How Phil Collins, The Beatles and ABBA were taken off radio in wars

The BANNED list! How Phil Collins, The Beatles and even ABBA were removed from radio playlists due to world events like 9/11 or Iraq War

  • Rage Against the Machine were cut from 1,100 US radio stations after 9/11  
  • But bands that had never been overtly political have also been banned 
  • The BBC scrapped songs by ABBA and Phil Collins during the Gulf War of 1991
  • Feared ‘In the Air Tonight’ would remind listeners of scud missiles over Iraq 

Given that the British government imprisoned Oswald Mosley and other domestic fascists during World War Two, it isn’t surprising that censorship creeps into the airwaves during major conflicts.

But broadcasters’ extensive lists of forbidden tracks during the Gulf War, after the 9/11 attacks and throughout the Iraq War make for bizarre reading. 

Among the chart-toppers to fall foul of the BBC’s censorship are ABBA, The Beatles and Phil Collins. 

Rage Against the Machine (pictured live at Club Lingerie in LA in 1991) had their entire back catalogue taken off more than 1,100 radio stations across the USA in light of the 9/11 attacks  

Abba (pictured in Stockholm in 1974, the year they released Waterloo) were one of many bands to have songs taken off BBC airwaves during the Gulf War


Phil Collins (pictured, left, in 1985 at Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan) was among the artists who had songs banned by the BBC during the Gulf War. Right, Rage Against the Machine don jumpsuits resembling those worn by inmates of Guantanamo Bay at Reading Festival in 2008 

And although MTV’s refusal to play Bombs over Baghdad might seem tasteful during the 2003 war with Iraq, they also banned the B52s’ video for Loveshack.  

Meanwhile, Rage Against the Machine’s entire back catalogue disappeared from more than 1,100 American radio stations after al-Qaeda’s 2001 atrocity against New Yorkers, due to their left-wing, populist critiques of US politics and history.

Here, we lay out the records that have fallen foul of censorship since 1990, with full lists included at the end of the article.  

A Christmas classic, Phil Collins’ solo debut and hippie pacifism: Songs the BBC banned during the Gulf War of August 1990 to September 1991 

Here are some of the stranger examples of the 67 songs the BBC banned from being played on stations during the Gulf War (you can read the full list further down): 

Atomic, by Blondie

The song was taken off the airwaves because of the bombing connotations of the word atomic. At no point do the lyrics – which include ‘your hair is beautiful’ mention bombing, but the corporation felt like the mere association of the word, even when used in a totally different context, was enough to warrant a ban.

Back in the USSR, by The Beatles

You’d maybe expect sensitivity around this song during tensions between the UK and the Soviet Union, but the opening track of the so-called White Album was banned 22 years after its release. 

The Beatles are pictured at the Saville Theatre in 1968, the year that their self-titled album was released. The opener of the so-called White Album, Back in the USSR, was taken off BBC radio during the Gulf War 

However, with the war launched months after the Iron Curtain fell, it may have been deemed unwise to risk alienating a supporter of the war, namely Russia, by using British broadcasting to constantly remind listeners of the fallen Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  

Ghost Town, by The Specials 

With its themes of youth disillusionment and mass unemployment, this record became the anthem emblematic of the Thatcher years and perceived neglect of working-class communities. Its talk of clubs shutting down and brief outburst of nostalgia for better days combined with a creepy video in a seminal summary of working class disenfranchisement that at no point mentioned war. And yet the BBC banned it during the Gulf War, a decade after it had been released.   

Radio 1 and the Iraq War of 2003 

As the US and UK led a coalition of countries to topple Saddam Hussein, BBC Radio One banned Diamonds and Guns by the Transplants and Bandages by Hot Hot Heat among others.

It also introduced a policy of playing light and melodic music before and after news reports.

A spokesman said at the time that although Bandages makes no mention of war, they thought a song about the medical item could potentially upset listeners during times of war.   

Give Peace a Chance, by the Plastic Ono Band

With war being deemed unsuitable for the airwaves, you might think that love and peace would be safe bet. You’d be wrong. The Plastic Ono Band’s plea for peace was forbidden, presumably because its overtly pacifist lyrics weren’t exactly the boost of morale that the corporation deemed it its responsibility to deliver. 

I’ll Fly for You, by Spandau Ballet

Seven years after Kemp and co hit number nine in the UK charts with I’ll Fly for You, its incredibly tenuous link to the pilots flying over the Gulf was obviously just bad taste. 

