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If a piece of music has a catchy beat and a good hook, people will end up singing along to lyrics about sex, murder, assault and/or violent revolution without even realizing it. That’s the sort of thing that’s made these songs popular enough to be banned, censored, or otherwise messed with by governments and organizations afraid of their power.

The Prodigy – “Smack My Bitch Up”

The third and last single from British electronica act The Prodigy’s 1997 album “Fat of the Land” instantly turned the band into tabloid fodder. Everything about “Smack My Bitch Up” seemed designed to grab tabloid headlines, from the profane title to the repetitive lyrics (sampled from an Ultramagnetic MC’s track). The video just put a cherry on top of the shock sundae, depicting a ribald night of drug use, sex and violence from a first-person view (that ends up being a young woman). The BBC banned it, the video was banned by MTV, and the album was pulled from Wal-Mart and K-Mart.

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin – “Je t’aime … moi non plus”

 

French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg has dabbled in many controversial topics in his long career, but “Je t’aime … moi non plus” really pushed things over the edge. The track, which was written as a duet for Brigitte Bardot but eventually released with ingénue Jane Birkin, is essentially just an orgasm on record. It was barred from being sold to anybody under the age of 21 and speculation began to circulate that Gainsbourg had just recorded he and Birkin making love in a studio. It was banned from radio airplay in multiple countries, including England, Italy and Portugal. Even the Vatican got in on the act, officially condemning the track.

Body Count – “Cop Killer”

The only way you could make hip-hop less acceptable to grown-ups in the 1990s was to mix it with heavy metal, and that’s just what rapper Ice-T did with Body Count, his crossover group. The band came to infamy with the 1992 release of “Cop Killer,” an excoriating song written from the perspective of a victim of police brutality who embarks on a revenge spree against the cops. The track received harsh rebukes from Charlton Heston, Dan Quayle and others. Death threats were sent to Warner Bros. executives and the song was eventually removed from future pressings of the album.

Sex Pistols – “God Save the Queen”

The reverence the British have for the Royal Family is perplexing to us Americans, but there’s no denying that they love their monarchy. So when the Sex Pistols dropped a brutal takedown of Queen Elizabeth on the year of her Silver Jubilee, there was widespread shock across the nation. The band attempted to play the song from a boat on the Thames on the Jubilee holiday itself, only to be arrested. The BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority also banned the track.

Prince – “Darling Nikki

One of the most notoriously sexual songs of all time, “Darling Nikki” was never released as a single from Prince’s Grammy Award-winning “Purple Rain” album, but it still stirred up a ton of controversy. The track tells the tale of a “sex fiend” who Prince meets in a lobby pleasuring herself with a magazine. “Darling Nikki” was the track that inspired Tipper Gore to create the Parents Music Resource Center to fight against explicit lyrics in pop tunes. When Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001, he stopped playing the song in concert.

XTC – “Dear God”

British new wave pop band XTC weren’t known for grabbing headlines, but their 1986 track “Dear God” did just that. An unflinching anti-religious song that vividly explores the extent of human suffering and asks how a just and loving God could allow it to happen, the track was condemned by many religious figures. One Florida radio station played the track on-air and immediately received firebombing threats from Christian zealots, and many stores refused to carry the album for fear of protests. Ironically, it was also the band’s biggest hit in the U.S.

Paris – “Bush Killa”

Making threats against the life of a United States president will get you a visit from the Secret Service, so it’s not surprising that San Francisco-based rapper Paris got into some trouble in the early ’90s for his song “Bush Killa.” The track off of his sophomore album “Sleeping With the Enemy” is an explicit revenge fantasy against George Bush, Sr., and when his label found out about the content they immediately dropped him. He eventually started his own label to release the record, including album art that depicted a machine gun-toting Paris hiding behind a tree to ambush Bush.

Michael Jackson – “They Don’t Care About Us”

The King of Pop courted controversy multiple times throughout his career, both intentionally and not. One song that got him in serious hot water was “They Don’t Care About Us” from 1996’s “HIStory: Past, Present and Future Book 1.” The song featured Jackson striking back against the world, and contained seriously anti-Semitic lyrics like “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me / Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me.” An embattled Jacko claimed that he didn’t have racist intent, but there was huge backlash from the media, and Jackson was forced to re-record the track with changed lyrics.

