Sunday, May 13, 2012

Music Sunday - Censorship Editon

I suppose that music censorship really started to be a "thing", in that it came to the attention of many people here in the United States, during the 1985 Senate hearing regarding what was labeled "porn rock" after nearly 20 record companies agreed to put labels warning of "Explicit Content" on some records. The agreement by record companies to do this came after a group called the Parents Music Resource Center put pressure on them to do so. And this is probably the thing that comes to mind most often when record or music censorship is brought that has sexual content or so-called obscene words, or that has what censors consider to be references to drug use, all of which some parents might object to their children listening to.

The hearings were interesting, including testimony from Frank Zappa, who called the stickers, and the PMRC campaign "nonsense", and an appearance by John Denver, whom the PMRC expected to support their cause. Instead Denver spoke out against censorship and what he called misinterpretation of songs, including his own "Rocky Mountain High."

This sort of censorship has been going on much longer than since 1985, however. In the 1960s, the popular Sunday night variety show staple, The Ed Sullivan Show, attempted to censor performances by, among others, The Rolling Stones and The Doors for respectively, sexual and drug references, with varying success. Mick Jagger altered the words of "Let's Spend the Night Together" to "let's spend some time together", as requested, but he obviously rolled his eyes at the camera as he did so.

In the case of The Doors' performance of "Light My Fire", Jim Morrison was asked to change the lyric, "girl, we couldn't get much higher" to "girl, we couldn't get much better". During the performance, Morrison sang the lyric as originally written. After the show, the band was told that they wouldn't ever be invited onto the show again, and they weren't, but it didn't seem to bother Morrison or the band very much. They'd already done the show and apparently were not interested in repeating the experience. Both of these incidents took place in 1967.

More interesting to me are the songs that have been censored, or that there have been attempts to censor, on radio or television, based on lyrical content that doesn't consist of "dirty" words. One of my favorites in this category is "Lola", by The Kinks, which was released in 1970. The BBC would not broadcast the song, not because the subject matter of the song included a transvestite, but because the lyric named a product, Coca Cola. Ray Davies had to go back into the studio and replace "Coca Cola" with "cherry cola" before the BBC would play the song on the air. I hear both versions on the radio here in the US, and was puzzled that there were two versions until I read this story a few years ago when I was writing a paper for a college class on music censorship.

Politics have also resulted in music censorship. "Eve of Destruction", most notably recorded by Barry McGuire in 1965, was banned on some US radio stations for its lyrics critical of, among other things, the draft, the war in Vietnam, and the existence and use of nuclear weapons. Earlier, in 1963 and again on The Ed Sullivan Show, a scheduled appearance by Bob Dylan never took place because the song he wanted to sing, "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", was deemed too politically sensitive to sing. Dylan walked off the show rather than agree to the censorship.

This clip of "Eve of Destruction", from the time tht the song was the #1 hit in the US, is a little strange. I'm not sure what the producers of the show thought the dancers would add to it. At least, it was allowed on the airwaves, which was more than some radio stations would allow at the time.

I could go on and on in detailing incidents in which interest groups or networks or governments themselves have attempted to restrict or completely stop the playing of some music over the airwaves. The BBC appears to have an especially lengthy record of this sort of activity. It once even banned an instrumental piece of music, the theme to the Frank Sinatra film, "The Man With the Golden Arm", in 1956, because it was connected to a film that had drug use as a theme. Doesn't make any sense to me, but then again, most censorship doesn't make much sense to me.

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