Cover Your Ears! Censored Music Through The Ages


The history of banned and censored music is, unfortunately, as long and varied as the history of music itself. Wherever there’s great art being made, the morality police are always close by. Read on as we revisit some of the most notoriously “vile,” “suggestive,” “vulgar,” “crude,” “un-American” and completely faaaaaabulous songs of the past half century!

Barry McGuire-“Eve Of Destruction”: Both radio stations and music retailers alike banned this bleak portrait of life in the ’60s after receiving complaints that its pessimistic outlook would encourage teenage suicide.

The Beatles-“A Day In The Life”: The BBC frowned on this song’s supposed references to drugs and sex. (“I love to turn you on.”)

The Beatles-“The Ballad of John and Yoko”: The Fab Four certainly had their share of musical controversy over the years. It was this tune’s mention of crucifixion that offended radio listeners.

The Beatles, and their banned album artwork for "Yesterday and Today"

The Beatles, and their artwork for "Yesterday and Today," which was also banned

Billie Holiday: “Love For Sale”: This version of Cole Porter’s song was banned by the entire ABC Radio Network in 1956 because of its lyrical references to prostitution. Instrumental versions of the song continued to receive airplay.

Bob Dylan-“Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues”: Talk about paranoid! The legendary songwriter was prohibited from performing his social critique on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a result, Dylan canceled his booking on the show.

The Byrds-“Eight Miles High”: Though the band insisted that the title came to them after a plane trip, many radio stations remained convinced that it was inspired by a different kind of trip and put it on their Do Not Play lists.

Chubby Checker-“The Twist”: You’ll go to hell for dancing to this one! Or so thought New York’s Bishop Burke, who prohibited students in his Catholic school from dancing to this and other “un-Christian” dance hits in the early ’60s.

Chubby Checker:  What Would Jesus Dance To?!

Chubby Checker: What Would Jesus Dance To?!

The Cure-“Killing An Arab”: Camus’ work has fallen victim to censorship over the years, so it’s not shocking that this goth rock classic based on his novel, “The Stranger,” would suffer a similar fate. The alleged offense? Racism.

The Doors-“Unknown Soldier”: Fearing they would suffer political backlash from the song’s anti-war stance, many radio stations refused to play this single.

The Everly Brothers-“Wake Up Little Suzie”: Some listeners felt there was just too much implied by the duo’s song about a teenage couple falling asleep during a movie date.

Janis Ian-“Society’s Child”: This song’s references to interracial relationships resulted in it being banned by several radio stations in 1967.

Jefferson Airplane-“White Rabbit”: There was no hiding the drug references in this psychedelic hit.

"The most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on."

"The most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on."

The Kingsmen-“Louie Louie”: No one really knew exactly what they were banning with this one, but they were sure it was something bad! Even the FBI tried—without success—to get to the bottom of what the band’s indecipherable lyrics really were.

Link Wray-“Rumble”: Yup, even instrumentals have been banned from radio. This particular song’s title was too suggestive of teen violence for many kings of the airwaves back in 1959.

Neil Young-“Cortez The Killer”: Many Spanish listeners didn’t appreciate the song’s criticism of one of their national heroes.

The Replacements-“The Ledge”: Fearing the Minneapolis foursome’s song advocated suicide, MTV refused to air its video.

The Replacements, making no attempt to jump

The Replacements, making no attempt to jump

The Rolling Stones-“Let’s Spend The Night Together”: Mick agreed to change the lyrics and ambiguously plead to spend “some time” together rather than all those sin-filled PM hours when the band performed the song on the Ed Sullivan show in 1966.

The Rolling Stones-“Street Fightin’ Man”: Yet another ‘Stones classic to make the list. Chicago radio stations refused to play the song during the Democratic National Convention in 1968 for fear that it would encourage mob violence. In an interesting twist, the single actually ended up breaking sales records in the Chicago area during the time it was banned!

The Sex Pistols-“God Save The Queen”: This “treasonous” punk classic actually made it to number one on the UK charts, though its title was removed in official documentation of the event.

The Stranglers-“Peaches”: Until the band recorded a less sexually-charged account of beach-side girl watching, UK radio wanted nothing to do with this one.

The Stranglers: they ooze sex appeal

The Stranglers: They just ooze sex appeal, don't they?

The Strokes-“New York City Cops”: Though it was recorded for the band’s debut before the attacks of September 11th, the track was left off of the American release due to feelings that it would be perceived as being too disrespectful.

The Who-“My Generation”: Roger Daltrey’s stuttered delivery of the title line led many to believe he was mimicking the impaired speech of drug users.

The Who-“Pictures of Lily”: Several radio stations refused to play this ode to pinups because of its implied reference to masturbation.


We could go on and on! These are only a few on a long, laughable and ever-growing list. What are some other banned songs that you can think of?

-Shelley Peckham

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3 Responses

  1. “What Would Jesus Dance To?” …simply amazing. The “Louie Louie” blurb was hilarious as well.

    Great job!

  2. This is a great post!

  3. […] READ MORE AT: Cover Your Ears! Censored Music Through The Ages | True Endeavors Presents: music, tours, tickets, m…. […]

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