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Are you feeling naughty? Feeling like crossing a few boundaries, breaking a few taboos? Well it’s practically the weekend, why shouldn’t you?
Over the years, music has been blamed for any deviation from social convention you may care to name, from resisting the draft to encouraging promiscuity and beyond. In fact, if you were of a concerned frame of mind, you could easily put the blame for all of society’s ills on the development and distribution of recorded music since the beginning of the 20th Century.
Before then, musical hall did all the dirty work. And racy novels.
So it’s no surprise, looking back, to discover that songs have been barred from broadcast on the airwaves of BBC radio and TV for all manner of reasons. Some decisions may look a bit silly now, but they had a nation to protect, and they did their best in trying circumstances:
George Formby – “When I’m Cleaning Windows”
Moral crime: Being a peeping tom.
Anyone who has seen Benny Hill will know the British relationship with sex has as much to do with schoolyard giggles as it has actual physical affection. So when George Formby—playing a village idiot role, with his nonthreatening ukulele in his hand—sings of watching women getting dressed while halfway up a ladder, it’s just supposed to be a risqué gag for men and women alike. There again, “Ladies’ nighties I have spied, I’ve often seen what goes inside” is a bit much even now.
Noel Coward – “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly To The Germans”
Moral crime: liberal-bashing.
In the end years of the war, Noel Coward—ever the advancing rapier that hits like a charging bull—grew weary of hand-wringing conversations about what to do after the war ended, and how to treat the nation that had, as far as he was concerned, destroyed millions of lives all over Europe. Of course, the song he wrote to address this situation was so politically on-the-nose, while appearing to say the opposite of what it did, that it was just simpler for the BBC not to play it.
Winston Churchill, no stranger to wit, adored it, and demanded several encores the first time he heard it.
The Kinks – “Lola”
Moral crime: Advertising.
Never mind that the subject of this song is going to a late-night drinking establishment in London’s (then) seedy Soho, and then meeting and falling for a woman who may also be a man, in 1970 the thing the BBC was most concerned about was Ray Davies singing “Coca-Cola,” which could be construed as product placement. So he had to re-record the first line as “cherry cola,” and then everything was fine.
The Beatles – “I Am The Walrus”
Moral crime: Dirty talk.
1967 was a tough year to be a broadcaster. Almost every song that wasn’t explicitly about drugs seemed to be hinting at a drug experience, and sorting out the genuinely trippy from the merely kaleidoscopic must have felt like a full-time job. Having already run into trouble with both “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (it sort of spells L.S.D! do you see?) and “A Day in the Life” (“I’d love to turn you on” being a sticking point), the Beatles plowed on into “Magical Mystery Tour,” which contained this concentrated burst of savage surrealism. Acid-inspired, perhaps, but John Lennon’s lyric also mentioned a naughty girl letting her knickers down, and that kind of filth had no place on the nation’s airwaves.
The Shamen – “Ebeneezer Goode”
Moral crime: Bad wordplay.
What’s that, you say? This delightful ditty, concerning a generous gentleman who can improve parties with his very presence, is some kind of fiendishly difficult drug code? No! I won’t have it! What kind of depraved mind would choose to confuse the drug message “E’s are good” with “Eezer Goode”? I mean, that’s just his name! Eezer, short for Ebeneezer, right? It’s political correctness gone mad, is what it is.