List of songs banned by the BBC

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The following list of songs banned by the BBC is an alphabetical list of songs that the BBC has at one stage or another, considered unsuitable for broadcasting on its radio and television stations. As the United Kingdom's public service broadcasting corporation, the BBC has always felt some obligation to standards of taste and decency, to varying levels, at different times in its history. Its "auntie knows best" attitude earned it the nickname of "Auntie BBC" or "Auntie Beeb".


Files at the BBC's Written Archives Centre in Caversham, Berkshire now available for public inspection show that the Dance Music Policy Committee, set up in the 1930s, took the role of Britain's cultural guardian seriously: one 1942 directive read:

We have recently adopted a policy of excluding sickly sentimentality which, particularly when sung by certain vocalists, can become nauseating and not at all in keeping with what we feel to be the need of the public in this country in the fourth year of war.[1]

The BBC's director of music, Sir Arthur Bliss, wrote wartime instructions for the committee banning songs "which are slushy in sentiment" or "pop" versions of classical pieces such as "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows", from the 1918 Broadway show Oh, Look!, which made use of Frédéric Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu; English rock band The Cougars' 1963 version of Swan Lake, "Saturday Nite at the Duckpond"; or "Baubles, Bangles and Beads", from the 1953 musical Kismet, which was based on the second movement of Alexander Borodin's String Quartet in D.[2]

Other justifications for such bans have included the use of foul language in lyrics, explicit sexual content, supposed drug references, and controversial political subject matter.[2] The implementation of a strict ban on advertising led to the banning of The Kinks' 1970 song "Lola",[3] while Don Cornell's 1954 song "Hold My Hand" was banned from airplay due to religious references.[2] The work of artist Ewan MacColl was banned by the BBC owing to his sympathies with communism.[4] Satire was another reason for banning: in 1953, ten of the twelve tracks on humorist Tom Lehrer's album Songs by Tom Lehrer were banned.[2] In February 1956, the British music magazine NME reported that the theme for the film The Man with the Golden Arm, recorded by Eddie Calvert, was also banned.[5] Despite it being an instrumental, a BBC spokesman reported: "The ban is due to its connection with a film about drugs." – Billy May's version, retitled "Main Theme", was approved for transmission.[5]

In certain cases, appeals to the BBC in favour of banning a song have failed to succeed or have only been partial. In 1972, Christian morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse failed in her campaign for the BBC to stop playing Chuck Berry's "My Ding-a-Ling",[6][7] but a few months earlier in that year had persuaded the corporation to prevent Alice Cooper's "School's Out" from being featured on Top of the Pops.[8][9] Occasionally, a ban has first been imposed by an individual DJ refusing to play a particular song. In January 1984, Radio 1's Mike Read refused to play Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" on his mid-morning show, declaring it "overtly obscene",[10] a decision which the BBC then followed except on their Top 40 show.[11]

The BBC has claimed in recent years that they no longer ban any records,[12] as in the controversy over The Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" in 1997.[13] However, cases of direct or indirect censorship have happened; according to a BBC spokesperson, no official ban was imposed in the case of Linda McCartney's posthumous "The Light Comes from Within" despite her widower Paul McCartney running advertisements in the national press criticising a supposed ban.[14] While the ban on some songs have been lifted, other songs have never been officially cleared for airing on BBC radio, and their status is uncertain – in some cases, records which have been banned have since been played on BBC radio without any official announcement that the ban has ended, such as The Beatles' "A Day in the Life".[15] BBC Radio One banned the full version of The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" in 2007, replacing it with an edited version; however, the ban was quickly lifted due to public outcry.[16]

Censored vs. banned[edit]

In some cases, it was considered sufficient to censor certain words rather than banning a song outright. In the case of The Kinks' "Lola", once the offending word had been changed – "Coca-Cola" to "cherry cola" – the song was given airplay.[3] In other cases, it was not necessary for the BBC to formally ban a particular song, since both parties were well aware of what would be acceptable or not, as was the case of George Formby's 1937 song, "With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock".[17] The "restricted" list included Barry McGuire's 1965 hit, "Eve of Destruction".[2]

After the death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher on 8 April 2013, anti-Thatcher sentiment prompted campaigns on social media networks to bring the song "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" to number one on the UK Singles Chart. In the days after her death, it became clear that the song was "on course to be one of the top three sellers by the end of the week".[18] On 12 April, Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper said that the station's chart show would not play the song in the usual format, but that a short snippet would be aired as part of a news item.[19]

List of banned songs[edit]

This article lists songs which have been banned by the BBC over the years. Some were banned for only a limited period, and have since received BBC airplay. Others were banned many years after having been first aired, as was the case of The Cure's "Killing an Arab" and sixty-seven other songs which were banned from BBC airplay as the first Gulf War began.[3] In some cases, more information about the banned songs can be found in their respective articles.
