In the Air Tonight, by Phil Collins

This made the list due to fears that it might remind listeners of scud missiles and could therefore be interpreted as insensitive toward those who had relatives out on the front line. The lyrics do not mention physical violence or warfare and Collins wrote his first solo single to reflect the grief he suffered while divorcing his first wife Andrea Bertorelli in 1980. 

Israelites, by Desmond Dekker and the Aces

The choice to stop playing of the ska and reggae legend’s 1968 hit was truly strange. In the lead-up to the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein attacked Israel and Saudi Arabia with scud missiles. It seems strange to ban a song which, though it is not about the state of Israel, could superficially be seen as too supportive of the state, especially by a broadcaster whose country is warring with an avowed anti-Semite. 

Stop the Cavalry, by Jona Lewie

Even Christmas songs weren’t safe! To be fair to the Beeb, if you’re going to refuse to play certain tracks in order to be sensitive to those affected by war, this one would be a cause for concern. 

Pictured: Jona Lewie in the video for Stop the Cavalry, an anti-war song that was also a Christmas hit

As well as being a cheery festive number, it is told from the first-person perspective of a soldier whose service stops him being at home for Christmas. The anti-war song’s lyrics also mention fighting, bombs and nuclear fall-out zones. 

Waterloo, by ABBA

The 1974 Eurovision song contest winner was purged, despite it referring to a battle fought in 1815. It seemed that even the most intangible of links was too risky for the Beeb, who weren’t willing to spare the Swedish disco legends.     

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going, by Billy Ocean

It’s unclear why this song – whose lyrics portray a relentless quest for love against all odds – was deemed unsuitable, though it may have been felt that a repetitive chorus conveying an image of hard men ‘going’ might be a bit much for those who had loved ones fighting in Iraq. 

From Celebration to self-righteous suicide: The memo that banned more than 160 songs – and an entire back catalogue – from 1,100 US radio stations after 9/11 

In the wake of al-Qaeda’s 2001 attack on New York City, Clear Channel Communications (CCC), which would go on to become iHeartMedia, hit its DJs with a memorandum. 

Three days after the attack, it sent a list to its 1,100+ radio stations comprised of songs that they deemed ‘lyrically questionable’ and insensitive to play following the 9/11 attacks.

Some were obvious choices – such as the suggestion that it might not be a great idea to blast Drowning Pool screaming ‘let the bodies hit the floor’ – but the memo also included songs that were too happy for a country suffering the aftershocks of such a profound tragedy. 

Bodies by Drowning Pool (pictured in Dallas in 2015 promoting their Hellelujah album) was banned by CCC

The media company insisted that the list was not compulsory and so it could be argued the it didn’t constitute bans. 

However, when WASH played ‘Celebration’ by Kool & The Gang while the memo was in circulation, it took just one polite call from a listener for the station to insist it had been a mistake to play the track. 

Here are some other tracks that were culled (you can read the full list at the bottom of the story). 

Chop Suey! by System of a Down

Blasting an erratic song in which Serj Tankian expresses disbelief at people being able to ‘trust in my self-righteous suicide’ probably wasn’t the most sensitive track to play after terrorists who believed they were on a holy mission that would sent them to heaven murdered 2,977 people and killed themselves too.      

MTV and the Iraq War 

These were among the songs that MTV banned during the 2003 invasion: 

Bombs, by Faithless  

Bombs Over Baghdad, by Outkast (recorded in 1999, nothing to do with the 2003 conflict) 

Boom! by System of a Down (video featured statistics about the number of casualties projected in the Iraq War) 

Corruption, by Iggy Pop 

Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, by Aerosmith 

Holy Wars, by Megadeth 

Love Shack, by the B52s (the band shares its name with a US bomber)

Dancing in the Street, by Martha and the Vandellas.

Not only was the original banned, but the cover by Van Halen and the duet version between David Bowie and Mick Jagger in another casualty as a result of being too jolly. 

Ironic, by Alanis Morissette 

The chief complaint this song has faced over the years has been from pedants pointing out the singer’s misapplication of the word ‘ironic’ throughout. 

But it also features the following verse: ‘Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly, he packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye, he waited his whole damn life to take that flight and as the plane crashed down he thought: “Well, isn’t this nice.”‘

Mack the Knife, by Bobby Darin

Though most listeners probably recall the shark and pearly whites of the opening verse, its second speaks of a body on the sidewalk ‘oozin’ life’ on a sunny morning. 

