Cancel culture is a buzz term we can’t escape these days. Ban, ignore, refuse or deny anything and it’s a victim of cancel culture rightly or wrongly. But the concept of banning things is hardly a new one. We’ve done it just short of forever. Even music is unable to escape the cold, callused hand of the ban hammer.
Over the years, songs have been banned for countless reasons. Some made perfect sense, but others are far more questionable. We’ve assembled ten of the most unexpected song bans, in order from goofiest to most serious sounding reasons, even if none of them truly made any sense.
10. The BBC Banned the Monster Mash
It’s a safe bet that 1962’s Monster Mash is one of, if not the most popular songs ever about monsters having a party. Recorded by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, the song sees frequent play every single Halloween and has popped up in cartoons and movies for decades. It’s quite literally a song about a mad scientist starting a new dance craze for monsters like Dracula and the Wolfman. Pretty innocent stuff overall, but tell that to the BBC in the UK.
No specific reason was given for what qualified as too morbid, but with lyrics like “The zombies were having fun (tennis shoe, wa-ooo)” we can only guess.
9. Deep in the Heart of Texas
When it comes to banning songs at the drop of the hat, even Bing Crosby was not immune. His jazzy tune Deep in the Heart of Texas was stricken from the airwaves precisely for what made it popular in the first place: it had a fun beat. Once again, the killjoys were at the BBC.
Ten solid years after the song’s 1942 release, the BBC played the tune during a “music while you work” program and chaos ensued. Or, more specifically, people clapped along. Clapping plays a prominent role in the song and apparently the workers were so wrapped up in the song they also clapped, dropping what they were doing and ruining productivity. The song was quickly banned from play during work hours.
Apparently, the BBC went whole hog on any American song that dared include clapping, whistling or other distracting sounds that a worker might be tempted to emulate when they were on the clock because a productive worker is a worker with no rhythm.
8. Italy Banned its Own Eurovision Song
Every year since 1956, Europe has played host to the Eurovision song contest in which musicians from all over the continent compete and represent their country on the musical stage. Performances can be remarkably elaborate and the songs can range from entertaining to cringeworthy.
Typically, the song a country chooses to send to the contest is one that they hope will win, if for no other reason than some bragging rights, but that didn’t happen for Italy in 1974 when they banned their own entry.
Singer Gigliola Cinquetti was set to perform a song called Si. Si, of course, means yes and the song came in second behind Waterloo by ABBA. No one in Italy saw it, however. Because the country was going through a referendum on divorce, they feared that the repeated use of the word “yes” in the chorus would influence the vote, so they refused to air it at home.
7. My Generation By The Who
The Who were one of Britain’s biggest acts through the ’60s and ’70s, and still hold a place of high esteem in the rock pantheon. Songs like Pinball Wizard and My Generation cemented their place in pop culture and made them huge. But popularity is no guarantee against banning and that was the fate of My Generation when, you guessed it, the BBC put the kibosh on the song after its debut in 1965.
This time, the reason for the ban wasn’t so much the content of the song but how it was sung. Lead singer Roger Daltrey stutters through some of the lyrics quite on purpose. The BBC refused to play the song because they felt it was offensive to stutterers. It received widespread airplay on pirate radio, however and then after selling 300,000 copies the BBC relented and allowed it to enter regular play.
6. Ding Dong the Witch is Dead
The Wizard of Oz featured a number of memorable songs, but only one was a jaunty tune that celebrated someone’s death and that was Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. A colorful and peppy song sung by an army of Munchkins it’s a celebration of their oppressor being squashed by a falling house. It makes all the sense in the world in context. But what about out of context?
We’re back in the UK again where the BBC used their fast and loose banning powers to strike this family favorite from the airwaves, not back in the 1930s or ’40s, but in 2013. The reason this time was due to the fact the song was becoming increasingly popular in the wake of the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The song climbed the charts after her death thanks to a huge boost in sales but the BBC, which normally would play a musical chart countdown every week, refused to play that song because they knew exactly why it had risen up the charts in the first place and found it distasteful. Though they claimed to not be banning it outright, they only played a clip during the countdown rather than the whole song.
5. Louie Louie by the Kingsmen
In 1963, the Kingsmen had a huge hit with their version of the song Louie Louie. It’s a song nearly all of us have heard, but probably none of us can sing because no one knows the lyrics. Listen to the song and it has a catchy beat, but what the hell is the guy singing? That was actually at the core of why the song was banned for a time.
