Rock ‘n’ roll has always been about breaking rules and pushing boundaries. So, it’s not a surprise that every entry in our list of the top 5 Censored Rock Songs is a legit classic. These songs were either altered or banned completely from radio, television, department stores and even the singles charts.
The opening line from this proto-punk gem (along with the offending word printed on the album’s inside cover) caused a ruckus when the MC5 released their debut album in 1969: “It’s time to … kick out the jams, motherf–er!” The original edition of the LP was removed from store shelves and replaced with two versions: one with a censored cover and audio and another with the censored cover but uncensored audio (to be sold from only behind the counter). But the hometown Hudson’s department stores refused to carry anyversion of ‘Kick Out the Jams,’ which eventually became a ban on selling all records from MC5’s label, Elektra Records. To retaliate, the band took out full-page ads in Ann Arbor and Detroit newspapers with the words “F– Hudson’s!” printed at the bottom. Elektra then dropped the group.
The debate continues as to whether or not this psychedelic classic was about LSD. For his part, John Lennon always claimed he was inspired by artwork his son Julian brought home from school. When asked what the painting was, Julian told his dad that he had painted his classmate Lucy in the sky with diamonds. John wrote the bizarre imagery of the song’s lyrics as a result and maintained that the LSD initials were incidental. The BBC didn’t agree and banned the song from the airwaves because of perceived references to the hallucinogenic. Years later, fellow Beatle Paul McCartney claimed that it was “obvious” that the tune was about drugs.
Talk about delayed reaction. Dire Straits’ 1985 mega-hit ‘Money for Nothing’ wasn’t censored until 2011, when the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council deemed it unsuitable for airplay. The reason was frontman Mark Knopfler’s use of a gay slur in the second verse. The derisive term violated the council’s code of ethics and was forbidden on private Canadian radio stations. Some outlets protested the ban, due to the song’s enduring popularity and that the offensive word was not used in a hateful manner. Knopfler wrote the song after overhearing an appliance-store worker’s commentary while watching MTV in his shop. ‘Money for Nothing’ is written from this unenlightened man’s perspective. The CBSC altered the decision a few months later, maintaining its stance but allowing stations to use their own discretion.
The BBC censored Ray Davies’ ode to a sweet transvestite, but not for the reason you’d think. The broadcasters were fine with the title character who “walked like a woman and talked like a man,” but not as happy with the reference to Coca-Cola. At the time, the BBC had a policy against airing material with product placement. Paul Simon would later run afoul of the censors with ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ (it mentions Newsweek) and ‘Kodachrome’ (for obvious reasons). In order to circumvent the ban, Davies had to fly all the way back to London from New York — where the Kinks were touring — to overdub “it tastes just like cherry cola.” The song was then cleared for airplay and became a No. 2 hit in the U.K.
This rollicking, sexually suggestive Rolling Stones chestnut was never banned from the airwaves, although it earned the ire of Ed Sullivan. The TV host objected to a performance of the band’s latest hit on his popular Sunday-night program until a compromise was reached: Mick Jagger would sing “Let’s spend some time together” instead of the original lyric. Jagger (unlike Jim Morrison during the Doors’ performance of ‘Light My Fire’) held up his end of the bargain, even though he repeatedly rolled his eyes at the camera (seriously, it’s in the video below!). After the performance, the Stones returned to the stage wearing Nazi uniforms, at which point Sullivan barked at them to put their other clothes back on. The band left the theater and was banned from the show for the next two years.