Eric Nuzum is the author of the fascinating Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America:
- What we commonly refer to as “music censorship” (and what will be examined in this book) is actually implicit censorship: community, institutional, and corporate attempts to regulate society according to their personal standards of decency and order – or to the standards they feel best serve themselves and their peers. Their purpose is to control, suppress or ban the music, lyrics, and/or music-related art that they find offensive or objectionable. Often, these people balk at the idea that they are censors – they believe that they are acting for the common good. And, as you will soon see, they view the target of their fight is obscenity – not music.
Another commonly held myth is that people have the right to NOT be offended. Some people believe that anything THEY find offensive should be legally censored. But there is no legal ground for this belief. In fact, our founding fathers EXPECTED we would encounter offensive things. The checks and balances created with such encounters help to challenge and test our laws and belief systems.
So where does that leave us today? If this Web site is about music censorship – an issue which cannot be identically defined by any two people – then why write about it? Because this site serves as a chronicle of musical events which illustrates how dangerously close our society has come to compromising its principles of freedom – freedom of thought and freedom of choice.
In conjunction with his book, he has a sobering list of music that has been banned, censored, or otherwise stifled on his website, beginning in the ’50s:
Radio stations ban Dottie O’Brien’s “Four or Five Times” and Dean Martin’s “Wham Bam, Thank You Ma’am” fearing they are suggestive.
The Weavers are blacklisted due to the leftist political beliefs and associations of several members.
The phrase “gardenia perfume linger on a pillow” is altered to “a seaplane rising from an ocean billow” in the song “These Foolish Things.”
Six counties in South Carolina pass legislation outlawing jukebox operation anytime when within hearing distance of a church.
Stephen Foster songs are edited for radio to remove words such as “massa” and “darky.”
Webb Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass” is banned from radio because the lyrics are thought to condone heavy drinking.
Congressional representative Ruth Thompson introduces legislation that is meant to ban the mailing of certain “pornographic” records through the U.S. mail.
The Boston Catholic Youth Organization begins a campaign of policing dances and lobbying disc jockeys to stop playing “obscene” songs at record hops and on the radio.
For radio airplay the perceived drug reference “I get no kick from cocaine,” is changed to “I get perfume from Spain.” in Cole Porter’s classic “I Get A Kick Out of You.”
The editorial, “Control the Dimwits,” which appears in the September 24 issue of Billboard, condemns R&B songs that contain double entendre references to sex. In response, police in Long Beach, California, and Memphis, Tennessee, confiscate jukeboxes and fine their owners. Similar jukebox bans occur across the country.
In October, WDIA and several other large popular music radio stations ban several songs for their sexually suggestive lyrics. The station runs on-air announcements saying, “WDIA, your good-will station, in the interest of good citizenship, for the protection of morals and our American way of life does not consider this record, [name of song], fit for broadcast on WDIA. We are sure all you listeners will agree with us.”
The ABC network bans the Rosemary Clooney hit “Mambo Italiano,” saying it did not meet the network’s “standards for good taste.”
Former radio deejay Pat Boone begins a career by releasing “sanitized” versions of black R&B hits. Boone’s versions of these songs often contain “toned down” lyrics: such as substituting “drinkin’ Coca Cola” for “drinkin’ wine” in T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” and “Pretty little Susie is the girl for me” instead of “Boys, don’t you know what she do to me” in Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruitti.”
In one week’s time during April, Chicago radio stations receive 15,000 complaint letters protesting their broadcast of rock music.
Variety runs a three-part series on what they term “leer-ics,” or R&B songs with obscene lyrics, calling for censorship of the recording industry. The articles compare these songs to dirty postcards and chastises the music industry for selling “their leer-ic garbage by declaring that’s what kids want.”
The Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission of Houston, Texas, bans more than 30 songs it considers obscene. The Commission’s list is almost entirely comprised of black artists
Officials cancel rock and roll concerts scheduled in New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut; Boston; Atlanta; Jersey City and Asbury Park, New Jersey; Burbank, California; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Observers mistake dancing at concerts for riots and fighting.
CBS television network cancels Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Dance Party after a camera shows Frankie Lymon (leader of the doo wop group Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers) dancing with a white girl.
Officials in San Diego and Florida police warn Elvis Presley that if he moves at all during his local performances, he will be arrested on obscenity charges.
ABC Radio Network bans Billie Holiday’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” from all of its stations because of its prostitution theme. Stations continue to play instrumental versions of the song.