Gulf War blacklist[edit]

As the first Gulf War began, the BBC deemed several songs inappropriate for airplay in light of the situation and subsequently banned them from their radio stations for the duration of the war.[60] A list of sixty-seven banned songs was published by New Statesman and Society in conjunction with British public-service television broadcaster Channel 4.[60] The Cure's "Killing an Arab" is absent from the list, but is known to have been banned in connection with the Gulf War.[3]

  1. "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" – Cutting Crew (1986)
  2. "Act of War" – Elton John and Millie Jackson (1985)
  3. "Armed and Extremely Dangerous" – First Choice (1973)
  4. "Army Dreamers" – Kate Bush (1980)
  5. "Atomic" – Blondie (1979)
  6. "Back in the U.S.S.R." – The Beatles (1968)
  7. "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" – The Temptations (1970)
  8. "Bang Bang" – B. A. Robertson (1979)
  9. "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" – Cher (1966)
  10. "Billy Don't Be a Hero" – Paper Lace (1974)
  11. "Boom Bang-a-Bang" – Lulu (1969)
  12. "Brothers in Arms" – Dire Straits (1985)
  13. "Buffalo Soldier" – Bob Marley and the Wailers (1983)
  14. "Burning Bridges" – Status Quo (1988)
  15. "The End of the World" – Skeeter Davis (1962)
  16. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" – Tears for Fears (1985)
  17. "Fields of Fire" – Big Country (1982)
  18. "Fire" – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (1968)
  19. "Flash" – Queen (1980)
  20. "Fools Rush In" – Ricky Nelson (1963)
  21. "Forget Me Not" – Martha and the Vandellas (1968)
  22. "Ghost Town" – The Specials (1981)
  23. "Gimme Hope Jo'anna" – Eddy Grant (1988)
  24. "Give Peace a Chance" – Plastic Ono Band (1969)
  25. "Heaven Help Us All" – Stevie Wonder (1970)
  26. "Hunting High and Low" – A-ha (1985)
  27. "I Don't Like Mondays" – The Boomtown Rats (1979)
  28. "I Don't Want to Be a Hero" – Johnny Hates Jazz (1987)
  29. "I Shot the Sheriff" – Eric Clapton (1974)
  30. "I Will Survive" – Arrival (1980)
  31. "I'll Fly for You" – Spandau Ballet (1984)
  32. "I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun" – Cat Stevens (1967)
  33. "I'm on Fire" – Bruce Springsteen (1984)
  34. "Imagine" – John Lennon (1971)
  35. "In the Air Tonight" – Phil Collins (1981)
  36. "In the Army Now" – Status Quo (1986)
  37. "Israelites" – Desmond Dekker and the Aces (1968)
  38. "Killer Queen" – Queen (1974)
  39. "Killing Me Softly with His Song" – Roberta Flack (1973)
  40. "Light My Fire" – José Feliciano (1968)
  41. "A Little Peace" – Nicole (1982)
  42. "Living on the Front Line" – Eddy Grant (1979)
  43. "Love Is a Battlefield" – Pat Benatar (1983)
  44. "Midnight at the Oasis" – Maria Muldaur (1974)
  45. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" – Joan Baez (1971)
  46. "Oliver's Army" – Elvis Costello (1979)
  47. "Rubber Bullets" – 10cc (1973)
  48. "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" – Kenny Rogers and The First Edition (1969)
  49. "Sailing" – Rod Stewart (1972)
  50. "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" – Elton John (1973)
  51. "Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)" – Mike + The Mechanics (1985)
  52. "Sixty Eight Guns" – The Alarm (1983)
  53. "Soldier of Love" – Donny Osmond (1989)
  54. "State of Independence" – Donna Summer (1982)
  55. "Stop the Cavalry" – Jona Lewie (1980)
  56. "Suicide Is Painless" – M*A*S*H (1970)
  57. "Two Tribes" – Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984)
  58. "Under Attack" – ABBA (1982)
  59. "A View to Kill" – Duran Duran (1985)
  60. "Walk Like an Egyptian" – The Bangles (1986)
  61. "War" – Edwin Starr (1970)
  62. "War Baby" – Tom Robinson (1982)
  63. "Warpaint" – The Brook Brothers (1961)
  64. "Waterloo" – ABBA (1974)
  65. "We Gotta Get out of This Place" – The Animals (1965)
  66. "When I'm Dead and Gone" – McGuinness Flint (1970)
  67. "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going" – Billy Ocean (1985)

See also[edit]


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