“Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.” In honour of this event, we’ve decided to put together a list of several songs you probably did not know were banned and may be very surprised to find out that they were.
But first, back to the prose we lifted from the American Libraries Association page: “Intellectual freedom – the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular – provides the foundation for Banned Books Week… [This event] stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them”.
Music is another creative medium that suffers from censorship, in both democracies and dictatorships. Here, we find the notion of banning a song because it creates an idea/event/action pretty ludicrous. The art form simply reflects concepts that already exist within our society. As most bans reflect the pre-existing disapproval of certain concepts by society-at-large, the people susceptible to these concepts are already aware that society does not approve and yet they are still prepared to follow them, without any prior musical intervention. Suddenly making the track illegal is not going to deter them, it has been illegitimate all along.
However, what do we know, you’ll probably go mad after listening to the songs below. You have been warned.
The Downliners Sect – ‘I want my baby back’.
Ahhh, Necrophilia, the most wholesome of topics, and what better way to kick off our track selection! It’s almost no wonder that this slab of darkly humourous (tasteless?) garage rock was banned. Not only that, but this song (at least the Jimmy Cross version) was voted ‘the worlds worst record’ by listeners of Kenny Everett’s radio show. Are we better off without it? We’ll leave that for you to decide..
The Troggs – ‘I can’t control myself’.
More garage rock mischief from The Troggs (famous for ‘Wild Thing’), this particular song was not banned for the lyrics, but for the “lewdly suggestive sounds [made] by (lead singer) Reg Presley”. Personally, we can’t hear it – perhaps revealing more about the dirty minded radio DJ’s than it does about anything else.
The Bangles – ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’.
Immediately after 9/11 the US media conglomerate Clear Channel banned a whole host of songs from being played on its many radio stations. Our personal favourite is that epitome of 80s pop fun, ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ by. We can’t fathom any reason to censor it other than that it contains references to a country that is located near the Middle East or maybe because the lyrics contain the line ‘they’re falling down like a domino’. Either way it’s a weird pick.
Billie Holiday – ‘Gloomy Sunday’.
Very few songs come with an attached body count, ‘Gloomy Sunday’ being one such exception, and has been linked (somewhat dubiously) to 200 suicides. There’s no doubt it is a more than melancholy song, but could it really cause suicide? The BBC weren’t willing to take the risk and so it was banned till the turn of the century. Ironically, Rezso Seress (who penned the song) claimed that the success of the song actually made him happier, but later committed suicide himself after being unable to match its success!
Take It Easy Hospital – ‘Human Jungle’.
The duo starred in a fictional account of their struggle to leave Iran, where all forms of rock music are banned, to get to Glastonbury. When the film was released they were forced to flee Iran and now live in exile. By definition, all their music is banned in Iran.
Neil Young and The Bluetones – ‘This Note’s For You’.
Featuring a Michael Jackson lookalike catching fire on stage, MTV banned This Note’s For You following legal threats from MJ’s attorneys. After their Canadian competitor MuchMusic ran the video, MTV reversed their decision, eventually awarding it the 1989 MTV Video Music Award for Best Video of the Year.
Shostakovich – ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtensk’.
The opera was virtually banned after a couple of extremely damning and threatening articles appeared in the Soviet official newspaper, Pravda, shortly following from Stalin’s first viewing of the opera. It was criticised for its sexual content and for its musical modernism. The article headed ‘Muddle Instead of Music’ criticised the music as ‘“leftist” confusion instead of natural, human music’. Following a period of depression Shostakovich revised his style towards a more orthodox heroic-romantic Soviet style.
Still sane? We thought so.
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