Doug Thompson headshotThe term ‘Banned In Boston’ became synonymous with censorship.  That Massachusetts city is legendary for having banned all kinds of artistic endeavors for well over a century.  Boston was colonized by the Puritans (that name says it all) back in the 1600’s, then the second wave of Irish immigrants brought with them their conservative moral beliefs, particularly in regards to sex.  The actual phrase ‘Banned in Boston” originated (according to Wikipedia) with American ‘moral crusader’ Anthony Comstock, who in the late 19th century, began a campaign to suppress vice.

Boston 19th CenturyHe found great support in Boston, whose city council, along with well heeled, prominent members of Boston society, took it upon themselves to ban anything they found to be ‘salicious, inappropriate or offensive’.  They ran Broadway plays out of town, certain books were confiscated as well as banned from being sold in book stores or placed in Boston libraries.  These ‘moral vigilantes’ also prevented certain movies from being shown in theatres.  Some of the ‘banned in Boston’ books include such now considered classics as “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell To Arms” by Ernest Hemingway; Sinclair Lewis’ book “Elmer Gantry” and two plays by Eugene O’Neill: “Desire Under The Elms” and “Strange Interlude”.  Naturally, D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was also banned (but not just in Boston.  That book was universally condemned by many ‘prudish’ officials and individuals around the world).

So what does all this have to do with music?  Well, let’s bring it into focus then shall we?  In 1958, influential disc jockey and concert promoter Alan Freed found himself in hot water in Boston after street fights broke out following one of his ‘big beat’ concerts.  Boston Mayor John B. Hynes was quoted as saying, “These so called musical programs are a disgrace and must be stopped.  As far as I’m concerned, Boston has seen the last of them.”

Not so fast Mr. Mayor.

BostonSkyline1024In 1975, Led Zeppelin was banned from performing at the Boston Garden when they ‘dared’ to allow concert fans to wait in the lobby for tickets to go on sale, rather than line up outside in sub freezing temperatures.  A small number of unruly (and ungrateful) fans trashed the Garden, while then led then-mayor Kevin White to cancel that evenings performance and ban Led Zeppelin for five years.


jimmy-dean-getty1961’s “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean was the first song that made me realize that songs were censored.  Near the end of the song, the original 45 single version (which I bought) has Jimmy Dean speaking the lines: “Now they never reopened that worthless pit.  They just placed a marble stand in front of it.  These few words are written on that stand:  ‘At the bottom of this mine, lies one HELL of a man.  Big John’.”  This proved to be one helluva problem for much of the U.S. bible belt.  As much as they might have Jimmy_Dean_0_600liked Jimmy Dean (and his sausages), the word ‘hell’ on the radio or the home record player was blasphemy.  Columbia Records decided to re-record and re-release a ‘less offensive version’ that had Dean say: “At the bottom of this mine, lies a big, big man.  Big John’.”  Most radio stations started 6Je2FYJimmyDeanSausageBiscuits6pc12ozplaying the ‘revised’ version and the original was lost to time until it came out a few years back on a Collector’s Choice Jimmy Dean Greatest Hits CD.  Incidentally, “Big Bad John” was # 1 for 5 consecutive weeks on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart in November and December of 1961.  The following year, “Big Bad John” won a Grammy Award for ‘Best Country & Western Recording’.

Jimmy Dean – Big Bad John (Original Version)      


When it comes to actually banning songs from the airwaves, no organization was more notorious than the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) or ‘Beeb’ as it’s most often called in Great Britain.   The BBC regularly banned songs for all kinds of nefarious reasons.  Here are a couple of examples.

Johnny_HortonOn June 1st, 1959.  Johnny Horton had the number one song on Billboards’ Hot 100 singles chart with “The Battle of New Orleans”.  It remained number one for the following five weeks.  This was a major hit, but there was also a major problem.  “In 1814, we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.  We took a little bacon and we took a little beans.  And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans”.  Now, as you can imagine, that version with ‘bloody British’ and the fact that the British lost that battle would not have gone down well in Great Britain.