New York, New York, by Frank Sinatra

You might have thought that this bombastic, feel-good anthem to the Big Apple would be a welcome sound to listeners in the wake of a terror attack. But CCC disagreed in the sombre aftermath of the atrocity. 

It wasn’t the only upbeat track banned, as the company’s belief that it might be inappropriate to play happy music after the attacks also cut out two versions of ‘What a Wonderful World.’

Rage Against the Machine – All songs

The year before the 9/11 attacks, the left-wing rap-rockers had stormed the New York Stock Exchange, shutting it down for two hours as part of filming for the video to ‘Sleep Now in the Fire’. 

Rage Against the Machine are pictured onstage at Rock In Rio music festival in Madrid in June 2010. Behind guitarist Tom Morello and singer Zack de la Rocha is the black flag and a red star of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, referenced in the track ‘War Within a Breath’

Fittingly for a band so critical of American politics both foreign and domestic, the promo was directed by Michael Moore. 

With other songs comparing police forces to the Ku Klux Klan and describing the American dream as ‘assimilation’ and ‘brutality’, their less-than comfortable take on successive US governments was so legendary as to warrant a blanket ban. 

Smooth Criminal, by Alien Ant Farm 

Thought it isn’t a song about terror, this song about breaking and entering famously features the lyric ‘as he came into the window, it was the sound of a crescendo’, which happens to also be an accurate description of the evil perpetrated by the hijackers who ploughed into the Twin Towers. Curiously, Michael Jackson’s original version did not feature in the memo.

That’ll Be the Day, by Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Not only does the hit repeat the lyrics ‘That’ll be the day that I die’, their singer’s life ended as the result of a plane crash in 1959. The accident in Iowa also killed rock ‘n’ roll singers Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson as well as pilot Roger Peterson. 


Frank Sinatra (pictured, left, giving testimony to a Senate Committee on the divorce between Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio) was among the singers to have songs taken off the air in the aftermath of 9/11 along with Buddy Holly (right, performing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958)

Ticket To Ride, by The Beatles 

Tracks that were too happy were included in the memorandum, but sorrowful ones weren’t safe either. The theme of travel might have played a part, the phrase that serves as the song’s title and chorus could be linked to air travel, but at no point does the 1965 song make that clear, with lyrics instead focusing on the breakdown of a relationship.         

The full list of songs that the BBC banned during the 1991 Gulf War: 

1. A Little Peace, by Nicole 

2. A View to Kill, by Duran Duran 

3. Act of War, by Elton John and Millie Jackson

4. Armed and Extremely Dangerous, by First Choice

5. Army Dreamers, by Kate Bush

6. Atomic, by Blondie

7. Back in the U.S.S.R, by The Beatles 

8. Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today), by The Temptations 

9. Bang Bang, by B. A. Robertson

10. Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), by Cher

11. Billy Don’t Be a Hero, by Paper Lace 

12. Boom Bang-a-Bang, by Lulu

13. Brothers in Arms, by Dire Straits 

14. Buffalo Soldier, by Bob Marley and the Wailers

15. Burning Bridges, by Status Quo

16. (I Just) Died in Your Arms, by Cutting Crew 

17. Everybody Wants to Rule the World, by Tears for Fears

18. Fields of Fire, by Big Country

19. Fire, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

20. Flash, by Queen

21. Fools Rush In, by Ricky Nelson

22. Forget Me Not, by Martha and the Vandellas

23. Ghost Town, by The Specials

24. Gimme Hope, by Jo’anna Eddy Grant

25. Give Peace a Chance, by Plastic Ono Band

26. Heaven Help Us All, by Stevie Wonder

27. Hunting High and Low, by A-ha

28. I Don’t Like Mondays, by The Boomtown Rats

29. I Don’t Want to Be a Hero, by Johnny Hates Jazz

30. I Shot the Sheriff, by Eric Clapton 

31. I Will Survive, by Arrival

32. I’ll Fly for You, by Spandau Ballet

33. I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun, by Cat Stevens

34. I’m on Fire, by Bruce Springsteen 

35. Imagine, by John Lennon

36. In the Air Tonight, by Phil Collins

37. In the Army Now, by Status Quo 

38. Israelites, by Desmond Dekker and the Aces

39. Killer Queen, by Queen

40. Killing Me Softly with His Song, by Roberta Flack

41. Light My Fire, by José Feliciano 

42. Living on the Front Line, by Eddy Grant

43. Love Is a Battlefield, by Pat Benatar

44. Midnight at the Oasis, by Maria Muldaur

45. Oliver’s Army, by Elvis Costello 

46. Rubber Bullets, by 10cc

47. Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition

48. Sailing, by Rod Stewart

49. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, by Elton John

50. Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground), by Mike + The Mechanics