Also in April, members of the White Citizens Council of Birmingham, Alabama, rush the stage at a Nat King Cole concert and beat the legendary performer. Seeing the reaction of Birmingham’s young teen girls to Nat’s crooning, the council members confuse Cole’s music with newly popular R&B.
The Parks Department in San Antonio, Texas, removes all rock and roll records from jukeboxes located at city swimming pools, terming it “jumpy, hot stuff” that is unsuitable for teens.
Network officials ban the novelty hit “Transfusion” by Dot and Diamond from ABC, CBS, and NBC radios in June. According to one NBC executive, “There is nothing funny about a blood transfusion.”….
In October, several radio stations refuse to play Ray Peterson’s “Tell Laura I Love Her,” calling it the “Death Disk.”
New York Bishop Burke forbids Catholic school students from dancing to “The Twist.” Burke considers R&B music, and its associated dances, to be lewd and un-Christian.
The FBI begins collecting data on folk singers Phil Ochs. Ochs is one of several popular musicians to be tracked by the FBI during their careers (Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie).
Bob Dylan refuses to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in February after producers tell him he cannot sing “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues.”
Fear it contains obscene messages, Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh attempts to ban the Kingsmen hit “Louie, Louie.” After review by the FCC, the agency determines that the song’s lyrics are indecipherable.
After splitting his pants while dancing wildly at a European concert in February, the boisterous P. J. Proby is uninvited to perform on ABC’s music variety show Shingdig.
Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher bans all rock concerts in the city following a Rolling Stones performance.
The Barry McGuire song “Eve of Destruction” is pulled from retail stores and radio stations across the country after some groups complain that it is nihilistic and could promote suicidal feelings amongst teens…..
A group known as the Movement to Restore Democracy calls for the banning of rock music to end the spread of Socialism in America.
MCA Records drops 18 acts from their record label because they believe the performers promote hard drugs in their songs.
Under the direction of President Richard Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew ignites widespread interest in censoring popular music by making statements concerning drug imagery in rock music.
Claiming that he fears the song “Ohio” will incite further violence on college campuses following the killing of four students at Kent State University, Governor James Rhodes attempts to order Ohio radio stations to ban the song.
Concerns over drugs and rioting cause a wave of protests of large rock festivals. Citizen groups in Chicago, Houston, Tucson, and Atlanta rally to cancel large, outdoor rock festivals in their cities.
Country Joe McDonald is fined $500 for uttering an obscenity during a concert performance of his song “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag.”
Janis Joplin is fined $200 for violating local profanity and obscenity laws for her performance after a concert in Tampa, Florida.
Several radio stations alter the John Lennon song “Working Class Hero” without the consent of Lennon or his record label.
Radio stations across the U.S. ban Bob Dylan’s single “George Jackson” over concerns about the song’s political theme and the word “shit” in its lyrics.
In May, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sends all radio stations telegrams threatening their licenses for playing rock music that glorified drugs.
In April, the Illinois Crime Commission publishes a list of popular rock songs that contain drug references, including Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff The Magic Dragon” and the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.”
Chrysalis Records changes the lyrics to Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” without the band’s knowledge or consent. Label executives fear radio stations will not play the original, which contains the lyric “got him by the balls.”
In January, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee issues a report on John Lennon and Yoko Ono, advocating the termination of Lennon’s visa to live in the U.S. The report calls the couple “strong advocates of the program to ‘dump Nixon’.”
After Indiana Attorney General Theodore Sendak calls rock festivals “drug supermarkets,” Hoosier legislators adopt legislation meant to “get tough” on large rock concerts. In the process, the regulation accidentally outlaws the Indianapolis 500 and other large outdoor gatherings
John Lennon’s song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” is banned by radio stations across the country.
Radio stations across the country ban John Denver’s hit song “Rocky Mountain High,” fearing that the song’s “high” refers to drugs.
Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” is edited without his knowledge for a live appearance on American Bandstand.
Atlantic Records decides to change the title and lyrics of the Rolling Stones’ “Starfucker” in order to avoid protests.
New York Senator James Buckley writes a report linking rock music to drug use. He calls for the record industry to eliminate drug-using or drug-endorsing rock musicians before the federal government feels it necessary to take action….
Fearing association with its theme, Mercury Records refuses to release Frank Zappa’s single “I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted.”
A representative of the New York State Division of Substance Abuse Services suggests enforcing a tax on musicians whose songs promote drug use.
In October, Youth Minister Art Diaz organizes a group of local teenagers who conduct a record burning at the First Assembly Church of God in Des Moines, Iowa, including albums by the Beatles, Ravi Shankar, Peter Frampton, and the soundtrack to the movie Grease. A similar burning takes place a few months later in Keoku, Iowa, where a church group burns the work of The Carpenters, John Denver, and Perry Como.
