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Songs Banned by the BBC

Updated on November 2, 2015

The Songs the BBC Decided to Ban

Over the years, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has been the UK's standard bearer of taste and decency, which included those songs it felt should not be transmitted to the nation's ears.

Although the BBC has never admitted to banning a song or a piece of music, its crazy censorship has sometimes seen a record unceremoniously dumped from its various playlists. The practice has been going on since the 1930s, when songs by the likes of Noel Coward, Cole Porter, George Formby and later, Johnnie Ray, Frankie Laine and Bobby Darin came under the scrutiny of what has become known as "Auntie Beeb".

This "auntie knows best" image stretched into the 1960s and beyond, when the Corporation was faced with such cultural upheavals as the burgeoning drug culture, the sexual revolution and the growth of a more politically aware youth.

But, by today's standards, it seems laughable that most of the tracks featured here were refused airplay and chosen as songs banned by the BBC.

The Beatles: A Day in the Life

Along with Eleanor Rigby, this is one of my favourite tracks by The Beatles. Taken from one of their most innovative and influential albums, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, A Day in the Life came under the scrutiny of the BBC censors when the disc was released back in 1967.

What was the problem? Along with several other Beatles songs, there appeared to be something of an underlying reference to drug use, which Auntie Beeb did not want to be seen as advocating. In particular, it referenced lyrics such as "I'd love to turn you on" and "found my way upstairs and had a smoke, and somebody spoke and I went into a dream", which the Corporation interpreted as promoting drugs.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney refuted the accusation at the time, but Beatles producer George Martin has since commented that the BBC's suspicions were probably grounded in truth.

Donna Summer: Love to Love You Baby

Back in the day, when disco music was going through puberty, along came Donna Summer to help kick it into adulthood.

It was 1975 when Ms. Summer recorded the now notorious Love to Love You Baby. Full of steamy and erotic moans and groans, the disc appeared as a gigantic blip on the BBC's "no-no" radar as soon as it started to become popular. Although it was never officially banned, the Corporation limited its airplay enough to make the public curious to know what the fuss was all about. Whether this contributed to it becoming a Top 10 hit is debatable, but it went on to register as one of the most successful early disco hits of the era.

Personally, I still have the original album on which the full track appears. Lasting around fifteen minutes or so, the song probably contains more "oohs" and "aahs" than any other committed to vinyl, before or since.

Banned (Sic) on the Run - The Songs the BBC Disliked

This Record Is Not To Be Broadcast: 75 Records Banned By The B.B.C. 1931-1957
This Record Is Not To Be Broadcast: 75 Records Banned By The B.B.C. 1931-1957

Some early songs that the BBC banned because of political, lyrical or "offensive" content. A collector's piece for the overtly curious.


Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Relax

Frankie Goes to Hollywood epitomised the high energy, funky dance music of the 1980s and their first release, Relax caused the stuffed shirts at the BBC to near seizures, and it was quickly assigned to the banned list.

The ban was initially prompted by then DJ, Mike Read, who publicly refused to play the song on his radio show, having interpreted and then citing the lyrics as "sexually explicit". Almost simultaneously, the BBC slapped its "no play" edict on the track, and it went unheard both on BBC radio and television throughout most of 1984.

Commercial radio stations had continued to play the track throughout the controversy, and by Christmas 1984 the BBC had been embarrassed into relaxing their Relax policy.

The song would go on to reach the Number One position on the UK charts, and become the country's seventh best selling single of all time. It also won Best British Single at the Brit Awards of 1985.

Napoleon XIV: They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!

Transatlantic controversy courted this novelty song almost immediately upon its release in 1966.

They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa! recorded by Napoleon XIV (aka Jerry Samuels) came under fire in both the UK and the US for its apparent parody of mental illness. Things got so bad in America, protesters managed to get the track banned from some radio stations altogether. The same fate was awaiting the song in the UK too.

This didn't stop it becoming a Top 5 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Troggs: I Can't Control Myself

The Troggs were one of the major British Invasion groups of the 1960s, and are probably best remembered for their mega hit Wild Thing. They have also often been cited as the inspiration for later punk rock and garage rock bands.

However, back in 1966, the group ran into trouble with the BBC, not for Wild Thing, but for this track: I Can't Control Myself. Although it was not officially banned, the Corporation made sure that it was denied much radio airplay because of their ruling of "lewdly suggestive sounds by (lead singer) Reg Presley."

Now, I've listened to this song several times, and if the lyrics are "lewd sounds", then yes, they are mildly suggestive. However, I hear nothing else happening here.

