It’s no secret that TV and radio networks can pull music from the air without providing much of an explanation. Whether it’s government regulation or ad concerns, a song can get scrapped from the airwaves at any time. But this isn’t just an issue small bands are forced to deal with. Even huge acts like The Doors have had songs banned! Here are some of the songs that the media didn’t want people to hear.
Concerned about offending those with speech impairments — because some of the vocals resembled stuttering — BBC banned “My Generation” by The Who from the airwaves.
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Grease was met with apprehension by many American parents. So, in a way, it’s not surprising that “Greased Lightning” was met with a similar attitude. Radio stations were afraid that playing this song would encourage young men to begin to dress like John Travolta.
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“Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix came out in 1966, but it was banned from the radio in 2001. Clear Channel Communications banned the tune after 9/11, deeming lyrics like “Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” too violent. Jimi’s song wasn’t the only CCC victim.
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Clear Channel Communications was back at it again with “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. Following 9/11, the seemingly innocent song was taken off the air by the CCC along with 160 other songs with almost no explanation.
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Colorado Spring Radio was fined over $7,000 in 2001 for playing “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem (with no profanity). The FCC acknowledged that no obscenities were used, but deemed the sexual references and themes too aggressive.
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Anything but “Love Game” by Lady Gaga was banned after radio execs concluded that too much of its sexual messaging would have to be altered in order for it to be radio friendly.
“The Pill” by Loretta Lynn was a huge feminist anthem, but it was banned from the airwaves because of its mention of birth control, a controversial topic in the ’70s.
The Kingsmen were sneaky. They tried to cover up some of the sexual content in “Louie, Louie” by slurring the lyrics. Too bad it didn’t work. This song was placed under investigation by the FBI for almost 3 years. Safe to say, it was not a hit with radio.
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Radios silenced “Paper Planes” by MIA, which pays homage to immigrants from all over the world, for its use of gunshots in the chorus. The obvious reference to fake visas and fake IDs didn’t help, either.
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Despite rumors, the BBC didn’t ban “Lola” by The Kinks because it was an ode to a transgender woman. It was actually the reference to Coca-Cola that got this song pulled from the air. At the time, the BBC had a strict policy that prohibited material with product placement.
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Maybe this one isn’t surprising: After all, the artwork for “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols included a defaced picture of Queen Elizabeth II. The monarchy was quite unhappy with this one and publicly expressed their lack of appreciation towards the Sex Pistols.
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Recorded in 1994, “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. was a huge hit. But after 9/11, the song was banned from radio stations around the world. It wasn’t until the lyric “time to get paid/blow up like the World Trade” was removed, that the song could return to the airwaves.
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The original music video for “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke was explicit to say the least. It was so explicit, in fact, that certain radio stations in the UK accused the tune of being misogynistic and prevented it from being played.
The Doors were rebels. After playing the full, unedited lyrics to “Light My Fire” on the heavily censored Ed Sullivan Show, Jim Morrison and his crew were barred from appearing on the show ever again. They were hardly the last ban to feud with Ed.
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“Let’s Spend the Night Together” by The Rolling Stones also offended Ed Sullivan. Unlike The Doors, Mick Jagger and the rest of the band agreed to sing altered lyrics for their appearance on the show…. they just did so while rolling their eyes at the camera.
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Radio DJ Mike Read was pretty open about his disdain towards “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. He famously broke the physical record in half and had Radio 1 pull it from the air. The irony here? The controversy made the song insanely popular.
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“Red Nation” by The Game was banned by MTV, BET, and most radio stations because of its obvious allusions to gang life. Even though the song was taken off air, it was still crazy popular, racking up over 10 million streams on Youtube.
Released in 1995, “Money for Nothing” by the Dire Straits was censored in 2011 because The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council picked up on a gay slur. The CBSC changed its position a few months later and allowed radio stations to make the decision for themselves.
