Radio stations have been banning or censoring songs ever since they first started to play records on the air. When the rock ‘n’ roll scene flourished in the ‘50s, they started to ban more songs than ever! You will be shocked to hear that many classic songs have been banned at some point in history. Trust us, you are not going to believe the reasons they were deemed inappropriate for the ears of the average radio listener! Keep reading to see why these songs were thought unfit for the airwaves back then. Is your favorite song on the list?
Imagine – John Lennon
In reality, John Lennon had been a controversial figure when he was alive and even after that. He was an easy target when it came to censorship thanks to his songwriting and activism. “Imagine” was banned after 9/11 happened in 2001. The same thing happened during the First Gulf War in 1991. What makes it so ironic that it is all about peace. Religious folks were said to be up in arms over a specific line: “Imagine there’s no heaven.”
Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen
The United States radio waves banned the Kingsmen version of this song. In fact, an FBI investigation went on for 31 months after the band allegedly covered up its sexual content through slurring. In the end, it was inconclusive since they could not interpret the real lyrics. Louie, Louie made headlines once more in 2005. This happened because a high school superintendent did not allow a marching band to play the song.
If U Seek Amy – Britney Spears
Are you confused about why anyone would ban this song? Try saying the title as fast as you can five times. If you still do not get it, let us give you a hint. It sounds like you are spelling out four letters and the word “me.” At first, there was confusion as to whether this double entendre should be censored. This was why some American stations changed its title to “If U See Amy.” In the UK, the new title was just “Amy.”
Like A Prayer – Madonna
It is not all that unusual for a Madonna song to make people scratch their heads. The Vatican and the American Family Association both condemned its music video because it used blasphemous imagery. In fact, the pressure had been so strong that Pepsi canceled an entire advertising campaign since it featured this song. Apparently, the Pope went as far as to ask fans to boycott her concerts after it came out. Fun fact: the pop star is banned in Egypt! Russia also has a lot of restrictions on her.
Rolling In The Deep – Adele
Are you surprised to learn that a song by Adele has made it to the list? It is even more shocking to hear that it is “Rolling in the Deep.” It has been censored by radio stations thanks to the ambiguity of a specific word: “ship.” Rumors say that it was used as a euphemism in place of a very similar swear word. The lyrics that she handwrote actually featured the actual expletive. On TV, she replaces it with “stuff.”
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
Wow, the Rolling Stones has been around for a long time now. They have been in the scene for so long that they were censored in 1965 during a performance on a variety show called Shindig. The band was criticized thanks to a sexual innuendo that came with the “trying to make some girl” line. It is confusing to hear that it was the one song that they did not have to censor during the 2006 Super Bowl.
Take The Power Back – Rage Against The Machine
Twenty years after this song came out, the Arizona state law deemed it against the law. It was decreed that schools can’t “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” This took place after a group of high school teachers played the song for a Mexican-American history class. The superintendent went on to issue a “notice of noncompliance” to its school district back in 2015. Weird.
The Real Slim Shady – Eminem
In 2001, the FCC gave a Colorado Springs radio station a fine for its decision to play the clean version of “The Real Slim Shady.” There is no explicit language even in that version, but the FCC was not happy with its sexual themes and references. That year, the agency set up guidelines that said innuendo and context were enough to say that a station violated decency standards. How can they even play rap after that?
Cop Killer – Body Count
When it comes to controversial songs, we are not surprised to find this entry on the list. After all, the Body Count song is all about a police brutality victim who decides to take things into his own hands. It was criticized by President George W. Bush and various law enforcement agencies. With a title like “Cop Killer,” this was a given. Many people also protested it, which only helped improve its sales even more. In the end, however, the rock group got completely banned from New Zealand.
Light My Fire – The Doors
In 1967, The Ed Sullivan Show blacklisted the Doors after it failed to change this line: “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.” This line can be interpreted to be about drug use. Jim Morrison agreed to censor himself when they were on the stage, but it looks like he could not help but use the original form. The BBC banned it 24 years later at the height of the Persian Gulf War thanks to the presence of “fire.”
Juicy – The Notorious B.I.G
It comes as no surprise to learn that Biggie songs have been banned for one reason or another. “Juicy” is a good example of the way tragic events provoke censorship. After 9/11 happened in 2001, the line “time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade” was taken out of it. This was meant to be a reference to the 1993 World Trade Center attack. “Blow-up” was also used as a way to say gaining fame in no time.
