“Everybody’s got to get stoned” proclaims Bob Dylan on track one of this week’s album, Blonde on Blonde. Slightly risqué nowadays, when it was released in the sixties this line was scandalous, and resulted in Rainy Day Women 12 & 35 being banned from the airways by radio stations on both sides of the Atlantic. The media remains touchy about disreputable references (to an occasionally ridiculous extent) and good ‘ole Bob is not the only artist over the years to be regaled with cries of “you can’t say that!”
You would have thought a cheeky chappy like George Formby would be safe from the accusatory finger of censorship, but alas, his 1930s comedy ditty When I’m Cleaning Windows was banned by the BBC for the voyeuristic nature of the following lines:
“The blushing bride she looks divine
The bridegroom he is doing fine
I’d rather have his job than mine
When I’m cleaning windows”
If When I’m Cleaning Windows is enough to get you hot under the collar, you’d better not listen to this next censored song. Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin’s release Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus caused such an uproar in ’69 that the Vatican denounced it, and went so far as to excommunicate the man who released the record in Italy. You could be excused for thinking Je T’aime… must be the pinnacle of popular music depravity, but you would be forgetting the ever obscene Judge Dread, who holds the Guinness World Record for the artist with the most songs ever banned by Auntie Beeb; this notoriety propelled his songs into the UK Top 20 six times during the seventies.
So you can’t talk about drugs, you definitely can’t talk about sex, and as the Sex Pistols showed us in 1977, you can’t talk about politics either. Well, you can’t diss the Queen, at least; unless you want your song to be the most widely banned record in British history. Despite this setback, the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen sold brilliantly, and the album it features on represents Punk on our Music Tree. In fact, getting your record banned seems like a great way to get it to number one. A feat repeated yet again in 1984 by Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax.
Budding controversy mongers shouldn’t get too optimistic however. Changing tastes seem to have rendered record banning a thing of the past, so shock-seeking songsters will have to find fame through other means.