.” Despite pre-sales of 400,000 copies, in a strange display of ethics, bookmakers William Hill refuse to take bets on the single entering the top of the charts. When the single is released it reaches number two.
1996-2006. Germany. Cannibal Corpse
Death metal band Cannibal Corpse was singled out by president candidate Bob Dole during a 1996 campaign speech as being responsible for “a culture becoming dangerously coarse”, and have been heavily censored in several countries. The sale or display of its first three albums is forbidden by law in Germany. Cannibal Corpse has made a decent living out of shocking the living hell out of the masses. Arguably the most popular death metal band in the short history of the genre, Cannibal Corpse has enjoyed a very steady career, spawning ten albums over 16 years and, most impressively, selling over a million copies worldwide with zero (and we mean: zero) radio airplay and, aside from its now-legendary cameo in Ace Ventura: ‘Pet Detective’ (1994), very few television appearances.
1998. United Kingdom. Marilyn Manson
The controversy surrounding the band Marilyn Manson in the UK was raised in Parliament. Marilyn Mason is an industrial rock and alternative metal band based in Los Angeles, California. One British MP described the album ‘Portrait of an American Family’ as an ‘outrage against society’. In the US, the City Council of Jacksonville banned the group after pressure from The Christian Coalition.
2000. Turkey. Ahmet Kaya
Ahmet Kaya, a famous Kurdish singer, died in exile in France in 2000. Official sales of his albums exceeded 20 million (it should be multiplied by five, to get an estimated number of unoffical, pirate and bootlegged sales). He was one of the strongest opposition artists of his time and also one of the most popular. Yet his life was a story of both political and ethnic repression, as well as mass bias, prejudice and condemnation. Even after his early death in 2000, he remains a controversial figure in Turkey.
Ahmet Kaya had to leave Turkey after receiving a prison sentence as a result of the newspaper Hürriyet’s stories about him. New evidence allegedly shows that in 1999, Kaya was sentenced with evidence deliberately fabricated by Hürriyet against him. In 1999 Hürriyet published a photo allegedly taken during Kaya’s Berlin concert in which he appeared to be singing under an Abdullah Öcalan photo, and according to this news coverage, Kaya demanded money from the audience to take to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members in the mountains. Hürriyet’s news coverage resulted in a three-year prison sentence for Kaya because his “action” was regarded as aiding and abetting an illegal organization. A newly released video from this concert, though, shows that all these statements and photos were fabricated by the Hürriyet newspaper. Read more…