 

Rage Against the Machine – “Killing in the Name”

It’s fitting that Rage Against the Machine’s most iconic song is also their most controversial. “Killing in the Name” is the highlight of the band’s self-titled debut album, a scathing, brutal takedown on the U.S. military industrial complex, police brutality and institutionalized racism. Oh, and it also features liberal use of the F word, which got the band in trouble on multiple occasions. In 1993, a British DJ played the uncensored version in full during his Top 40 countdown, drawing hundreds of complaints from listeners.

It’s hard to believe that a three-chord wonder from the 1960s could have inspired a full-blown FBI investigation into the obscenity of its lyrics, but it was a different time. When Portland, Oregon, rock band The Kingsmen put out a cover of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” in 1963, it hit #2 on the Billboard charts. Singer Jack Ely’s nasally vocals were so muffled and hard to understand that moral crusaders imagined they heard all kinds of nasty stuff in there, and the song was banned by radio stations across the country. The FBI took 31 months to go through the recording, only to finally admit that they couldn’t understand a single word.

N.W.A. – FUCK THA POLICE
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
One of the most influential songs by one of hip hop’s most influential groups on their most influential album, 1988’s “Fuck Tha Police” prompted the FBI to write Ruthless Records an angry letter on its release and is still pissing off cops decades later. In 2011, New Zealand dub artist Tiki Taane was playing a set at a club that cops were performing a random inspection on; after sampling the song and singing a few lyrics (guess which ones) Taane found himself arrested on charges of “disorderly behavior likely to cause violence” which were later dropped on the grounds of being almost embarrassingly bullshit.

W.A.S.P. – ANIMAL (FUCK LIKE A BEAST)
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
Shock rockers W.A.S.P. (“We Are Satan’s Prophets,” “We Appreciate Stinky Pussy,” or “We Ate Savory Pancakes” depending on who you ask) had a guaranteed hit on their hands with “Animal” and were set on making it their debut single and the centerpiece of their first album. One minor issue: the infamous Parents Music Resource Center had so bullied Capitol over “Animal’s” content that they deleted it from the album. It was almost released as a Europe exclusive in a black bag with EXPLICIT LYRICS and WARNING: DO NOT BUY stickers all over it but Capitol chickened out of even that, forcing W.A.S.P. to release the single through an independent label. Today, the only reason you won’t hear “Animal” is because singer Blackie Lawless—now a born-again Christian—refuses to perform it.

CYNDI LAUPER – SHE BOP
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
Another target of the PMRC’s sexually frustrated rage was Cyndi Lauper and “She Bop,” a super-fun dance-pop song that is not actually about dancing at all. Reading between the lines and it’s pretty easy to figure out that the song’s about jilling off, but Lauper’s stated that she wanted it to be something kids would think was just about dancing and having fun and only eventually figure out that it was actually about that it wasn’t a bad, evil thing to masturbate. That’s probably the most positive and healthy message any pop song could ever communicate about sex, but it still earned a spot on the PMRC’s “Filthy Fifteen” with W.A.S.P., Prince, and Judas Priest, and as such is one of the reasons any sort of cool music gets a PARENTAL ADVISORY stamp on it.

SLAYER – ANGEL OF DEATH
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
This list could have easily been all metal songs—hell, this list could’ve just been ten Cannibal Corpse songs in a row—but Slayer’s classic “Angel of Death” manages the nod for almost not getting released by its own record company. Named after and based on the horrific experiments conducted by Josef Mengele in the Auschwitz death camp, “Angel of Death” caused Columbia Records to first delay and eventually ditch Reign in Blood; the album was eventually released by Geffen Records but not mentioned on the company’s official release list. Much of the controversy surrounded guitarist and song writer Jeff Hanneman’s hobby of collecting Nazi memorabilia, and while Slayer has always denied condoning racism, they sure did end up using a lot of SS and Nazi imagery afterwards. Of course, that might’ve been just because they realized the controversy was good for them—in 2006 they tried to recapture the magic with a song about 9/11 from a terrorist’s point of view, but as good as “Jihad” is, it’s no “Angel of Death.”