51. Sixty Eight Guns, by The Alarm 

52. Soldier of Love, by Donny Osmond 

53. State of Independence, by Donna Summer

54. Stop the Cavalry, by Jona Lewie

55. Suicide Is Painless, by M*A*S*H 

56. The End of the World, by Skeeter Davis

57. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, by Joan Baez 

58. Two Tribes, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

59. Under Attack, by ABBA

60. Walk Like an Egyptian, by The Bangles

61. War, by Edwin Starr

62. War Baby, by Tom Robinson 

63. Warpaint, by The Brook Brothers 

64. Waterloo, by ABBA 

65. We Gotta Get out of This Place, by The Animals 

66. When I’m Dead and Gone, by McGuinness Flint

67. When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going, by Billy Ocean 

The full list of songs mentioned in the memo sent to CCC employees: 

1. 99 Luft Balloons/99 Red Balloons, by Nina 

2. A Day in the Life, by The Beatles 

3. A Sign of the Times, by Petula Clark 

4. A World Without Love, by Peter and Gordon 

5. Aeroplane, by Red Hot Chilli Peppers 

6. America, by Neil Diamond 

7. American Pie, by Don McLean  

8. And When I Die, by Blood Sweat and Tears 

9. Another One Bites the Dust, by Queen 

10. Bad Day, by Fuel 

11. Bad Religion, by Godsmack 

12. Benny & The Jets, by Elton John 

13. Black Hole Sun, by Soundgarden 

14. Black is Black, by Los Bravos

15. Blow Up the Outside World, by Soundgarden 

16. Blowin’ in the Wind, by Peter, Paul and Mary  

17. Big Bang Baby, by Stone Temple Pilots 

18. Bits and Pieces, by Dave Clark Five 

19. Bodies, by Drowning Pool 

20. Boom, by P.O.D. 

21. Bound for the Floor, by Local H 

22. Brain Stew, by Green Day 

23. Break Stuff, by Limp Bizkit 

24. Bridge Over Troubled Water, by Simon and Garfunkel  

25. Bullet With Butterfly Wings, by Smashing Pumpkins 

26. Burning Down the House, by Talking Heads  

27. Burnin’ For You, by Blue Oyster Cult 

28. Chop Suey! by System of a Down 

29. Click Click Boom, by Saliva 

30. Crash and Burn, by Savage Garden 

31. Crash Into Me, by Dave Matthews Band 

32. Crumbling Down, by John Mellencamp

33. Daniel, by Elton John 

34. Dancing in the Streets, by Martha & the Vandellas 

35. Dancing In The Street, by Van Halen 

36. Dead and Bloated, by Stone Temple Pilots 

37. Dead Man’s Curve, by Jan and Dean 

38. Dead Man’s Party, by Oingo Boingo

39. Death Blooms, by Mudvayne 

40. (You’re the) Devil in Disguise, by Elvis 

41. Devil with the Blue Dress, by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels 

42. Dirty Deeds, by AC/DC  

43. Disco Inferno, by Tramps 

44. Doctor My Eyes, by Jackson Brown 

45. Down, by 311

46. Down in a Hole, by Alice in Chains 

47. Dread and the Fugitive, by Megadeth  

48. Duck and Run, by 3 Doors Down

49. Dust in the Wind, by Kansas 

50. End of the World, by Skeeter Davis 

51. Enter Sandman, by Metallica 

52. Eve of Destruction, by Barry McGuire

53. Evil Ways, by Santana 

54. Fade to Black, by Metallica 

55. Falling Away From Me, by Korn

56. Falling for the First Time, by Barenaked Ladies  

57. Fell on Black Days, by Soundgarden 

58. Fire, by Arthur Brown 

59. Fire and Rain, by James Taylor 

60. Fire Woman, by The Cult 

61. Fly, by Sugar Ray 

62. Fly Away, by Lenny Kravitz

63. Free Fallin’, by Tom Petty 

64. Get Together, by Youngbloods 

65. Goin’ Down, by Bruce Springsteen 

66. Great Balls of Fire, by Jerry Lee Lewis 

67. Harvester of Sorrow, by Metallica 

68. Have You Seen Her, by Chi-Lites 

69. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, by Hollies 

70. Head Like a Hole, by Nine Inch Nails

71. Hell’s Bells, by AC/DC 

72. Hey Joe, by Jimi Hendrix 

73. Hey Man, Nice Shot, by Filter 

74. Highway to Hell, by AC/DC

75. Hit Me with Your Best Shot, by Pat Benatar  

74. Holy Diver, by Dio 