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“F**k It (I Don’t Want You Back)” is chockfull of profanity. But, surprisingly, that’s not the reason that Eamon’s song was banned. The real reason? Radio considered the tune too morbid and upsetting for the general public.
Hard to believe that “Imagine” by John Lennon was ever banned right? Well it was. Clear Channel censored the song after listening to religious groups that criticized the line “imagine there’s no heaven.” The song likely would’ve seen more outright bans if people know its history.
It’s been widely accepted for years as a peaceful, feel-good anthem by the American public, but Lennon openly stated that the lyrics of his famous song were “virtually the Communist manifesto…Because it’s sugarcoated, it’s accepted.” Many classic songs have little-discussed meanings.
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Checking out anytime you like, but never being able to leave, sounds like typical customer service at the worst hotel ever. It’s actually a veiled reference to the greed of the music industry, which Don Henley was feeling trapped by at the time.
This classic down-your-drink-and-get-out ballad is a favorite of bartenders who, when it’s lights-on time, have no patience for subtlety. But Dan Wilson wrote the tune about childbirth. “My wife and I were expecting our first kid…what a funny pun it was to be bounced from the womb,” he said.
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When Jim Steinman wrote the song, he was also working on a Nosferatu musical at the time, and a bit of influence seeped over. He wrote the classic ballad about vampire romance, almost calling it “Vampires in Love”.
Fans wondered for years what the “trick” was that’s alluded to in the song’s opening lines. Robert Smith later said it was just an allusion to magic tricks or tricks of seduction, and that the song was about “hyperventilating — kissing and fainting to the floor.”
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Written by Billy Steinberg, the song wasn’t about virginity, or even about either of the two theories famously discussed in the beginning of the movie Reservoir Dogs. Steinberg wrote it about being in a healthy relationship that made everything feel new again. Aww.
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Fans actually read farther into this song than Petty intended, weaving an urban legend that it was about a girl tragically jumping from her balcony. Petty went on the record several times to say no, it was just a love song.
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Though it sounds like it’s about a relationship gone wrong, the band’s classic track was actually about their frustrations with their label, which was pushing them to get more songs finished.
Another urban legend swirled around Collins’ first solo single, rumoring that it was about a man he’d witnessed refusing to save a drowning victim. Less interestingly, it’s merely about his divorce with Andrea Bertorelli.
One of Adams’ most well-known tracks doesn’t actually refer to 1969 at all. It’s referring to a summer full of the other 69 — the, uh, physical romance maneuver. We don’t know if we’re allowed to actually say.
It’s not about love; it’s about using someone, which is the opposite of love. Despite lyrics like, “This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind/A simple prop to occupy my time,” guitarist Peter Buck said people still, confusingly, made out in the audience to the song.
Frank Ockenfells III
“Semi-Charmed Life,” according to frontman Stevan Jenkins, is about crystal meth addiction, and the feeling that “your life is always about to change and never be reliable.” Its key line, “doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break,” was edited out of the radio version…for obvious reasons.
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“It’s not really about a blackbird…it’s a bit more symbolic,” Sir Paul McCartney once said. Inspired by the American Civil Rights Movement, he wrote the song about desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Black struggles in general.
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Although it enjoys a reputation as being a criticism of British politics, the song stemmed from Joe Strummer’s fear of drowning. The band had read an article about the possibility of the Thames overflowing its banks, and they “flipped out.”
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Although it’s touted as a romantic ballad, the song was actually about frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s breakup. He was okay with the confusion, saying, “I sort of enjoy the fact that I’m misunderstood most of the time.”
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It’s been used in political campaigns, at sports events, and basically anywhere you could envision a rowdy American anthem being played, but the song’s lyrics are really a criticism of the country’s terrible treatment of Vietnam veterans.
Though many listeners believed this song had a secret deep meaning about war, it was really a wistful memorial for Billie Joe Armstrong’s father, who had passed away when he was young.
