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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