For as long as recorded music has been on the radio, there have been banned songs. Sometimes, the reasoning for these bans is understandable, as the track features obscene (for the time) language to themes. However, other times, the reason behind the ban can come off nonsensical, or worse yet politically motivated.
This list features every kind of reasoning for a banned song one can imagine: war, death, global tragedy, and… stuttering. No, we’re not kidding. A famous song was once banned from the radio because it was feared that it would offend those who stuttered.
Despite these sometimes bizarre bannings, each of these tracks transcended simply being banned songs to become iconic hits.
While many see John Lennon’s “Imagine” as an ode to world peace, some more politically conservative stations have banned the song due to its supposed espousing of communist ideology, specifically lines about “no religion” and “no possessions”. In addition, the song was dropped from Clear Channel playlists after the 9/11 attacks.
The Kingsman’s “Louie, Louie” is one of the most controversial songs of all time… for no actual reason. Throughout the 1960s, the song was banned and even investigated by the FBI because authorities believed that the song’s incomprehensible lyrics contained uncouth lyrics. The song still stirs controversy in the 21st century. In 2005, a high school superintendent banned marching band from performing the song over its lyrics… despite the fact that the band was planning to play it instrumentally.
Madge’s 1989 smash single faced boycotts from religious groups, including the Vatican, due to the allegedly blasphemous content in the song’s lyrics and music video. While the song was still a chart hit, the pressure led to Pepsi canceling an endorsement deal using the song.
While Adele is certainly not known for courting controversy, she did face issues with one of her biggest hits. The officially released lyrics for “Rolling” in the Deep” contain the usage of the word “ship.” However, many listeners believed Adele was belting out an expletive that sounded awfully similar to “ship” leading to numerous complaints. Adding fuel to the fire, Adele replaces the word with “stuff” on televised performances. It was eventually revealed that Adele’s handwritten lyrics did indeed feature the offending curse word.
Always one to court controversy, Britney Spears had cultural pundits and radio stations alike up in arms over her 2009 single “If You Seek Amy”.
Well, say the title five times fast. Due to the titular entendre, the song’s original title was banned by U.S. radio stations, who referred to the song as “If You See Amy”.
Eminem was controversial in the early 2000s that a Colorado radio station was fined by the FCC for playing the CLEAN version of “The Real Slim Shady.” Despite having all of the questionable language removed, the FCC had put guidelines in place which stated that “context and innuendo alone could get a station in trouble for violating its decency standards.”
20 years after the always politically charged Rage Against the Machine released their song “Take the Power Back”, the track got an Arizona teacher in hot water. The educator was hit with a “notice of noncompliance” from his school district’s superintendent after playing the song in a Mexican-American History class. According to the notice, the song was against an Arizona law that says schools cannot “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
The Doors iconic track was part of one of the most iconic censorship moments in rock history. When the band performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, producers asked them to omit or change the lyric “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.” Singer Jim Morrison, either in an act of nervousness or rebelliousness (depending on which story you believe), sang the line as written, leading to the band being banned from appearing on the series.
While you may be thinking “Lola” was banned due to its narrative about a romantic encounter with a cross-dresser, the actual reason the BBC banned The Kinks’ track is much stranger. The station felt that the lyrics “Where they drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola” could count as free advertising which was strictly against the BBC’s rules as a non-commercial station. This forced the band to re-record the song with the lyrics changed to “cherry cola.”