List of songs banned by the BBC

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The following is a list of songs that the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation) has, at one stage or another, considered unsuitable for broadcasting on its radio and television stations. Although the BBC has historically banned songs it deemed unsuitable, in recent years the Corporation has claimed that it no longer bans any records. As the United Kingdom’s public service broadcasting corporation, the BBC has always felt some obligation to standards of taste and decency, to varying levels, at different times in its history. This “we know best” attitude has earned it the nickname of “Auntie BBC” or “Auntie Beeb”.

The BBC has banned songs from the following artists; Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Noël Coward, the Beatles, Ken Dodd, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, the BBC Dance Orchestra, Tom Lehrer, Glenn Miller, and George Formby. In addition, 67 songs were banned from BBC airplay as the first Gulf War began, including ABBA‘s “Waterloo“, Queen’sKiller Queen” and the Boomtown Rats‘ “I Don’t Like Mondays“.

History

Files at the BBC’s Written Archives Centre in Caversham, Berkshire now available for public inspection show that the Dance Music Policy Committee, set up in the 1930s, took the role of Britain’s cultural guardian seriously: one 1942 directive read:

We have recently adopted a policy of excluding sickly sentimentality which, particularly when sung by certain vocalists, can become nauseating and not at all in keeping with what we feel to be the need of the public in this country in the fourth year of war.[1]

The BBC’s director of music, Sir Arthur Bliss, wrote wartime instructions for the committee banning songs “which are slushy in sentiment” or “pop” versions of classical pieces such as “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows“, from the 1918 Broadway show Oh, Look!, which made use of Frédéric Chopin‘s Fantaisie-Impromptu. Other songs based on Classical music themes that were later banned by the committee for “distortion of melody, harmony and rhythm” were the Cougars‘ 1963 single “Saturday Nite at the Duck-Pond”, which used music from Swan Lake, and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads“, from the 1953 musical Kismet, which was based on the second movement of Alexander Borodin‘s String Quartet in D.[2]

Other justifications for such bans have included the use of foul language in lyrics, explicit sexual content, supposed drug references, and controversial political subject matter.[2] The implementation of a strict ban on advertising led to the banning of the Kinks‘ 1970 song “Lola“,[3][note 1] while Don Cornell‘s 1954 song “Hold My Hand” was banned from airplay due to religious references.[2] The work of artist Ewan MacColl was banned by the BBC owing to his sympathies with communism.[5] Satire was another reason for banning: in 1953, ten of the twelve tracks on humorist Tom Lehrer‘s album Songs by Tom Lehrer were banned.[2] In February 1956, the British music magazine NME reported that the theme for the film The Man with the Golden Arm, recorded by Eddie Calvert, was also banned.[6] Despite it being an instrumental, a BBC spokesman reported: “The ban is due to its connection with a film about drugs.” – Billy May‘s version, retitled “Main Theme”, was approved for transmission.[6]

In certain cases, appeals to the BBC in favour of banning a song have failed or have only been partial. In 1972, Christian morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse failed in her campaign for the BBC to stop playing Chuck Berry‘s “My Ding-a-Ling“,[7][8] but a few months earlier in that year had persuaded the corporation to prevent Alice Cooper‘s “School’s Out” from being featured on Top of the Pops.[9][10] Occasionally, a ban has first been imposed by an individual DJ refusing to play a particular song. In January 1984, Radio 1‘s Mike Read refused to play Frankie Goes to Hollywood‘s “Relax” on his mid-morning show, declaring it “overtly obscene”,[11] a decision which the BBC then followed.[12]

The BBC has claimed in recent years that it no longer bans any records,[13] as in the controversy over the Prodigy‘s “Smack My Bitch Up” in 1997.[14] However, cases of direct or indirect censorship have happened; according to a BBC spokesperson, no official ban was imposed in the case of Linda McCartney‘s posthumous “The Light Comes from Within” despite her widower Paul McCartney running advertisements in the national press criticising a supposed ban.[15] While the bans on some songs have been lifted, other songs have never been officially cleared for airing on BBC radio, and their status is uncertain – in some cases, records which had been banned have since been played on BBC radio without any official announcement that the ban has ended, such as the Beatles‘ “A Day in the Life“.[16] BBC Radio One banned the full version of the Pogues‘ “Fairytale of New York” in 2007, replacing it with an edited version; however, the ban was quickly lifted due to public outcry.[17]