And it did not.  The BBC refused to play it.  It was banned from British airwaves.  How could they air a song that had the words “Bloody British” in it?  Columbia Records (Johnny Horton’s long time record label in the U.S.) was in a quandary.  What to do?  What to do?

Johnny Horton – The Battle of New Orleans (British Version)

Well, what they did was re-record the song (for airplay in British Commonwealth countries) changing the lyric of “British” to ‘Rebels”.  That helped the song make it to # lovvie donegan16 on British record charts.  The British still lost the battle to Stonewall Jackson though (can’t really change history now, can we?).  Lonnie Donegan, the man who influenced many groups, including The Beatles with his skiffle sound, also covered the song (The British lost in that one as well).  But here’s where the British finally beat the Americans.  Donegan’s version climbed to # 2 in Great Britain besting Johnny Horton’s version by 14 chart positions.  Frankly, I don’t remember Johnny Horton’s ‘British Commonwealth version’ being played on radio stations that I listened to here in Canada and I only found out they’d recorded a ‘revised’ version of “The Battle of New Orleans” when I bought Johnny Horton’s Bear Family box set a few years ago.

Lonnie Donegan – Battle of New Orleans

Over the decades, other BBC banned songs have included:

The Beeb banned Bobby Darin’s 1959 version of “Mack The Knife”.  Reason for banning:  thought to encourage gang violence, plus there was too much death and violence from ol’ Mack Heap.

Bobby Darin – Mack the Knife

In 1960, the Beeb banned British singer Ricky Valance’s version of “Tell Laura I Love Her”, a Top Ten hit for Ray Peterson in the rest of the world.  The song is about a teenage boy named Tommy who dies in a car race trying to raise money to buy his girlfriend Laura a wedding ring.  Reason for banning:  Too morbid.  In fact, the BBC cited a series of road accidents as evidence of copycat behavior and banned the song out of concern for Britain’s youth.  Previously that same year, the BBC had banned Mark Dinnings’ similar themed youth death saga, “Teen Angel”.

Ricky Valance – Tell Laura I Love Her

Mark Dinnings – Teen Angel

Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and his # 1 North American smash, “Monster Mash” was another BBC casualty.  Reason for banning:  Again, too morbid.  (Seriously?)


The Beatles, despite hosting and performing on several of their own BBC Radio shows (“From Us To You” and “Pop Go The Beatles”), found themselves on the wrong arm of the Beeb’s censor in 1967 with “A Day In The Life”, an album cut from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.  Reason for banning:  drug reference with lyrics such as “I’d love to turn you on”.

There was an additional song on “Sgt. Pepper” that was also banned by the BBC – “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”.  Reason for banning: obvious drug references.  John Lennon’s protestations that the song was not about LSD, and was only about a drawing his son Julian had painted in school about schoolmate Lucy, fell on deaf BBC ears and the song continued to be banned.

The Beatles “I Am The Walrus” (1967) was also banned!  Reason for banning:  lyrics such as: “pornographic priestess” and “you’ve been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down”.


That same year (1967), The Rolling Stones had their hit, “Let’s Spend The Night Together” banned by the Beeb.  Reason for banning:  The title, the subject matter and just about everything else.  “Let’s Spend The Night Together” didn’t make much of a splash on this side of the pond either, rising only to # 55 on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart.

scott walkerAlso in ’67, the Beeb quickly banned Scott Walker’s cover of a Jacques Brel written song, “Jackie”, whose lyrics reference such sinful endeavors as: “And if I joined the social whirl.  Became procurer of young girls.  Then I would have my own bordellos” along with: “And I’d sell boats of opium.  Whiskey that came from Twickenham.  Authentic queers and phony virgins”.  BBC honchos were having none of this and banished it from their airwaves (in actual fact, it was and is the public’s airwaves, but never mind…Auntie Beeb knows best).

Scott Walker – Jackie

Jane Birkin et Serge GainsbourgNaturally, the BBC banned Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je T’aime…moi non plus” in 1969.  The reason:  The whole song is basically a recorded version of the sex act.

The song went to # 1 on the British charts anyway, despite the ban.  Six years later, the Beeb also banned Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” for the same reason.

