1960s USA, Canada

1 January 2001

1964. USA. Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash was concerned with the plight of Native Americans, and produced a series of records about their condition. The song ‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ became a top ten country hit. It tells the story of Ira Hayes – a Pima Indian who was one of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima in the famous photo, and who died drunk in a ditch in 1955. Country radio stations in America tried to show their influence and ban the song, but it backfired. It made Johnny Cash into the darling of the industry. He paid for a nationwide advert that said, “DJs, station managers, owners, etc. Where are your GUTS?… ‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ IS strong medicine. Well, so is Rochester, Harlem, Birmingham and Vietnam.”

1965. USA. Frank Zappa
In 1965, when Zappa and his group, called The Mothers, were about to release their first LP “Freak Out” on MGM Records (featuring the song, “Who Are the Brain Police?”), the label told the group to change its name. “Out of necessity, we became the Mothers of Invention,” Zappa writes in his autobiography, “The Real Frank Zappa Book”.

1966. USA. The Beatles
In March, John Lennon comments that the Beatles are more popular with teens than Jesus Christ. The observation leads to Beatle record burnings and bans from radio play around the country. In June, the Beatles release their ‘Yesterday and Today’ album with the “butcher cover” (featuring the Beatles sitting with pieces of meat and decapitated baby dolls). The record company quickly withdraws the record from stores and replaces it with an innocuous photo of the band.

1968. USA. The Rolling Stones
During the National Democratic Convention, Chicago mayor Richard Daley orders local radio stations to avoid playing the Rolling Stones’ single ‘Street Fighting Man’ in anticipation of rioting that occurred during the convention. The plan backfires, and air play and sales of the single reach record-setting proportions in Chicago.

1968. USA. Bob Dylan
An El Paso, Texas radio station bans all records by singer Bob Dylan because it is too difficult to understand the lyrics. The station management fears that the lyrics may contain offensive or lewd messages. However, the station continues to play recordings of other artists covering Dylan’s songs.

1968. USA. Frank Zappa
During a Dutch music awards ceremony in 1968 (for the LP “We’re Only In It for the Money”) Zappa heard the album for the first time since he turned it into the record company. “I noticed that whole chunks of songs were missing. Someone at MGM had been offended by the lyrics and had arbitrarily chopped portions of them out.
There are many, many more censorship cases in Zappa’s history, involving record companies, radio stations, TV stations, governments and retail stores.
On September 19, 1985, Zappa appeared before a Congressional hearing on explicit lyrics in popular music.

1969. USA. John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Newark Police seize 30,000 copies of the album ‘Two Virgins’, featuring John and Yoko naked on the cover, and the vice squad shuts down a record shop in Chicago. In the same year, ‘The Ballad of John And Yoko’ is banned by 50 percent of all US radio stations. It still gets to number one.


A more extensive list of censorship incidents in the USA 1950-2000 was created by Eric Nuzum. See below, or see:

In October, several radio stations refuse to play Ray Peterson’s “Tell Laura I Love Her,” calling it the “Death Disk.”

New York Bishop Burke forbids Catholic school students from dancing to “The Twist.” Burke considers R&B music, and its associated dances, to be lewd and un-Christian.

The FBI begins collecting data on folk singers Phil Ochs. Ochs is one of several popular musicians to be tracked by the FBI during their careers (Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie).

Bob Dylan refuses to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in February after producers tell him he cannot sing “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues.” Dylan is never invited to perform on the show again.

Fear it contains obscene messages, Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh attempts to ban the Kingsmen hit “Louie, Louie.” After review by the FCC, the agency determines that the song’s lyrics are indecipherable.

After splitting his pants while dancing wildly at a European concert, the boisterous P. J. Proby is uninvited to perform on ABC’s music variety show Shingdig.

Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher bans all rock concerts in the city following a Rolling Stones performance.

The Barry McGuire song “Eve of Destruction” is pulled from retail stores and radio stations across the country after some groups complain that it is nihilistic and could promote suicidal feelings amongst teens.

The Curtis Knight single (featuring Jimi Hendrix) “How Would You Feel” is given little airplay on radio because of the song deals with the plight of blacks in America.

In June, radio stations across the country ban the Rolling Stones hit “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” because they believe the lyrics are too sexually suggestive.

Many radio stations ban The Who’s single “Pictures of Lily” because the song contains a reference to masturbation.

