If there’s one thing I love more than anything else it’s music. Not just listening to it but playing it, writing it, and studying it. While doing my weekly radio show, One thing that always keeps me motivated is learning the history of the songs i’m playing, More than anything else however, the single most interesting thing I love to find is songs that have at one point in time been banned from airplay and the reasons why. The following is a small collection of some wildest banned songs I’ve had the privilege to play.
1. Strange Fruit
Possibly the most infamous and controversial songs to ever be banned from radio airplay is none other than Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit. Even without any context, at first listen this song provides an eerie and unsettling feeling to the listener. Strange Fruit, to those unaware, is not a reference to any form of “fruit” at all rather than the unjust lynching of African Americans in the early 30s and 4. So why was the song banned from airplay? For that reason exactly, the song was a call to action for justice against racial inequality, the only issue was the 1930’s, primarily southern, America was no place to welcome racial equality or call to attention to the wrongful nature of their crimes. To this day Strange Fruit still stands as one of the most powerful, brash, and moving songs to take the stand for equality among races ever recorded.
2. Splish Splash
If you have not previously heard Bobby Darin’s 1958 top 40 hit Splish Splash already, I would highly recommend doing so now. The narrative in the story describes a man who had decided to relax and unwind with a soothing bubble bath one Saturday evening only to find that once he had done so, a party had commenced in his living room, of which he was prompt to join. So what in this song could have led a collective of radio stations in North America to ban this song from their air waves? Does this song promote the use of drugs, violence, maybe something considered too immoral? Nope! Splish Splash was banned from North American radio stations for the simple fact the main protagonist in the song is assumed to be nude! That’s right, though no where in the song is any form of nudity is ever actually defined or described, this hit tune apparently made some listeners feel uncomfortable at the depiction of taking a bath.
3. Mack The Knife
Bobby Darin strikes again! One year removed from making listeners uncomfortable Bobby was back again to have yet another song banned from airplay. A No. 1 hit in both the US and UK, Mack The Knife was banned from airplay for showcasing a “Positive Portrayal of Serial killers”. Even though Darin was long from the first artist to record this ditty, he gained himself yet another spot on the list of banned songs.
4. Brown Eyed Girl
A favorite of karaoke singers and your dad, you might be asking yourself what could this upbeat summer tune possibly have gotten banned for. Well hold onto your hats for this one, the track was initially titled “Brown Skinned Girl”… and welp, that should tell you all you need to know for that one. Morrison changed the title in order for the song more accepted for air play, However many stations still refused to play the song due to the line, “Making love in the green grass” which was deemed overtly sexual.
5. Space Oddity
One of David Bowie’s staple songs, alongside Starman, Space Oddity has seemingly become a staple of classic rock radio stations as well over the past few decades. Interestingly enough however, this wasn’t always the case. Following the climax of The Space Race, the BBC decided to pull the song from airplay until Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin Michael Collins had returned safely to Earth’s surface in fear that it may invoke unease and restlessness among listeners for the safety of these astronauts.
6. The Monster Mash
Yes, The Monster Mash. You know, the song that children sing aloud come October, a mainstay of any Halloween party or Spotify playlist. The Monster Mash was deemed “Too Morbid” for airplay by the BBC. Honestly, I’m at a loss for this one here! If you can help me in anyway understand what is to be considered morbid in The Monster Mash please let me know in the comments below.
7. Charlie Brown
If there is one thing that we have learned by now it should be that the words deemed unsuitable for airplay have taken on quite the shift over the years. Common or obscure sayings and phrases we openly discuss today were at one time considered fowl or taboo. However when it comes down to it, The Coasters take the cake with Charlie Brown. The song depicts the “cool bad boy” type kid in school, describing his shenanigans and consequences. One thing that the BBC however did not find very cool was the use of the word “Spitballs”. Yes, Spitballs is the word that got Charlie Brown removed from stations across the nation. What a time to be alive.
We kicked off the list with one of the most iconic and infamous banned songs of all tim, therefore the only way to cap it off is to offer up one of the most seemingly unknown yet historical songs to ever get the blacklist. Link Wray’s 1958 song Rumble is the only instrumental song to ever be banned from the radio. Now how in the hell could this be possible is a completely normal thought to be having right now, but allow me to explain. While the song lacks any for of hard or intense lyrics, it more than makes up for it in pure, soul shaking, heart pounding, guitar chords. Considered “The most dangerous sounding instrumental” for good reason, The ominous sounding heavily reberbed guitar is enough to put you in an uncomfortable trance. To quote The Rolling Stone it, “Sounded like an invitation to a knife fight”. The song was banned from radio stations in major cities such as New York and Boston for fear that it would actually insite gang violence. Don’t ever let anyone tell you instrumental aren’t cool ever again.