Lola – The Kinks
This upbeat track follows a young man who gets together with a transvestite in Soho, London. It did not attract controversy in the same way that you might think. Even though some radio stations banned it for this reason, BBC Radio had a different reason for banning it. There was a line in the song that goes, “Where they drink champagne and it taste just like Coca-Cola.” This felt like free advertising, so the non-commercial station did not approve of it. The Kinks had to record it again and turn it to “cherry cola.”
Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
If you are a fan of Billie Holiday, you must know how emotional and powerful this song is. It showed her horror over a lynching. When she released it in 1939, it was banned on the American airwaves thanks to its heavy and morbid content. However, people protested it because this was a topic that needed to be discussed back then. Her song “Love For Sale” was also banned because it was about prostitution.
Physical – Olivia Newton-John
It does not matter how popular a song is since it might still get banned by certain radio stations. Despite the fact that “Physical” was a huge hit in the United States and the United Kingdom, one line caused it some problems: “there’s nothing left to talk about unless it’s horizontally.” It did not help that the music video had a gay couple with clasped hands as they ignored Olivia Newton-John! MTV censored it for this.
Greased Lightning – John Travolta
We do not understand if you say that you do not enjoy the music in Grease. Maybe you just do not like music at all. Anyway, we want to bring up “Greased Lightning,” which was banned from the airwaves thanks to a particular phrase in the song: “it ain’t no s***.” This part is often cut when it plays on the radio. It is weird that an Italian swear word, “fongool,” has not been censored in its other songs.
In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins
How can you possibly not love the drum solo in this song? “In The Air Tonight” is a generally harmless song, but it has been banned on two different occasions over the years. In 1991, it was banned thanks to its perceived connection to the First Gulf War. Ten years after that, this happened again after the 9/11 attacks. It was one of the 162 songs that Clear Channel Communications banned from the airwaves back then.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Frank Loesser
This classic holiday song went on to win the 1949 Oscar for Best Original Song. Despite this, it has earned a fair bit of controversy over the years. People say that its lyrics encourage sexual assault and promote a lack of consent. In 2018, a Cleveland radio station said that it took off the song for being inappropriate. The big radio stations in Canada also took it off playlists since it did not meet their societal standards.
Love Game – Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga has definitely come a long way! She is now considered to be a musical and cultural icon. Even so, many of her songs have been banned by radio stations. “Love Game” got censored thanks to its very suggestive themes. The ban had its eye on a lyric about a “disco stick,” which we will not expound on some more. The pop star has also been banned in Lebanon because “Judas” felt blasphemous.
Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead – Wizard Of Oz
After the death of former United Kingdom PM Margaret Thatcher, the BBC banned “Ding-Dong the Witch Is Dead.” It was a strange decision because it is an innocent song all in all. The late politician was a polarizing figure, which explains why the song reached the second spot on the charts after her demise. Even when this happened, the BBC would not play this song since it was done with bad intentions.
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
In 1967, this Van Morrison classic was banned for the suggestive lyrics. To be specific, it all boiled down to this particular line: “making love in the green grass.” Radio stations decided that this was where they drew the line. Even though there was pushback, it went on to be a huge hit. A lot of radio stations relented by releasing a radio-friendly edit of the song. It replaced the aforementioned lyrics by instead using “laughin’ and a runnin’ hey hey.”
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – Jimmy Boyd
At the age of 13, Jimmy Boyd recorded a song that became a mainstay during the holidays. Despite his age, the song was banned from the airwaves. It is all about a young boy who finds his mom kissing Santa under the mistletoe. In reality, it was just the dad in costume. The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston criticized it for its suggestive lyrics, claiming that it associated Christmas with sex. Boyd met with the leaders of the church to explain what he had in mind. After that, the ban was lifted at last.
Splish Splash – Bobby Darin
This song is about a man who walks out of his bath to join the party in the adjacent room. You probably know just how powerful of a song it is. There was a good reason for the ban. After all, it did not mention him putting his clothes on. In 1958, the authorities decided that it was about a man who walked into a party in his birthday suit. They believed that this was enough to censor it.