MGM Records alters the Frank Zappa song “Money” because it contains a sexual reference.

WLS radio commissions a local group to re-record the Them hit “Gloria” because they object to the lyrics. Station management feels that the lyric “she comes in my room” is too suggestive for broadcast. Instead, they contact a local band, the Shadows of Knight, to re-record the tune. The Shadows of Knight version becomes a national top ten hit; the original stalls at number 71 on the charts.

A statement by John Lennon in March, comparing the popularity of the Beatles to that of Jesus Christ, results in wide-spread Beatles record burnings and protests. Lennon’s comments regarding what he perceives as a decrease in Christianity’s popularity with teens are taken out of context. He says, “We’re more popular than Jesus now.”

After radio stations refuse to air the original, The Swinging Medallions are convinced by their record company to re-record their song “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)” with more benign lyrics.

In June, Capitol Records recalls all copies of the Beatles’ Yesterday And Today album following complaints over the album’s gory cover art. The “butcher” cover depicts the four Beatles wearing white smocks and covered with decapitated baby dolls and raw meat.

Police attempt to shut down a James Brown concert, alleging the singer’s dancing is obscene.

After enduring calls for censorship over the song “Rhapsody in the Rain,” Lou Christie agrees to change the song’s suggestive lyrics.

The Rolling Stones agree to alter the lyrics to “Let’s Spend The Night Together” for an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in January. Producers request that singer Mick Jagger alter the title phrase to “Let’s spend some time together.”

Against his wishes, Frank Zappa’s record company removes eight bars of his song “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black.” This occurs when a well-intentioned executive from Verve Records hears the lyric, “And I still remember mama with her apron and her pad, feeding all the boys at Ed’s café.” The executive thinks the referred-to “pad” is a sanitary napkin.

Radio programmers pass on Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” because the lyrics reference premarital sex and teenage pregnancy. Morrison cuts an alternative version with more acceptable lyrics.

Producers of the Ed Sullivan Show request that Jim Morrison change the lyrics to “Light My Fire” for The Doors’ September appearance on the program. Morrison initially agrees to alter the lyric “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” to a more innocuous phrase. During the live performance, Morrison sings the original lyric. The band is not invited back on the program.

An El Paso, Texas, radio station bans all songs performed by Bob Dylan because they cannot understand the folk singer’s lyrics. The station continues to play recordings of Dylan songs performed by other artists with clearer diction.

The Doors’ single “Unknown Soldier” is banned from airplay at many radio stations because of its anti-war theme.

Sponsors go into an uproar and threaten to pull support after a television program shows interracial “touching.” During the taping of a duet between Petula Clark and Henry Belafonte, Clark lays her hand on Belafonte’s arm (Clark is white and Belafonte is black).

Jim Morrison is arrested on stage in New Haven, Connecticut, for making lewd gestures and profane remarks during a concert. The arrest is one of several that occur during Doors concerts after Morrison is marked by the FBI and several police organizations as a troublemaker.

Fearing the Rolling Stones’ song “Street Fightin’ Man” will incite violence during the National Democratic Convention in September, Chicago radio stations refuse to play the song. During the ban, the single sets all-time sales records in the Chicago area.

After being invited by the Smothers Brothers to perform his anti-Vietnam anthem “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” on their TV show, Pete Seeger is edited out of the program by the censors at CBS television.

In January, New York police seize 30,000 copies of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Two Virgins album.

Controversy over the cover of Blind Faith’s debut album prompts their label to issue the record with two different covers. The original cover, released in February, features a photograph of a naked 11-year old girl, holding a metallic, rather phallic-looking model airplane. The airplane points toward her lower abdomen. Atco Records eventually drops the benign second cover because it doesn’t sell as well as the original.

In September, the local Roman Catholic Diocese runs a two-page ad spread in the Seattle Post Intelligencer calling for the criminal prosecution of rock musicians and for bans against “rock festivals and their drug-sex-rock-squalor culture.”

Record company officials delay the release of Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane over concerns with the album’s lyrical themes.

In July, one-half of the country’s Top 40 stations refuse to play “The Ballad of John and Yoko” because they feel that the lyrics are blasphemous. The song’s lyrics contain references to Christ and crucifixion.

After Hudson’s, a large department store chain, refuses to carry the debut record from MC5 when it is released in April, the group agrees to delete the expletive “motherfucker” from “Kick Out The Jams.”



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