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Music Censorship in the U.S.A.

MUSIC CENSORSHIP IN THE USA – 1950 till the present


1952 The Weavers are blacklisted due to the leftist political beliefs and associations of several members.

1953 …

Six counties in South Carolina pass legislation outlawing jukebox operation anytime when within hearing distance of a church.

1954 Stephen Foster songs are edited for radio to remove words such as “massa” and “darky.”

For radio airplay the perceived drug reference “I get no kick from cocaine,” is changed to “I get perfume from Spain.” in Cole Porter’s classic “I Get A Kick Out of You.”

1955 Former radio deejay Pat Boone begins a career by releasing “sanitized” versions of black R&B hits. Boone’s versions of these songs often contain edited lyrics: such as substituting “drinkin’ Coca Cola” for “drinkin’ wine” in T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” and “Pretty little Susie is the girl for me” instead of “Boys, don’t you know what she do to me” in Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruitti.”

CBS television network cancels Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Dance Party after a camera shows Frankie Lymon (leader of the doo wop group Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers) dancing with a white girl.

Officials in San Diego and Florida police warn Elvis Presley that if he moves at all during his local performances, he will be arrested on obscenity charges.

1956 ABC Radio Network bans Billie Holiday’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” from all of its stations because of its prostitution theme. Stations continue to play instrumental versions of the song.


The Parks Department in San Antonio, Texas, removes all rock and roll records from jukeboxes located at city swimming pools, terming it “jumpy, hot stuff” that is unsuitable for teens.

… 1957 Producers of the Ed Sullivan Show instruct cameramen to show Elvis Presley only from the waist up on his third and final appearance on the program on January 7th.

Fearing the effects of the “hedonistic, tribal rhythms” of rock and roll music, in March Chicago’s Cardinal Stritch bans popular music from all Catholic-run schools.


The Mutual Broadcasting System drops all rock and roll records from its network music programs, calling it “distorted, monotonous, noisy music.”

1962 New York Bishop Burke forbids Catholic school students from dancing to “The Twist.” Burke considers R&B music, and its associated dances, to be lewd and un-Christian.

1963 The FBI begins collecting data on folk singers Phil Ochs. Ochs is one of several popular musicians to be tracked by the FBI during their careers (Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie).

Bob Dylan refuses to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in February after producers tell him he cannot sing “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues.” Dylan is never invited to perform on the show again.

… 1965 …

Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher bans all rock concerts in the city following a Rolling Stones performance.

The Barry McGuire song “Eve of Destruction” is pulled from retail stores and radio stations across the country after some groups complain that it is nihilistic and could promote suicidal feelings amongst teens.

… 1966 …

A statement by John Lennon in March, comparing the popularity of the Beatles to that of Jesus Christ, results in wide-spread Beatles record burnings and protests. Lennon’s comments regarding what he perceives as a decrease in Christianity’s popularity with teens are taken out of context. He says, “We’re more popular than Jesus now.”

In June, Capitol Records recalls all copies of the Beatles’ Yesterday And Today album following complaints over the album’s gory cover art. The “butcher” cover depicts the four Beatles wearing white smocks and covered with decapitated baby dolls and raw meat.

Police attempt to shut down a James Brown concert, alleging the singer’s dancing is obscene.

… 1967 The Rolling Stones agree to alter the lyrics to “Let’s Spend The Night Together” for an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in January. Producers request that singer Mick Jagger alter the title phrase to “Let’s spend some time together.”

Producers of the Ed Sullivan Show request that Jim Morrison change the lyrics to “Light My Fire” for The Doors’ September appearance on the program. Morrison initially agrees to alter the lyric “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” to a more innocuous phrase. During the live performance, Morrison sings the original lyric. The band is not invited back on the program.

1968 An El Paso, Texas, radio station bans all songs performed by Bob Dylan because they cannot understand the folk singer’s lyrics. The station continues to play recordings of Dylan songs performed by other artists with clearer diction.

The Doors’ single “Unknown Soldier” is banned from airplay at many radio stations because of its anti-war theme.

Sponsors go into an uproar and threaten to pull support after a television program shows interracial “touching.” During the taping of a duet between Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte, Clark lays her hand on Belafonte’s arm (Clark is white and Belafonte is black).

After being invited by the Smothers Brothers to perform his anti-Vietnam anthem “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” on their TV show, Pete Seeger is edited out of the program by the censors at CBS television.

1969 In January, New York police seize 30,000 copies of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Two Virgins album.

In September, the local Roman Catholic Diocese runs a two-page ad spread in the Seattle Post Intelligencer calling for the criminal prosecution of rock musicians and for bans against “rock festivals and their drug-sex-rock-squalor culture.”