THE WHO – MY GENERATION
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
The famous stuttered delivery on “My Generation” was either a deliberate homage to John Lee Hooker’s “Stuttering Blues” or the result of Roger Daltrey trying to read Pete Townshend’s terrible handwriting, but to the BBC it was nothing less than a hateful attack on those with sp-sp-speech impediments. At least, that’s the story the Beeb put out as an explanation—many think the song was banned because the lyric “Why don’t you all f-f-fade away” was just suggestive enough of the f-bomb to rub censors the wrong way, or that the song in general was too uppity and revolutionary to be tolerated.

THE KINKS – LOLA
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
The BBC had an even weirder reason to shut down the Kinks’ famous celebration of sexy transvestites: unlawful product placement. Remember how the champagne down in old Soho tastes just like Coca-Cola (which sounds like some pretty nasty champagne, but whatever)? To the BBC, that was considered a sneaky ad for Coke, and Ray Davies actually had to re-dub the song with “tastes just like cherry cola” to have it suitable for UK airwaves.

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – RELAX
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
Although the lyrics to this ’80s classic are raunchy as hell, the BBC was pretty much cool with it until Radio 1 DJ Mike Read pitched a fit over the song’s content and the classic Anne Yvonne Gilbert album cover (dude, you’re on the radio, only you can see the cover). BBC loudly banned the single from airplay, although late-night DJs like John Peel played it regardless, and the negative publicity boosted the gay sex anthem to #1 in the charts, forcing BBC TV to display the band’s photo on Top of the Pops before playing a different band’s song instead. Oddly, there was almost no controversy about the song in the USA, possibly because Americans are as a rule not very good at listening to things.

OZZY OSBOURNE – SUICIDE SOLUTION
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
Close listening to Ozzy’s “Suicide Solution” would reveal that it’s a song about how alcoholism is essentially a drawn-out method of killing oneself—Osbourne claimed he sang the song with AC/DC’s Bon Scott in mind, although writer and bassist Bob Daisley revealed he basically wrote the song about Ozzy. Either way, lots of people apparently didn’t get the point, and the parents of depressed teen John McCollum claimed in court that the song drove him to suicide, pointing in particular to a barely audible line that they claimed said “Why try? Get the gun and shoot!” Daisley, Osbourne and the liner notes all stated that it was in fact “Get the flaps out,” a typically weird English phrase for “show us your vagina,” and ended up winning the case.

BARRY MCGUIRE – EVE OF DESTRUCTION
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
When “Eve of Destruction” was first released (almost by accident—the vocal track was meant to be a rough cut but an enthusiastic DJ put the “first draft” on the air the day after McGuire recorded it) it met immediate pushback from American conservatives who saw the song as everything wrong with modern youth: pessimistic, whiny and altogether unacceptably opposed to dying horrible deaths for nebulous reasons. Many American stations refused to play the song, some of them citing it as “an aid to the enemy in Vietnam” and the BBC put it on a special list of songs that couldn’t be played during general entertainment programs. Clean-cut pop music trio The Spokesmen even scored a hit single called “Dawn of Correction” as a right-wing answer to McGuire’s tune (“The Western world has a common dedication / To keep free people from Red domination”), but time has shown the original to be the better song, even after McGuire became a born-again Christian and briefly refused to play his biggest hit.

JIMMY BOYD – I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS
Music, Banned And Controversial Songs
What better way to celebrate the holidays than with an anthem to illicit affairs and the disruption of a child’s innocence? That was the official interpretation of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by the Catholic Church in Boston, and it pulled enough weight to get the album banned in many New England stores and radio stations. 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd had to personally visit the Boston archdiocese (presumably a grown man) to convince him that the song was actually about a child not understanding that Santa was his dad, and that there wasn’t actually any sort of extramarital sex occurring with a pagan forest elf. The Church lifted their opposition, and today the song is a Christmas classic, alongside updates like the Swedish band Onkel Kankel’s “I Saw Santa Suck Off Daddy,” which apparently the Boston archdiocese is unaware of.

20 OF THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL SONGS OF ALL TIME

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