In 1964, the governor of Indiana had the song banned and then took it a step forward by sending to the FBI to have it criminally investigated for being pornographic. Those gibberish lyrics must have been pretty awful, right? Well, the FBI didn’t think so, but it took them two years to figure it out.
The law enforcement agency produced a 119-page document after two years’ worth of investigation into the song, which concluded that no, the song was not pornographic. This after agents in upwards of 6 different bureaus listened to the song over and over again, at high speeds and low speeds, desperately trying to make sense out of whatever the hell that song’s about.
Many parents wrote to the FBI and the Attorney General claiming that they, too, heard offensive lyrics. But no one found any for real. For what it’s worth, at least one office, the Indianapolis one, actually requested a copy of the lyrics from the record label and found nothing offensive. They then asked the band, who also confirmed the lyrics were the same as the print, non-obscene lyrics. And the song lives on to this day.
4. Timothy by the Buoys Was Written Specifically to be Banned
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard the song Timothy by the Buoys, and maybe you’ve never even heard of the Buoys, either. Neither was hugely popular, but Timothy was actually made to be banned. It’s a song about cannibalism, and specifically, eating a dude named Timothy.
Written by Rupert Holmes, the man behind Escape (The Pina Colada Song), Timothy was designed to cause a stink. The plan was to get the song on the radio long enough for the catchy beat to make people like it. Then, when everyone figured out what it was about, they’d ban it. Then the kids who liked the song would realize it was banned and want to hear it even more. That was the plan, anyway.
The song tells the story of three men caught in a mine cave-in and then, when they get rescued, there are just two left and neither of them are hungry. So how did they ever get the record label to sign off? The band lied and said it was about a mule.
3. Link Wray’s Rumble
If you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan, you’ll recognize Link Wray’s Rumble right away from Pulp Fiction, even if you weren’t sure of the name of the song. The song was once described as being like an invitation to a knife fight, so you can imagine it must have been of serious concern to officials, especially back in 1958 when it was banned in cities like Boston and New York. You can hardly blame anyone for wanting to stop a song that incites violence. But there was a problem with that train of thought.
If you’re not familiar, the song has no lyrics at all. It’s entirely instrumental. In fact, it’s the only instrumental song that was ever banned from radio play because people feared it would cause violence. And have no doubts, it’s a super cool, super slick song that exudes that sense of Tarantino cool even apart from its involvement in one of his movies. But it’s still just a song. Lots of smooth guitar and a relaxed, sultry beat. But no one’s cursing you out or threatening to stab you because no one says anything at all.
2. Girl Crush by Little Big Town
Sometimes a song gets banned for making people uncomfortable if the content is not something people want to hear about, but intention and reality don’t always match up and sometimes the reasons why can be pretty embarrassing. That was the case with the song Girl Crush by country band Little Big Town.
Released in 2014, the song is from the perspective of a woman who is singing about another woman of whom she is jealous because that other woman is the one the man she wants is in love with. The song details how she’d like to be more like that woman, to be with the man she wants and to have him want her in return. But not everyone took it that way.
The song was banned from several radio stations after it was claimed to be promoting a gay agenda. And if you don’t listen to the lyrics, you might think it’s about one woman in love with another woman which, in and of itself, shouldn’t be considered a bad thing, either.
1. 164 Songs Were Banned After 9/11
The gravity of the September 11th attacks really can’t be overstated in terms of what happened on that day and the loss of life, and how it affected not just America but the entire world after. Things have never really been the same since. There was understandable fear and panic afterward and sometimes that manifested in unusual ways. One of those was the banning of songs. Lots of them.
The general thinking was that anything that might remind people of what happened was unplayable, but the full list extended to a solid 164 songs, some which were harder to figure out than others. These came from the heads of most, if not all, major stations in America and were handed down to the on-air staff. The songs weren’t necessarily banned in the absolute, set in stone sense, but there was encouragement to not play them.
Some songs made sense right away, at least on paper. Bodies by Drowning Pool and Seek and Destroy by Metallica, for instance. Lots of metal and rock songs that evoked imagery of death and destruction. Every song by Rage Against the Machine was on the list.
Other choices seemed a little more esoteric. Dirty Deeds by AC/DC. Walk like an Egyptian by the Bangles. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. Rock the Casbah by the Clash. You could make a case for those – maybe Rock the Casbah sounded too Middle Eastern at a time when anti-Muslim sentiment was raging? But that’s a stretch, and a weird one.
Fortunately, the ban did not last too long and radio play was safe to have us all walking like Egyptians again soon after.