Censored vs. banned

In some cases, it was considered sufficient to censor certain words rather than banning a song outright. In the case of the Kinks’ “Lola”, once the offending word had been changed – the brand name “Coca-Cola” to “cherry cola” – the song was given airplay.[3][note 1] In other cases, it was not necessary for the BBC to formally ban a particular song, since both parties were well aware of what would be acceptable or not, as was the case of George Formby‘s 1937 song, “With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock”.[18] The “restricted” list included Barry McGuire‘s 1965 hit, “Eve of Destruction“.[2]

After the death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher on 8 April 2013, anti-Thatcher sentiment prompted campaigns on social media networks which resulted in the song “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” reaching number two on the UK Singles Chart.[19] On 12 April, Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper said that the station’s chart show would not play the song in the usual format, but that a short snippet would be aired as part of a news item.[20]

List of banned songs

This article lists songs which have been banned by the BBC over the years. Some were banned for only a limited period, and have since received BBC airplay. Others were banned many years after having been first aired, as was the case of the Cure‘s “Killing an Arab” and sixty-seven other songs which were banned from BBC airplay as the first Gulf War began.[3] In some cases, more information about the banned songs can be found in their respective articles.

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Gulf War blacklist

As the first Gulf War began, the BBC deemed several songs inappropriate for airplay in light of the situation and subsequently banned them from their radio stations for the duration of the war. A list of sixty-seven banned songs was published by New Statesman and Society in conjunction with British public-service television broadcaster Channel 4.[citation needed] The Cure‘s “Killing an Arab” is absent from the list, but is known to have been banned in connection with the Gulf War.[3]

Song Artist Year
(I Just) Died in Your Arms Cutting Crew 1986
“Act of War” Elton John and Millie Jackson 1985
“Armed and Extremely Dangerous” First Choice 1973
Army Dreamers Kate Bush 1980
Atomic Blondie 1979
Back in the U.S.S.R The Beatles 1968
Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) The Temptations 1970
“Bang Bang” B. A. Robertson 1979
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) Cher 1966
Billy Don’t Be a Hero Paper Lace 1974
Boom Bang-a-Bang Lulu 1969
Brothers in Arms Dire Straits 1985
Buffalo Soldier Bob Marley and the Wailers 1983
Burning Bridges Status Quo 1988
The End of the World Skeeter Davis 1962
Everybody Wants to Rule the World Tears for Fears 1985
Fields of Fire Big Country 1982
Fire The Crazy World of Arthur Brown 1968
Flash Queen 1980
Fools Rush In Ricky Nelson 1963
Forget Me Not Martha and the Vandellas 1968
Ghost Town The Specials 1981
Gimme Hope Jo’anna Eddy Grant 1988
Give Peace a Chance Plastic Ono Band 1969
Heaven Help Us All Stevie Wonder 1979
Hunting High and Low A-ha 1985
I Don’t Like Mondays The Boomtown Rats 1979
I Don’t Want to Be a Hero Johnny Hates Jazz 1987
I Shot the Sheriff Eric Clapton 1974
“I Will Survive” Arrival 1980
“I’ll Fly for You” Spandau Ballet 1984
I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun Cat Stevens 1967
I’m on Fire Bruce Springsteen 1984
Imagine John Lennon 1971
In the Air Tonight Phil Collins 1981
In the Army Now Status Quo 1986
Israelites Desmond Dekker and the Aces 1968
Killer Queen Queen 1974
Killing Me Softly with His Song Roberta Flack 1973
Light My Fire José Feliciano 1968
A Little Peace Nicole 1982
“Living on the Front Line” Eddy Grant 1979
Love Is a Battlefield Pat Benatar 1983
Midnight at the Oasis Maria Muldaur 1974
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down Joan Baez 1971
Oliver’s Army Elvis Costello 1979
Rubber Bullets 10cc 1973
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town Kenny Rogers and The First Edition 1969
Sailing Rod Stewart 1972
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting Elton John 1973
Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) Mike + The Mechanics 1985
Sixty Eight Guns The Alarm 1983
Soldier of Love Donny Osmond 1989
State of Independence Donna Summer 1982
Stop the Cavalry Jona Lewie 1980
Suicide Is Painless M*A*S*H 1970
Two Tribes Frankie Goes to Hollywood 1984
Under Attack ABBA 1982
A View to a Kill Duran Duran 1985
Walk Like an Egyptian The Bangles 1986
War Edwin Starr 1970
War Baby Tom Robinson 1982
“Warpaint” The Brook Brothers 1961
Waterloo ABBA 1974
We Gotta Get Out of This Place The Animals 1965
When I’m Dead and Gone McGuinness Flint 1970
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going Billy Ocean 1985

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