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We all know it’s not actually about chasing waterfalls, but unless you’ve watched the music video for this classic, you might miss the fact that it’s warning its audience about the dangers of illegal drugs and STDs.
Far from a fun pop song about fancy sneakers, the lyrics of this smash hit are a reference to the alarming prevalence of school shootings, and the uptick in mental health problems among American youth.
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Although it seems to be about a cavalier flirtationship, this song was actually a hint at Gaga’s bisexuality. She admitted to crowds at a 2009 concert that the “poker face” in question concerned fantasizing about a woman while she was with a man.
Penned by Mick Jagger with an assist from Keith Richards, their darkly upbeat manifesto recounts history from Satan’s perspective, mentioning Jesus’ crucifixion, the murder of the Romanovs, and the Kennedy assassinations.
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Coining the phrase “the day the music died,” Don McLean’s pop-culture-reference-packed hit was written to commemorate the deaths of musicians Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens in a 1959 plane crash.
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The first song everyone learns on guitar was born from witnessing a harrowing scene in Switzerland. From their hotel across the lake, the band watched flames engulf the Montreux Casino Complex, sparked by a fan shooting a flare gun at a concert.
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It makes sense that two gentle souls like John Denver and Jacques-Yves Cousteau were close buds. Their friendship left a real impact on Denver, so much so, that he detailed the ocean conservationist’s voyages in song.
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It took less than an hour to write one of the most powerful political songs of all time. Simone’s creative inspiration was fueled by the injustice of Medgar Evers’ murder and the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church.
The nation was hot with anger in the wake of the Kent State Shootings of 1970. Some 4 million students rose up in protest; Neil Young channeled his deep hurt into song.
Rising to the number two spot on the Canadian charts, this song at its core was motivated by storytelling. As more details emerged about the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald into Lake Superior, Lightfoot updated the verses.
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Lyric by lyric, this song unfolds the circumstances of the controversial murder trial and subsequent hanging of 19-year-old Derek Bentley in 1954. Today it stands as the foremost anthem against capital punishment.
Tupac sampled it in his hit “Changes,” but this song was released 12 years earlier. In essence, similar to the hip hop version, it’s a commentary on the Civil Rights Movement and race and class divisions.
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The German band’s guitarist spotted some balloons while at a concert in West Berlin, and he envisioned how easily their appearance could send Cold War tensions into an overactive military death zone.
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The late lead singer Dolores O’Riordan explained, “When it says in the song, ‘It’s not me, it’s not my family,’ that’s what I’m saying. It’s not Ireland.” She was moved to make a musical statement after the 1993 IRA bombing of Warrington.
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While Marvin’s version is widely known, he was one of a few to cover the song chronicling the assassinations of iconic figures Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy.
Long before the chaos of the retail holiday, Black Friday stood for the day the gold prices skyrocketed then plummeted, sinking the country into mass poverty. The narrator of this tune runs scenarios of his survival plan.
Berlin Spectator / Steely Dan
Few voices resonate with Americans as strongly as The Boss’, which is why he felt a duty to write a moving remembrance of the September 11th attacks, later earning several Grammys and a Song of the Year nomination.
Metalheads would do well to remember this song was a cover from a tune written 42 years earlier by blues legends Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie about the devastating Great Mississippi Flood of 1929.
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As a high school student studying Spanish history, Neil scribbled out an early draft of this song about conquistador Hernán Cortés and his conquest of Mexico from the Aztecs.
Hearing about the death of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko on the news, the former Genesis frontman eulogized the hero through song. The sampled recordings at the beginning and end were also played at Biko’s funeral.
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The title refers to the 1992 Los Angeles riots in response to the beating of Rodney King by the police. If you’re singing it, you’ll note the lyrics are “April 26,” an error they kept because it was their best take.
Orange County Register / Los Angeles Daily News
Lead singer Morrissey grew up in England during the 1960’s when the infamous Moors murders took place. The aptly named song is about the gruesome child murders committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.