Happiness Is A Warm Gun – The Beatles
Just so you know, we can probably fill this list with songs by the Beatles. After all, they have always been known to stir up controversy all over the globe. John Lennon wrote “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” which is another song that caused controversy with the BBC. The front man of the band was accused of using “warm gun” as a reference to his sexual desire for Yoko Ono. This phallic imagery did not make the cut for the American and British censors alike. That is the reason it got very limited airtime.
Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers
This 1957 song by the Everly Brothers only goes to show that it was easy to have your song banned in the ‘50s. This might have topped the charts, but radio stations refused to play it thanks to its lyrics. After all, it left many people wondering what the kids were doing before they went to bed. We have come a long way since then, however. POTUS George W Bush even said that it was his favorite song!
Puff The Magic Dragon – Peter, Paul, And Mary
The composer of “Puff the Magic Dragon” says that, contrary to what the public thinks, it is not about smoking marijuana. However, the Vice President of the United States at the time believed that it was promoting drug use. Veep Spiro Agnew asked to ban the tune, a request that was granted. While the song received some pushback, this did not stop it from being a huge success for Peter, Paul and Mary.
My Generation – The Who
If there was a baby boomer anthem, it might be this one. As a matter of fact, it has reached the 11th spot on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was not the suggestion of curse words nor the “I hope I die before I get old” line that earned it a ban. No, it had to do with all the stuttering! People thought that the band was poking fun at people who could not help but speak with one.
Love To Love You, Baby – Donna Summer
Do not worry if you are not a fan of this 17-minute single. The Donna Summer hit came out in 1975. TIME magazine called the song a “marathon of 22 orgasms.” When asked if she touched herself while working on the song, the musician simply said, “Yes, I touched my knee.” This answer did not amuse everyone. The track got banned from various North American radio stations. The good news is that the disco hit still carried mass appeal.
Atomic – Blondie
Blondie made its way to the list of songs banned by the BBC during the First Gulf War. When the conflict erupted in 1990, the BBC tried to weed out all the songs that it considered inappropriate. Even though “Atomic” came out 11 years before this, it did not make it immune from bans. According to the BBC, it does not make sense. On top of that, the title was considered too vulgar for airtime when there was a war going on. Just so you know, the title was referring to sexual explosiveness!
God Only Knows – The Beach Boys
Before this track came out in 1966, it was rare to find a song title with “God” in it. Even though it did not refer to a specific deity, it still got banned by radio stations in the United States. According to Brian Wilson, it could even be “any higher force” and moving forward, but no dice. The song was still accused of blasphemy. Those people would probably freak out if they heard the lyrics in this day and age.
Royals – Lorde
Can you believe that two radio stations in San Francisco banned this hit song by Lorde? This happened in 2014 prior to an upcoming game between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. You see, the pop song has become the unofficial anthem of the visiting team. It antagonized the San Franciscan fans, who wanted to have the song banned. They lifted the ban once the World Series came to an end.
Anarchy In The UK – The Sex Pistols
This song was the debut single of the Sex Pistols and appeared as part of Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex. After it came out in 1976, the song proved to be a huge hit. The song has even reached the 56th spot on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list by the Rolling Stone. It has also earned a spot on the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll by the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. It was banned after the band’s controversial performance on Tonight, which sparked public outrage.
Johnny Remember Me – John Leyton
Did you know that “Johnny Remember Me” was the only No. 1 hit earned by John Leyton during his music career? The Harpers West One star released it in 1961 and called it a “death disc.” At the time, those were in fashion. It talks about a dead lover haunting a young man. The song was banned by the BBC, but there were many other “death discs” that were banned during the same period of time.
I Want Your Sex – George Michael
This George Michael track was his first solo song after he left Wham, his pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. When it first came out, it was very unusual to talk about fornication in song titles. Like many other songs on the list, the BBC banned it right away. It was not only the title, but people also thought that it was provocative. It allegedly encouraged people to have mindless sex during the height of the AIDS crisis.
Glad To Be Gay – Tom Robinson
The public pretty much knew about the sexual orientation of Tom Robinson by 1976. He first wrote “Glad To Be Gay” as a pride parade song, which was why it went on to be the unofficial gay anthem in the United Kingdom. He released it on an EP, but the BBC banned it and refused to give it airtime on the Radio 1 Chart show for its criticism of the British police and partial decriminalization of homosexuality.
