Ever the proper ones, the UK’s BBC has managed to maintain a level of decency, to uphold certain standards, if you will, over the course of radio history. Utilizing the “auntie knows best” approach, the Dance Music Policy Committee, established in the 1930’s, has a very serious attitude towards the UK’s music culture exposure. One statement from the Committee’s directive in 1942 stated, “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.” Very serious indeed. Auntie BBC also banned songs for reasons including curse words or other foul language, suspected drug references, controversial topics involving politics, religion, or sex, among other reasons. Below is PPcorn’s list of five classic songs banned in the UK and why they were so.
Number Five: Ten of the twelve tracks on Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953). Reason: Satire.
Apparently there is such a thing as too funny. Humorist Tom Lehrer released a twelve-track album in 1958, simply titled Songs by Tom Lehrer and ten of the twelve were subsequently banned by BBC for the use of satire. Cheeky man.
Number Four: “The Ballad of Ho Chi Minh” and “The Ballad of Stalin” (1950’s) by Evan MacColl. Reason: Communist sympathies.
Evan MacColl was a man of many interests, as not only a singer/songwriter, record producer, poet, actor, playwright, he was also a labor activist and communist. Having written these two protest ballads in the early 1950’s for the British Communist Party, they were clearly controversial, featuring lyrics such as “Joe Stalin was a mighty man and a mighty man was he / He led the Soviet people on the road to victory.” Bet you can guess the tune that goes with it. Auntie Beeb really had no choice but to ban the majority of MacColl’s work.
Number Three: “The Man With the Golden Arm” movie theme (1956) by Eddie Calvert. Reason: Drug Reference.
How does an instrumental movie theme get banned? By association, of course. Auntie Beeb decided that, according to a BBC spokesman, “The ban is due to its connection with a film about drugs.” Thus the theme could not be played. Oddly, when Billy May re-recorded the theme and titled it “Main Theme,” his version was permitted to be aired. In answer to the question “What’s in a name?” we can safely say, in this situation, quite a lot. As in, whether or not your song gets radio play time.
Number Two: “Lola” (1970) by The Kinks. Reason: Advertising.
Nope, it wasn’t banned for controversy over the subject matter (love between a man and a transvestite), it was banned for its blatant advertising of that oh-so-refreshing beverage. We can’t have a government-run radio station endorsing products, now can we? “When you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola,” was the incriminating lyric that caused lead singer/songwriter Ray Davies to fly from the US to the UK to re-record the single line. After that, the champagne in North Soho (aka London) tasted like “Cherry-Cola.”
Number One: “A Day in the Life” (1967) by The Beatles. Reason: Drugs (again).
But only one reference this time! As the final track off of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there’s a lot of tripped-out sections, with verses and lyrics written by both Lennon and McCartney. Although you would think certain lyrics, like Lennon’s “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall” would be the ones to raise eyebrows, it was actually the mundane line of McCartney’s, “Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,” that prompted Auntie Beeb to make the call. Sure, marijuana is something McCartney has been known to associate with, but he could have easily been referring to tobacco. In the eyes of the BBC, however, it was an out-and-out drug reference, and suppose it doesn’t matter, since tobacco’s not exactly good for you either.