The Kinks found out the hard way that you don’t fool around with the BBC.  “Lola” was a Top Ten hit in North America in 1970.  In Great Britain, the BBC would not play it on any of their ‘programmes’ (British spelling).  Why?  Not because it was a relationship between a man and a transvestite.  Nope, it was because Kinks lead singer and main songwriter Ray Davies had dared to mention a brand name product – Coca-Cola, as in “I met her in a club down in old Soho where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola. C-O-L-A, Cola.”  That’s a no-no for the Beeb.  In fact, the same ban was placed on the Andrew Sisters 1945 hit, “Rum and Coca-Cola”.

The Kinks – Lola (Coca Cola version)

The Kinks, at that time, were performing in North America and Ray Davies had to interrupt the tour to hop on a plane back to London to re-record the offending line to: “…where they drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola. C-O-L-A, Cola.”  Probably took Ray no more than a few minutes to re-sing that line, then catch a plane back to the States and The Kinks U.S. tour, but the trip was obviously worth it as the BBC began playing “Lola” and it climbed the charts in England as quickly as it had in North America.

The Kinks – Lola (Cherry Cola version)

Interestingly, in researching the lyrics, all the on-line sites that I checked have the final few lyrics listed as: “Well, I’m not the world’s most masculine man.  But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man and so is Lola…”.  I could swear that my original 45 copy (which I listened to several times while writing this) says: “Well, I’m not the world’s most masculine man.  But I know what I am and in the bed, I am a man and so is Lola…”

Could this be a case of mis-heard lyrics on my part?  Discuss amongst yourselves.

220px-Paul_McCartney_black_and_whiteIn 1972, former Beatle Paul McCartney’s was banned twice by ‘Auntie Beeb’.  First, “Give Ireland Back To The Irish”.  Reason for banning:  Too political and anti-British.

Then, McCartney’s “Hi Hi Hi” was also not allowed to be played on the Beeb’s airwaves.  Reason for banning:  References to drugs and sexually suggestive lyrics.  The BBC said McCartney was singing, “I want you to lie on the bed, get you ready for my body gun.”  McCartney protested vigorously, insisting that he sang, “I want you to lie on the bed, get you ready for my polygon.”  (Uh huh, OK Paul, if you say so).

The Sex Pistols 1977 song, “God Save The Queen” was not allowed airplay on the BBC.  Reason for banning:  obvious anti-establishment message.  An ‘assault on the Queen’ during her Silver Jubilee year.  The song, no doubt aided by the ban, reached # 2 on British charts.

Although the BBC officially says it no longer bans songs, they recently found themselves with a dilemma on their hands.  Following former British Prime Minister thatcher-by-newtonMargaret Thatcher’s death in April of this year (2013), the Beeb refused to play the full version of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” (which anti-Thatcher factions had adopted as their theme song), despite the fact that it was the # 1 song on British iTunes at the time.

Thatcher supporters wanted the BBC to outright ban the song, but the Beeb decided to air a five second piece of the song along with a news item explaining why the song was back in the charts.  The BBC said in a statement: “It’s not a political track.  It is actually a personal attack on an individual who has just died.  The BBC finds this campaign distasteful but does not believe the record should be banned.”

The BBC Plays Ding Dong the Witch is Dead


ice tIn North America, a song that launched a major controversy was Body Count’s “Cop Killer”.  The song was originally included on the groups 1992 self-titled debut album.  Lead singer Ice-T, who wrote the lyrics, called “Cop Killer” a protest song.  Ice said at the time, “I’m singing in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality.  I ain’t never killed no cop.  I felt like it a lot of times, but I never did it.  If you believe I’m a cop killer, you believe David is an astronaut.” (referring to Bowie’s 1973 hit, “Space Oddity”).