A municipal judge in Newark, Ohio, bans rock concerts at the Legend Valley Park because they pose a public nuisance.
Believing that rock condones drug abuse and promiscuous sex, Carroll, Iowa, nightclub owner Jeff Jochims renounces his transgressions and sets fire to $2,000 worth of rock records.
The morals of Provo and Salt Lake City residents are saved when two radio stations ban Olivia Newton John’s hit single “Physical.” The stations fear that the song’s lyrics may be a bit too suggestive much for their heavily Mormon audiences.
Ozzy Osbourne is forbidden from performing in San Antonio, Texas, after he is arrested for urinating on the Alamo. Osbourne’s various legal troubles also prevent him from playing in several other cities, including Boston, Baton Rouge, Corpus Christi, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia and Scranton, Pennsylvania.
California assemblyman Phil Wyman introduces a bill to outlaw the practice of including subliminal messages in rock records.
Roger Wilcher, a Baptist youth minister in Emporia, Virginia, petitions the city council to remove MTV from the local cable system.
Voice of America programmer Frank Scott issues a directive to staff that they are not permitted to play music which might offend any portion of their audience.
Rick Allen and his wife express concerns over a Prince album to their local PTA meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. This action started the mid-80s music censorship movement that eventually results in the RIAA universal parental warning sticker….
Missouri legislators introduce a bill in January that forbids the sale of records containing lyrics that are violent, sexually explicit or perverse. Similar measures are introduced in 20 other states.
The City Council in Westerly, Rhode Island, passes an ordinance to thwart an upcoming 2 Live Crew concert in the city. The legislation forces the promoter to appear in court to justify why his entertainment license should not be revoked for sponsoring the band’s appearance.
To avoid the newly adopted universal warning sticker, many major recording companies (such as MCA, Arista, Atlantic, Columbia, Electra, Epic, EMI, and RCA) establish committees to review upcoming releases for objectionable material.
Three county prosecutors in Eastern Pennsylvania warn retailers in April that they may be prosecuted if they sell 2 Live Crew’s Nasty As They Wanna Be to minors. Prosecutors in Chester and Delaware County join Montgomery County prosecutor Michael Marino in declaring the album obscene.
Disc Jockey, a retail chain with nearly 200 stores, announces it will not carry any album with the warning sticker. Another large retailer, Trans World (with more than four hundred stores) announces they will require proof of age before selling stickered products.
The Broward County, Florida, Sheriff’s department embarks on a campaign to eliminate 2 Live Crew records from the county, spurred by the group’s current hit, “Me So Horny”. After receiving a judge’s declaration that the album is obscene, the Sheriff’s office immediately mails copies of the judge’s ruling to record retailers in the county. They follow up with visits to more than a dozen record stores to inform retailers that they potentially face arrest and prosecution as felons if they continue selling the record. The matter is tied up in the courts for more than three years.
Record Bar, a retail chain with more than 170 stores, announces that it will pull all 2 Live Crew recordings from its stores due to the controversy surrounding the band.
Waxworks, a chain music retailer, refuses to stock any product that carries a parental warning sticker for fear of potential protests and obscenity prosecutions. Following customer complaints and the adaptation of the music industry’s standard sticker, the chain reverses its decision.
Also in March, a Tennessee judge rules that 2 Live Crew’s Nasty As They Wanna Be and N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton are obscene under state law. Anyone arrested for selling the records could face fines from $10,000 to $100,000, depending upon the involvement of minors in the offense.
An Indianapolis record store falls victim to a private sting organized by the group Decency In Broadcasting involving the sale of 2 Live Crew’s Nasty As They Wanna Be to minors.
Following the controversy surrounding 2 Live Crew’s obscenity battle in Florida, six states pass legislation declaring the band’s album Nasty As They Wanna Be legally obscene. The states are Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
Utah Republican Howard Nielson introduces a resolution in Congress that calls for a stricter labeling system for controversial recordings.
In May, a Hamilton, Ohio, a record storeowner is pressured by local law enforcement officials to stop carrying 2 Live Crew’s Nasty As They Want To Be. The retailer voluntarily pulls the record and avoids possible criminal proceedings.
Fred Meyer Music, a 100-store retailer with outlets in six states, creates its own stickering system to warn parents of objectionable lyrics.
In San Antonio, Texas, a record storeowner is jailed for selling a copy of 2 Live Crew’s Nasty As They Wanna Be to the twenty-year-old son of an anti-pornography activist.
