- Liar Liar – Captain SKA
Captain SKA told us that we can’t trust Theresa May and it seems we all agree as the song shot to number 2 on the influential iTunes singles chart early last year. Its accompanying video illustrated UK poverty statistics and references to school and police cuts. BBC radios refused to play the track and Captain SKA frontman tweeted that Ofcom’s guidelines says nothing the broadcasting of the song despite BBC using Ofcom’s guidelines on impartiality as their only justification.
- Fuck the Police – NWA
NWA’s iconic anthem has been the basis for so many protests it’s earned its place in history. Following the release of ‘Straight Outta Compton’, loads of NWA songs were banned from radio stations, public libraries and retail chains. The Minnesota attorney fought for the prosecution of record stores that sold the controversial album to minors. Much like the backlash of the Parental Advisory sticker, this of course only made the album much more popular.
- Born Free – M.I.A
Back in April 2010, M.I.A tweeted “Fuck UMG who won’t show it on YouTube!” later revealing it was YouTube who refused to publish. The video soon went viral so young children had already seen and shared it but it still wasn’t played on commercial media platforms because of two graphic scenes in the 9 minute clip (no one really mentioned the dick shot). I think we can argue that there is a lot more graphic violence and sex on YouTube – so why ban something that firstly not even that bad, but also sends a message about police brutality? If you think you can handle such disgusting violence, you can watch the video below
- Killing in the Name of – Rage Against the Machine
Killing in the name of has had its place in history as a controversial weapon in the fight against the corporate side of the music industry but the song was written at a much more important time in history – following the killing of Rodney King back in 1991 when the song was released. It was producer Michael Goldstone who decided to make the song their first single but asked RATM to take out two sections; of course they refused and released the song as recorded. This unsurprisingly led to a ban across most US radio stations and the unedited video was censored on MTV. Europe radio stations had no ban but of course played a censored version other than when Bruno Brookes famously played the original version on his show. The song went to number 2 in the UK back in 93 and of course went to number 1 back in Christmas 2009.
- Army Dreamers – Kate Bush
The Gulf War saw 68 songs banned from the BBC because they deemed them inappropriate for airplay. Army dreamers was among the list, alongside the likes of Blondie, Cher, Lulu, Tears for Fears and pretty much anyone who had a song relating to war and weapons at that time. Isn’t it ironic that the BBC banned protest songs because of a war… even though those songs wouldn’t be around without war… really?
- Give Ireland back to the Irish –Paul McCartney
McCartney put his solo career on the line when he released ‘Give Ireland back to the Irish’ after British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1972. The song itself wasn’t exactly an example of a perfect political song but the most important thing was that McCartney decided to be proactive about the tragic events without considering consequence. The artist wrote in his memoirs that the chairman of EMI explained that they wouldn’t release the song because it was too inflammatory. McCartney knew the song would be banned and released it anyway.
- ‘Eve of Destruction’ – Barry McGuire
Only some radio stations banned ‘Eve of Destruction’, but despite the ban, millions of teenagers bought the single and it stayed in the charts for months and actually became an anthem for the fight to lower the age for voting from 21 to 18. Like Radio Radio, this song had no offensive language or adult themes and only acted as a political cry.
- New York City Cops – The Strokes
A song about getting away with snorting cocaine because cops are too dumb to notice would be censored for drug use… right? Wrong. New York City Cops was banned in the wake of 9/11 because of the line “New York cops aint too smart” which is of course questionable as though despite New York Police being more than heroic over the course of the tragic events, the songs that were banned from commercial radio (there were around 150 after the event) were arguably fit for broadcast.
- Elvis Costello- Radio Radio
In this case, it wasn’t the song that was banned but actually the artist himself. Elvis Costello was banned from SNL for over a decade over a stunt Costello says was inspired by Hendrix. Costello stopped halfway into ‘Less than Zero’ and began playing ‘Radio Radio’, a protest song about the commercialisation of radio broadcasts and the restrictions that prevented punk songs from being played.
Costello isn’t the only person to be banned from SNL because of a stunt; Sinnead O’Connor was infamously banned from SNL after a stunt which included tearing a photo of Pope John Paul II and saying “fight the real enemy”.
- God Save the Queen – Sex Pistols
Jon Lydon said in 2002 “you certainly don’t think its going to be taken as a declaration of civil war” but the anthem, banned by the BBC (shocker) caused Lydon to come victim to countless assaults in the street, including machete attacks to his kneecaps and being bottled in the face. Being one of the most acclaimed punk bands in history, this song played a big part in the punk movement, founded by young people finding a way to voice their concerns with the government through music and fashion. When God Save the Queen was banned, it was no exception to the classic cycle – less places played the record but more people bought it. The sex pistols’ stunts offended the nation, not only provoking the attacks but also drawing in outrage from radio DJ’s, politicians and newspaper editors. The record still sold 150,000 copies in one day and 200,000 in a week but the band still faced trouble being signed, moving between record labels. McLaren said. “You couldn’t buy the record, you couldn’t hear the record, you couldn’t see the group play, yet it was unquestionably outselling Rod Stewart.”
- Ding Dong the Witch is dead – Harold Arlen and Y.Harburg
The BBC defended their decision to ban ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ after it went to number 2 following Margaret Thatcher’s death, saying it was clearly a “celebration of death” the song reached the charts thanks to a campaign to get enough singles sold that the song would be played on daytime radio – it of course achieved the sales but the entire point was made redundant when the BBC decided not to play it. Of course, the song itself doesn’t refer to thatcher herself or contain any direct political message so could’ve been played in full without any offence according to Ofcom guidelines.
12 – Dixie Chicks being banned as a band for dissing Bush
10 days before the Iraq war, Natalie Maines said in a concert in London that she was “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” They were labelled as “unpatriotic” (who knew that was such a big deal, huh?). Their music was boycotted by radio DJs, record stores and the entire country community.
The interesting thing is that the people boycotting the Dixie Chicks were doing just what they were angry about – exercising their right to freedom of speech. In 2016 Natalie tweeted “I get banned for not liking Bush and now Trump can practically put a hit out on Hillary and he’s still all over country radio! Hypocrites!” Merle Haggard also released an anti-war song in the summer of 2003 called “America First” with little to no backlash and Willie Nelson was also openly criticizing the war, but taking it to another level by floating the idea that 9/11 was a potential governmental conspiracy perpetuated by Bush to rally public support for war in Iraq. At the time, the Dixie Chicks were the only commercial country band who still stuck to their roots whilst other artists were aiming to make the genre more modern and electric. The boycott moulded the genre’s reputation as not being able to respect artists despite their political or religious beliefs.