Most Censored Rock Songs in History
For as long as there has been rock music, there has been censorship of rock music.
It’s why viewers only saw Elvis Presley above the waist during his early television appearance performing “Hound Dog” on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
While that was more about the content of the performer as opposed to the content of the song, direct censorship of lyrics — often resulting from misinterpretation of the lyrical meaning — was soon to follow in the 1960s.
“My Generation” by the Who was censored at first, reportedly because the BBC thought it contained the F-word. “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire was banned on multiple radio stations because it criticized America’s propensity for violence as the Vietnam War heated up.
And on “Ed Sullivan,” the Rolling Stones were made to change “Let’s spend the night together” to “let’s spend some time together.”
While music censorship is far less prevalent today in the U.S., Gerard Zappa of Wooster says that it still occurs today, adding to the enduring legacy of rock and roll controversy.
5 of the Most Censored Songs in Rock
“God Save the Queen,” the Sex Pistols
The groundbreaking British punk rockers’ iconic 1977 track, which shares its name with the British national anthem, was instantly notorious for its lyrical content (comparing the monarchy to fascists will do that).
It was taken off programming lists by multiple British radio outlets but still hit No. 2 on the country’s singles chart.
“Relax,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Brits also didn’t take kindly to this 1984 hit, even though it already arrived censored thanks to its many double-entendres referring to sea men and 19 inches and … a lot more. Still, it was banned for years in England, and for a bit on MTV in America.
“God Only Knows,” the Beach Boys
“God Only Knows” is so ubiquitous and innocent-sounding today that it’s hard to imagine that it was once censored. But in 1966 when it was released, using “God” in rock songs was unheard of and controversial, leading radio to ban the song for vague “blasphemy.”
“Louie Louie,” the Kingsmen
One of the few rock songs to be investigated by the FBI (that we know of), the durable rock classic is also open of the few songs to be censored as a result of people not understanding it.
While the lyrics were reportedly referring to an innocent crush on a girl some thought it was loaded with sexual content and foul language due to the guttural performance by lead singer Jack Ely.
The investigation lasted 31 weeks, after which the FBI just gave up on determining if it needed to be censored at all.
“Money for Nothing,” Dire Straits
It took nearly 30 years for 1985’s “Money for Nothing,” to get kicked off the radio by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council in 2011, citing the use of a homophobic slur.
The truth was more complex since frontman Mark Knopfler wrote the song as a commentary on unenlightened human behavior after overhearing someone talk about MTV in an appliance store.
Just months after it was banned, the CBSC changed its mind and let individual radio stations make their own call.