In July, one-half of the country’s Top 40 stations refuse to play “The Ballad of John and Yoko” because they feel that the lyrics are blasphemous. The song’s lyrics contain references to Christ and crucifixion.

… 1970 …

A group known as the Movement to Restore Democracy calls for the banning of rock music to end the spread of Socialism in America.

Claiming that he fears the song “Ohio” will incite further violence on college campuses following the killing of four students at Kent State University, Governor James Rhodes attempts to order Ohio radio stations to ban the song.

Country Joe McDonald is fined $500 for uttering an obscenity during a concert performance of his song “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag.”

Janis Joplin is fined $200 for violating local profanity and obscenity laws for her performance after a concert in Tampa, Florida.

1971 Several radio stations alter the John Lennon song “Working Class Hero” without the consent of Lennon or his record label.

Radio stations across the U.S. ban Bob Dylan’s single “George Jackson” over concerns about the song’s political theme and the word “shit” in its lyrics.


In April, the Illinois Crime Commission publishes a list of popular rock songs that contain drug references, including Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff The Magic Dragon” and the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.”

Chrysalis Records changes the lyrics to Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” without the band’s knowledge or consent. Label executives fear radio stations will not play the original, which contains the lyric “got him by the balls.”

1972 In January, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee issues a report on John Lennon and Yoko Ono, advocating the termination of Lennon’s visa to live in the U.S. The report calls the couple “strong advocates of the program to ‘dump Nixon’.”

John Lennon’s song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” is banned by radio stations across the country.

Radio stations across the country ban John Denver’s hit song “Rocky Mountain High,” fearing that the song’s “high” refers to drugs.

1975 Radio stations across the country refuse to play Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill” because of its references to birth control.

… 1977 The Reverend Jesse Jackson calls for bans against disco music, insisting the music promotes promiscuity and drug use.

… 1980 Fearing association with its theme, Mercury Records refuses to release Frank Zappa’s single “I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted.”

In October, Youth Minister Art Diaz organizes a group of local teenagers who conduct a record burning at the First Assembly Church of God in Des Moines, Iowa, including albums by the Beatles, Ravi Shankar, Peter Frampton, and the soundtrack to the movie Grease. A similar burning takes place a few months later in Keoku, Iowa, where a church group burns the work of The Carpenters, John Denver, and Perry Como.

… 1982 Ozzy Osbourne is forbidden from performing in San Antonio, Texas, after he is arrested for urinating on the Alamo. Osbourne’s various legal troubles also prevent him from playing in several other cities, including Boston, Baton Rouge, Corpus Christi, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia and Scranton, Pennsylvania.

California assemblyman Phil Wyman introduces a bill to outlaw the practice of including subliminal messages in rock records.

1983 Roger Wilcher, a Baptist youth minister in Emporia, Virginia, petitions the city council to remove MTV from the local cable system.

Voice of America programmer Frank Scott issues a directive to staff that they are not permitted to play music which might offend any portion of their audience.

1984 ….

Dade Christian School in Miami, Florida, forbids students from attending a local concert by the Jackson Brothers, because they fear it will lead the youth to use drugs, drink, behave irresponsibly, and participate in lewd dancing. Any student who attends the concert is guaranteed fifteen demerits.

Critics call for boycotts of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. after it is widely rumored that the cover depicts “the Boss” urinating on an American Flag.

Fearing that MTV induces a “temporary state of insanity” over patients, Dr. Richard Bridgberg orders the staff of the Institute of Living, in Hartford, Connecticut, to remove MTV from the mental hospital’s television system. Even though patients are allowed to watch listen to radios, recorded music, and watch the evening news and popular movies, hospital spokesperson Robert Fagan says MTV is “too inciting” and can potentially cause hallucinations.

1985 …

Following attacks from a conservative group lead by the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, Wal-Mart discontinues sales of all major rock magazines such as Rolling Stone, Hard Rock, Spin, and Tiger Beat.

Christian rock band DeGarmo & Key see their video for “Six, Six, Six.” banned by the channel because their music video is too violent.

During an addresses at the New York Television Academy, televangelist and presidential candidate Pat Robertson calls for content regulation of rock music on radio and television.

Under the leadership of mayor (and future Clinton cabinet member) Henry Cisneros, city officials in San Antonio, Texas, pass an ordinance forbidding children under the age of fourteen from attending rock concerts at any city-owned facility.

At the urging of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation holds hearings on music lyrics and proposed systems to rate or sticker albums that contain violent or sexually-themed lyrics on Septmber 19th. Representatives from the PMRC and National PTA, Senator Paula Hawkins, and Dr. Joe Stuessy speak in support of regulating music, while three musicians – Frank Zappa, Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister), and John Denver – speak in defense of popular music.