75. I Feel the Earth Move, by Carole Kind 

76. I Go To Pieces, by Peter and Gordon 

77. I’m On Fire, by John Mellencamp 

78. I’m On Fire, by Bruce Springsteen 

79. Imagine, by John Lennon 

80. In the Air Tonight, by Phil Collins  

81. In the Year 2525, by Yager and Evans 

82. Intolerance, by Tool 

83. Ironic, by Alanis Morissette 

84. It’s the End of the World as We Know It, by REM 

85. Jet Airliner, by Steve Miller 

86. Johnny Angel, by Shelly Fabares  

87. Jump, by Van Halen 

88. Jumper, by Third Eye Blind 

89. Killer Queen, by Queen 

90. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, by Bob Dylan 

91. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, by Guns ‘N’ Roses

92. Last Kiss, by J. Frank Wilson 

93. Learn to Fly, by Foo Fighters 

94. Leavin’ on a Jet Plane, by Peter, Paul and Mary 

95. Left Behind, by Slipknot 

96. Live and Let Die, by Paul McCartney and Wings 

97. Love is a Battlefield, by Pat Benatar

98. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, by The Beatles 

99. Mack the Knife, by Bobby Darin 

100. Morning Has Broken, by Cat Stevens 

101. Mother, by Pink Floyd 

102. My City Was Gone, by Pretenders

103. Na Na Na Na Hey Hey, by Steam

104. New York, New York, by Frank Sinatra 

105. Nowhere to Run, by Martha & the Vandellas 

106. Obla Di, Obla Da, by The Beatles 

107. On Broadway, by Drifters 

108. Only the Good Die Young, by Billy Joel 

109. Peace Train, by Cat Stevens 

110. All Rage Against The Machine songs 

111. Rescue Me, by Fontella Bass 

112. Rock the Casbah, by The Clash 

113. Rocket Man, by Elton John 

114. Rooster, by Alice in Chains  

115. Ruby Tuesday, by Rolling Stones 

116. Run Like Hell, by Pink Floyd

117. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, by Black Sabbath  

118. Sabotage, by Beastie Boys 

119. Safe in New York City, by AC/DC

120. Santa Monica, by Everclear 

121. Say Hello to Heaven, by Temple of the Dog 

122. Sea of Sorrow, by Alice in Chains 

123. See You in September, by Happenings 

124. Seek and Destroy, by Metallica 

125. She’s Not There, by Zombies 

126. Shot Down in Flames, by AC/DC

127. Shoot to Thrill, by AC/DC

128. Smokin’, by Boston 

129. Smooth Criminal, by Alien Ant Farm  

130. Some Heads Are Gonna Roll, by Judas Priest 

131. Speed Kills, by Bush 

132. Spirit in the Sky, by Norman Greenbaum

133. St. Elmo’s Fire, by John Parr 

134. Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin  

135. Suicide Solution, by Ozzy Osbourne 

136. Sunday Bloody Sunday, by U2

137. Sure Shot, by Beastie Boys 

138. Sweating Bullets, by Megadeth 

139. That’ll Be the Day, by Buddy Holly and the Crickets  

140. The Boy from New York City, by Ad Libs

141. The End, by The Doors 

142. The Night Chicago Died, by Paper Lace 

143. Them Bones, by Alice in Chains 

144. Ticket To Ride, by The Beatles 

145. TNT, by AC/DC 

146. Travelin’ Band, by Creedence Clearwater Revival  

147. Travelin’ Man, by Rickey Nelson  

148. Tuesday’s Gone, by Lynyrd Skynyrd  

149. Under the Bridge, by Red Hot Chili Peppers  

150. Wait and Bleed, by Slipknot 

151. Walk Like an Egyptian, by Bangles 

152. War, by Bruce Springsteen 

153. War, by Edwin Starr  

154. War Pigs, by Black Sabbath 

155. We Gotta Get Out of This Place, by Animals 

156. When Will I See You Again, by Three Degrees 

157. When You’re Falling,  by Peter Gabriel  

158. Wipeout, by Surfaris 

159. Wonderful World, by Sam Cooke 

160. What A Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong 

161. Wonderful World, by Herman’s Hermits

162. Worst That Could Happen, by Brooklyn Bridge 

163. You Dropped a Bomb On Me, by The Gap Band                                                 

 

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