Gainsbourg & Birkin: Je t' non plus

Quite possibly one of the most famously banned songs of all time is this gem from 1969, by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.

Je t' non plus really had the executives at the BBC all steamed up, but not in a way you might think. The song sent them scuttling for their French dictionaries, and fainting ensued when Jane Birkin started to moan and groan erotically towards the end of the track.

The UK was not the only country to ban the song, as several nations across Europe censored it from their radio stations. It caused such a furor, that even the Vatican became involved, stating that it was "offensive". This all helped the disc to reach Number One in the UK; the first time a Number One had been slapped with a ban. By today's standards, all the controversy seems mildly amusing.

Wings: Hi, Hi, Hi

While, on several occasions, The Beatles found themselves in trouble with the censor, Paul McCartney's new group, Wings, had the misfortune of having two singles banned in the same year: 1972.

In February, the BBC took exception to the band's Top Twenty hit, Give Ireland Back to the Irish, and promptly blacklisted the politically driven track. Then, in December, Hi, Hi, Hi was banned because of the lyrics "We're gonna get hi, hi, hi" (supposed drug references), as well as "get you ready for my body gun" (sexually suggestive).

McCartney explained that the actual lyric is "get you ready for my polygon". But, who knows for sure? It didn't stop the song becoming a Top Ten hit in the US, and when flipped with C Moon, a Top Five placing in the UK.

Scott Walker: Jackie

Scott Walker was the lead singer of the 1960s/70s vocal group, The Walker Brothers, whose smooth baritone voice graced several big selling hits of the era.

Once the group had split up for the first time, Walker went on to a solo career, recording songs which included English interpretations of the works of Belgian, Jacques Brel. One of the tracks he released as a single was Jackie, a tale about a prospective singer and his clients, set to a Spanish rhythm.

The lyrics were translated by famed songwriter Mort Shuman, but in the case of this song, the BBC found them way too risqué for broadcast in 1967.

A Banned Songs Collection - Not to Be Broadcast

This Record Is Not To Be Broadcast V.2
This Record Is Not To Be Broadcast V.2

More songs and hits the BBC saw fit to censor or ban.


Pogues: Fairytale of New York

A Christmas classic censored, I hear you ask?

Well, yes, for a few days. This song had been around since 1987, and had been freely played up until 2007, when suddenly the bosses at BBC Radio One (the BBC's pop music radio station) decided they were going to edit out several words for fear of offending a certain section of the population.

While this was not a blanket ban across all BBC stations, it did provoke a backlash of protest from the general public. Sanity was quickly restored, and some days later, the full unedited track was being played once again.

Max Romeo: Wet Dream

Max Romeo's naughty ditty caused some major uproar at the BBC back in 1969.

Romeo, an influential roots reggae singer, who had achieved significant success in his native Jamaica, wrote the lyrics to a previously recorded backing track, added his vocals, and then unceremoniously fell foul of the BBC censors.

As with most of the bans the BBC imposed, it only served to make the track even more popular. It went on to spend almost six months on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at Number 10. According to Max Romeo, his innuendo laden song is about a leaky roof dripping into a bedroom.

About Your Author

With each article, Richard invites you to step into his world of music, television and entertainment. He will introduce you to British Glam Rock, share The 20 Scariest Film Scores Ever? and even give you an up close look at some classic actors such as Christopher Lee as Dracula.

For a complete list of Richard's articles, please visit Richard's profile.

© 2010 Richard

What Do You Think of These Banned Songs?

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    • aaxiaa lm profile image

      aaxiaa lm 3 years ago

      Great lens! I kind of suspected Gainsbourg here. :D

    • profile image

      Sue-DN 4 years ago

      Scott Walker - my first love!! Still going strong, and respected by many of today's younger musicians. His music these days is very avant-garde - not to my taste any more, but I do admire him for it. He could make a heck of a lot of money if he released an album of classic songs, but he stays true to himself.

    • craiger-m profile image

      Craig 4 years ago from Great Britain

      Very interesting, self righteous BBC!

    • mechanicaleye profile image

      Eda Škulj 4 years ago from Bosnia and Herzegvina

      Hmm, I did not know most of this. Well, I wish we could ban half the music they are playing now. Though it's pointless to discuss tastes. :)

      Great lens!

    • NibsyNell profile image

      NibsyNell 4 years ago

      This I such a great lens. I can't believe some of the stuff that was censored/banned - they would have got a shock back then if they heard what we're listening to nowadays!

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