1986 ….

Meyer Music Markets places an “explicit lyrics” warning sticker on Frank Zappa’s Jazz from Hell – even though the album is entirely instrumental.


1988 …

Protestors in Santa Cruz, California, picket retailers carrying Guns ‘N Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction, despite the fact that the offensive cover art has already been replaced.

1989 In January, Yusef Islam, better known as folk singer Cat Stevens, is misquoted regarding the Ayatollah Khomeni’s call for the death of The Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie. Following press reports of the statement pronouncement, radio stations across the U.S. pull his records from play. Radio talk show host Tom Leykis runs a steam roller over a collection of Cat Stevens records in protest.

The City Council of New Iberia, Louisiana, enacts an emergency ordinance that adds music to the list of materials that must be kept from view of unmarried people under age 17.

Following complaints about Cher’s video for “If I Could Turn Back Time,” several video channels drop or restrict the music clip.

1990 …

In June, a Nebraska radio station leads a boycott of k.d. lang for her anti-meat beliefs. The station rarely plays lang’s records, so their action is largely symbolic.

1991 …

Country Music Television and its parent company The Nashville Network both ban Garth Brooks’ video for “The Thunder Rolls” because it graphically depicts domestic violence.

… 1992 …

John Moran’s “The Manson Family” becomes the first classical recording to carry a parental warning sticker.

After Irish singer Sinead O’Connor tears up a photograph of Pope John Paul II during a December performance on Saturday Night Live, critics quickly call for boycotts of her albums.

1996 …

Wal-Mart refuses to carry Sheryl Crow’s self-titled second album because one of the songs contains an unflattering comment about the discount retailer’s gun sales policy.

… 1997 …

Also in June, Texas Governor George W. Bush signs into law a rider to a state appropriations bill. The rider requires state pension funds to divest any assets that are invested in record companies that produce “obscene” albums.

… 1998 …

18-year-old Eric Van Hoven is suspended from Zeeland High School in Holland, Michigan, for wearing a tee shirt promoting the band Korn, even though the shirt contains no images or words save the band’s name.

Westerly, Rhode Island, high school student Robert Parker is suspended for wearing a shirt inscribed with a “devilish” message. The shirt features the numbers “666” and a rendering of singer Rob Zombie.

The high school band at Fort Zumbald North High School in St. Louis is forbidden from playing the Jefferson Airplane hit “White Rabbit” because of drug references in the song’s lyrics, even though the band’s version of the song is entirely instrumental.


A school superintendent in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, forbids students from wearing Marilyn Manson tee shirts or other “goth” attire.

Church groups and community members in Georgia campaign for the cancellation of the Hard Rock Rockfest, fearing the music of some of the artists will incite attendees to commit violent acts that are similar to those recently experienced at schools in Colorado and Georgia.

The National Football League drops a series of four commercials based on rapper Eminem’s song “My Name Is” because they felt the song was too controversial, even though the commercials contained none of the original lyrics.

2000 …

Police in New Iberia, Louisiana, close down a roller skating rink in February, and seize more than 60 CDs, after a fight broke out in the rink’s parking lot. Police accused the rink’s management of instigating the incident by playing music over the rink’s PA system. Amongst the confiscated CDs are Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the popular tunes “The Chicken Dance,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “The Hokey Pokey,” and “Jingle Bells.”

A private school in San Antonio, Texas, suspends four students for attending a Backstreet Boys concert in March. The students are suspended for one day for violating a school policy forbidding “involvement in inappropriate music [or] dancing.”

2001 …

Members of the Harvest Assembly of God Church in Butler County, Pennsylvania, burn a collection of books, tapes, and CDs. Music included in the burning: REM, Joe Walsh, Foreigner, AC/DC, and Pearl Jam, among others. Said one church member, “We thought we wouldn’t be loyal to God by listening to them.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence forbids “Danny Boy” and other secular songs from being performed during funeral masses.

Following the September 11th terrorist attacks, Clear Channel Communications, the largest owner of radio stations in the United States, releases a list of more than 150 “lyrically questionable”songs that stations may want to pull from their playlists. Few songs portray explicit violence, but most have metaphoric themes that ring a bit too close to the tragedies. The list, containing music from almost every genre in popular music, includes Sugar Ray’s “Fly,” “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails’; “Head Like a Hole,” AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” and “Highway to Hell,” Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel, Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” “Nowhere to Run” by Martha & the Vandellas, and all songs by Rage Against The Machine.

from http://ericnuzum.com/banned/incidents/50s.html


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  1. thanks for this! great info!

    Posted by littlelaine14 | May 18, 2010, 11:23 am