Also in June, James Anders, county solicitor in Columbia, South Carolina, gives local record stores ten days to remove 2 Live Crew’s Nasty As They Wanna Be from their shelves.
Fearing the effects of exposure to controversial songs and performers, the city of Memphis bans minors from attending concerts that feature “potentially harmful” material. The ordinance mimics several others passed in cities such as San Antonio, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida.
In June, a Nebraska radio station leads a boycott of k.d. lang for her anti-meat beliefs. The station rarely plays lang’s records, so their action is largely symbolic.
Louisiana considers a bill to criminalize the sale or distribution of stickered products to any unmarried persons under the age of 17.
After receiving multiple complaints from retailers who threaten to refuse to carry the album, Jane’s Addiction releases a second cover for its album Ritual de lo Habitual. The alternative cover shows the band’s and album’s names, and the text of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
About two months after members of 2 Live Crew were arrested in a Florida nightclub for performing material from their controversial album Nasty As They Want To Be, members of the New York rock band Too Much Joy are arrested in the same club for performing 2 Live Crew songs.
Record World refuses to carry the debut album by Professor Griff in any of its stores, calling it “totally obscene.”
The lead singer of the heavy metal parody band, GWAR, is arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina, on charges of “disseminating obscenity” at one of the band’s performances.
After promoting its premier in a day long “Madonnathon,” MTV refuses to air Madonna’s video for “Justify My Love” because it contains scenes of sadomasochism, homosexuality, cross-dressing, and group sex.
Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, announces it will not carry any stickered albums in its stores…..
During his annual State of the Union speech in January, President Bill Clinton calls for a voluntary, uniform ratings system for the entertainment industry.
Police officers in Northwood, Ohio, order 14-year-old Daniel Shellhammer to remove his shirt, which features slogans for the rap group Insane Clown Posse. The officers inform Shellhammer that Insane Clown Posse clothing is “banned” in Ohio and that they tear the shirt off his back and arrest him if he does not comply.
Police in New Iberia, Louisiana, close down a roller skating rink in February, and seize more than 60 CDs, after a fight broke out in the rink’s parking lot. Police accused the rink’s management of instigating the incident by playing music over the rink’s PA system. Amongst the confiscated CDs are Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the popular tunes “The Chicken Dance,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “The Hokey Pokey,” and “Jingle Bells.”
A private school in San Antonio, Texas, suspends four students for attending a Backstreet Boys concert in March. The students are suspended for one day for violating a school policy forbidding “involvement in inappropriate music [or] dancing.”
Tennessee’s state Senate and General Assembly consider the “Tennessee 21st Century Media Market Responsibility Act of 2000,” which requires state’s Department of Children’s Services to screen movies, video games, and music. The legislation also calls for a ratings system for all violent entertainment media which decides on the appropriateness of material for young people.
After airing the video for over a month, MTV requests edits in the video for the Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch.” The request comes after complaints from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
The rap group The Murderers see their album Irv Gotti Presents The Murderers delayed three times over their label’s concerns about the album’s themes.
Students at the University of Maryland and University of Wisconsin ask for the cancellation of performances by the Bloodhound Gang over lyric content of an unreleased song. The song, entitled, “Yellow Fever,” details the protagonist’s desire to have sex with Asian women.
The New York Fraternal Order of Police places Bruce Springsteen on its boycott list, and calls for the cancellation of his New York performances, after Springsteen debuts a song about the shooting of Amadou Diallo entitled, “American Skin.”
In August, two Michigan concerts of the Up in Smoke tour (staring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Eminem) cause police intervention over violent and sexual imagery. During the concert, a video is shown featuring a robbery and partially-naked women.
The Federal Trade Commission holds hearings before the U.S. Senate contending that the entertainment industry (including record companies) should be regulated and sanctioned for deliberately marketing violent and sexual content to children.
Following the September 11th terrorist attacks, Clear Channel Communications, the largest owner of radio stations in the United States, releases a list of more than 150 “lyrically questionable”songs that station’s may want to pull from their playlists. Few songs portray explicit violence, but most have metaphoric themes that ring a bit too close to the tragedies. The list, containing music from almost every genre in popular music, includes Sugar Ray’s “Fly,” “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails; “Head Like a Hole,” AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” and “Highway to Hell,” Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel, Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” “Nowhere to Run” by Martha & the Vandellas, and all songs by Rage Against The Machine. Click here to view the list of songs.
Amazing site, there’s much more on the hit list, check it out.