The furor over the song even reached the White House where President Bush (the elder) publicly denounced any record company that would release such a record.  Vice President Dan Quayle also jumped on the band wagon, calling it ‘obscene’, then immediately returned to his office to learn how to spell that word.  Some Warner Brothers record executives received death threats.  A few shareholders threatened to sell their stock.  Eventually Ice-T requested that Warner Brothers Records re-call the album and it was re-released without “Cop Killer”.  Ironically, Ice-T played a cop in several movies and for the past 13 seasons, he’s portrayed New York City detective ‘Fin’ Tutuola on the TV series: “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Body Count – Cop Killer


In the aftermath of 9/11, U.S. broadcasting behemoth Clear Channel sent an memo to the 1200 radio stations that they owned, ‘suggesting’ (not outright banning) that because of the recent tragedy, stations not play a list of ‘lyrically questionable’ songs, which included:  Edwin Starr’s “War”, AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell”, The Bangles “Walk Like An Egyptian”, Barenaked Ladies “Falling For The First Time”, “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass, Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, The Gap Band “You Dropped A Bomb On Me”, Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner”, Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”, R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of The Word As We Know It”, Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”.  Even Elvis Presley made the list with “(You’re The) Devil In Disguise”.

John Landecker & Melissa Forman talk about Clear Channel’s banned songs


Daw Aung Suu KyiBurma/Myanmar banned U2’s new album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”, because of the song “Walk On”, which is dedicated to Burmese activist Daw Aung Suu Kyi, who has spent six of the past eleven years under house arrest and was placed under arrest gain in October of this year for protesting the military dictatorship.  U2’s Bono told the Associated Press, “One thing I’m very sure about is that I am a spoiled rock star.  I am overpaid, overnourished and overdressed.  And I’m sure the work that I do [for debt relief]…and the work the band has done for Amnesty International, is some kind of Catholic guilt, but it’s working, so we’ll continue with it.”

U2 – Walk On


fort macmurrayThen there’s a radio station in Fort McMurray, Alberta that recently banned Neil Young’s music after the singer (who’d visited Fort McMurray this past summer) compared the city of 76,000 to a ‘wasteland’.  In discussing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline before the U.S. National Farmers Union Conference in Washington, D.C. in September of this year, Young stated: “The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima.  Fort McMurray is a wasteland.  The Indians up there and the native peoples are dying.  The closest place to Fort McMurray that is doing the tar sands work is 25 or 30 miles out of town and you can taste it when you get to Fort McMurray.  People are sick.  People are dying of cancer because of this.  All the First nations people are threatened by this.”

Melissa BlakeWhile Melissa Blake, the Mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, called Young’s comments ‘blatantly false’, Rock 97.9 (“Today’s Best Rock & Killer Classics”) DJ Chris Byrne (who, according to the stations’ website is a “lover of fine wine and stinky cheese”) went a step further, polling his radio audience asking them whether or not the station should ‘ban’ all Neil Young’s songs from the airwaves because of his comments.  Although the ‘No Neil’ tally was close, the station went ahead with the ban.  Hey, it got the station and Chris Byrne national publicity.

Look, I understand that the residents of Fort McMurray are passionate about their community, as well they should be, but we still have free speech in this neck of the world….don’t we?

Despite the ban, I have a feeling that Neil Young will be just fine.

Neil Young – Helpless


Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at:

DBAWIS_ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.


  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Actually, Doug, it was Andrew Jackson who fought the British in New Orleans in 1814. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a general in The Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. In 1814 he was a gleam in his father’s eye. Other than that, another great column.

  2. David Lennick Says:

    The BBC was also notorious for banning songs that contained any reference to existing products, since it didn’t run commercials. Rum and Coca-Cola probably didn’t make the cut, although former bandleader Jack Jackson, who became a popular disc jockey, wrote that he just coughed over the names of products when they came up. He also noted that he was ordered not to play the second half of Stan Freberg’s “John and Marsha”, and then not to play any of it.

    • Doug Thompson Says:

      There were so many songs banned by the BBC over the many decades David, I didn’t have the space to list them all. The Andrews Sisters “Rum and Coca-Cola” WAS indeed banned by BBC. The Kinks brought it into the rock era with their Coca-Cola reference. That’s why I mentioned the BBC sponsor ban.

      • Doug Thompson Says:

        And in fact David, in re-reading my column, I DID mention The Andrew Sisters song “Rum and Coca-Cola” being banned by the BBC. Guess you missed that.

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