I Love A Man In Uniform – Gang Of Four
Group of Four is a British post-punk band that already got censored from the airwaves for its 1977 song, “He’s a Tourist.” However, this was not the last time that this has happened. Five years after that, the band released a song called “I Love a Man in Uniform” under an album called “Songs of the Free.” Even though it topped the charts, the song was considered inappropriate since the Falklands War had just erupted at the time.
Burn My Candle – Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey released her first ever single in 1956. She was only 19 years old when she wowed us with “Burn My Candle.” The truth is that she did not write it in the hopes of standing out, but this was what happened in the end. Radio stations banned it because it allegedly had suggestive lyrics. Back then, she had no idea why this even came up. The innocent young lady must have been shocked to hear that it was banned!
Jackie – Scott Walker
In 1967, Scott Walker rerecorded and rereleased his first solo single, “Jackie.” Despite this, the United Kingdom did not like certain parts of the lyrics. In particular, it did not approve of those about drug use and other controversial acts. The BBC banned it from its TV and other stations. It made history since it was the first song that the Radio 1 channel banned! We are not going to lie – that is a pretty cool achievement.
You Don’t Know How It Feels – Tom Petty
Tom Petty released the Wildflowers album in 1994. “You Don’t Know How It Feels” was one of the tracks on the album and reached the top spot of the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks. It also entered the Hot 100 chart. Sadly, VH1 and MTV banned it for the lyrics about drugs. Apparently, they did this by playing certain words backward to evade the attention of listeners. At any rate, it went on to be a huge hit.
Red Nation – The Game
The Game’s “Red Nation” came out on April 12, 2012. BET, MTV, and a few other stations banned the song thanks to its references to violence and gang lifestyle. This did not seem to affect the popularity of the song since it still got more than 100 million YouTube plays. It is awesome to hear that the Game said that he wished that his songs got banned more often to entice people to give his work a listen.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles
This is a legendary song! “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles became the first black female musical group song to reach the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 list. It talked about the day after an intimate night between a man and a woman. In those days, the lyrics were deemed salacious. This was the reason radio stations banned the song, which still sold more than a million copies.
Rumble – Link Wray & His Ray Men
Can you believe that radio stations banned this song all because of the title? After all, this is an instrumental version of the song and did not have lyrics whatsoever. After it came out in 1958, a number of American radio stations banned it from the airwaves. Back then, “rumble” was slang for a gang fight. The stations were worried that the song glorified delinquency and gangs, so they just banned it. It is now considered a classic song and has been used in anything from SpongeBob SquarePants vs. The Big One to Pulp Fiction.
Honey Love – The Drifters
In 1954, this song by the Drifters came out. Featuring Clyde McPhatter, “Honey Love” did not receive the approval of the Memphis police. According to them, the lyrics of the song were way too suggestive. They were not sure what “it” was referring to in the song! The song goes, “I need it, I need it when the moon is bright. I need it, I need it when you hold me tight.” In the end, the authorities decided to just ban it from the jukeboxes. The cops confiscated a lot of copies of this record for that reason.
Wham! Bam! Thank You, Ma’am! – Dean Martin
It is not all that hard to see why this Dean Martin song was banned. People found the lyrics of “Wham! Bam! Thank You, Ma’am!” too suggestive. We will let you be the judge. Here is an excerpt from the hit song: “I looked at you and thought I knew just how the game was played. My shirttail ran right up my back just like a window shade… ‘Cause wham bam you broke my heart and hope that you had fun. (Wham bam thank you, ma’am) Hope you’re satisfied.” What do you think?
Four or Five Times – Dottie O’Brien
First recorded in 1927, “Four or Five Times” by Dottie O’Brien has been covered a couple of times without controversy. However, this was not the case when a woman called Dotti O’Brien released her version of the song in January 1951. All of a sudden, the FCC and radio stations found it too suggestive. Peter Blecha is the author of “In Taboo Tunes: A History of Banned Bands & Censored Songs.” He said, “The banning of the… disc, disregarding whether or not the song was actually about serial sexual encounters, revealed a gender-based double standard at play.”