40 Iconic Songs That Were Banned From The Radio For Ridiculous Reasons

It may seem silly but sometimes the powers that be take offense at certain songs. Maybe a band’s being deliberately offensive, perhaps the lyrics aren’t suitable for children, or maybe something happens that suddenly casts a song in a new light. It was once forbidden even for some classics to be played on certain stations. And seemingly nothing will increase a track’s popularity more than banning it.

40. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax

The BBC didn’t relax when Frankie Goes to Hollywood released this family-unfriendly song in 1983. DJ Mike Read refused to play it on the radio and the BBC television execs definitely refused to broadcast the original music video. It did after all feature stripping Roman emperors, amusingly metaphorical showers of champagne, and assorted violent acts.

39. Bobby Darin – Splish Splash

How could anyone take offence at Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash,” a frankly ludicrous story of a man climbing out of his bathtub and joining a party? Well, the 1950s managed it. There were no references to sex in the song, but radio stations noted that Darin’s narrator was navigating this fictional party dressed in nothing but a towel. That was too much for the authorities, so down came the ban.

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38. Britney Spears – If U Seek Amy

The title of Spears’ 2009 song “If U Seek Amy” seems innocent at first. But if you say it out loud – well. The president of the Parents Television Council informed Rolling Stone magazine that year, “There is no misinterpreting the lyrics to this song, and it’s certainly not about a girl named Amy.” He demanded that it no longer be played on the radio, and in the end Spears had to release a new version of the track, with a new title.

37. Peter, Paul and Mary – Puff the Magic Dragon

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The sweet children’s song “Puff the Magic Dragon” first made it to the airwaves in 1963, but years later U.S. vice president Spiro Agnew decided it was really about drugs. His influence was enough to have the song banned, and the group Peter, Paul and Mary never forgot it. They still make pointed references to the boycott at their concerts.

36. Rage Against the Machine – Take the Power Back

In 2015 the State of Arizona banned Rage Against the Machine’s “Take the Power Back” from being played in schools. The authorities issued a “notice of noncompliance” after it was used in Mexican-American history classes. That sort of thing was presumably the reason the band were raging against the machine in the first place.

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35. John Lennon – Imagine

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In 1972 John Lennon told Record Mirror magazine that his song “Imagine” was “too real for people, so nobody bought it. It was banned on the radio.” It was the line “Imagine there’s no heaven, and no religion too” that some parties objected to. And some funeral homes reportedly still refuse to play it today.

34. The Kinks – Lola

“Lola” by The Kinks is all about sex and gender – but that wasn’t why it was banned. The BBC instead pulled it as it broke regulations with a reference to Coca-Cola. Ray Davis had to fly mid-tour from the U.S. to the U.K. and re-dub the line with “cherry cola.” BBC airplay then helped the track rise to number two on the British singles charts.

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33. Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight

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There’s pretty much nothing controversial about “In the Air Tonight” but world events still saw it banned. Twice, in fact. During the Gulf War the BBC refused to play it, reportedly because it conjured up images of missiles. Then after 9/11 it was one of many songs banned by Clear Channel Communications, with the same justification.

32. Dottie O’Brien – Four or Five Times

Only one version of “Four or Five Times,” a song originally released in 1928, was ever banned from the airwaves. That was the version sung by a woman, Dottie O’Brien. All of a sudden radio stations decided that lyrics such as “What I like most is to have someone who is true / Who will love me, too / Four or five times,” were provocative and unacceptable.

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31. 2 Live Crew – Me So Horny

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“Me So Horny” caused an absolute uproar. The album it appeared on, 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty as They Wanna Be, was deemed so dangerous by the authorities that in 1990 the band were actually arrested. They weren’t convicted in the end, and the outrage propelled both song and its performers to nationwide fame. Oops.

30. The Beach Boys – God Only Knows

When The Beach Boys released “God Only Knows” in 1966, it was almost unheard of for “God” to be mentioned in a pop song title. And some radio stations in the United States didn’t approve of this at all. So they declared it an example of blasphemy and banned the track. Ironically, though, Brain Wilson intended the song to pay tribute to his own religious beliefs.

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29. Paul McCartney – Hi Hi Hi

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The BBC banned Paul Cartney’s “Hi Hi Hi” because of alleged sex and drug allusions. McCartney didn’t deny them when speaking to Rolling Stone magazine in 1974, saying, “I thought the ‘Hi Hi Hi’ thing could easily be taken as a natural high… It doesn’t have to be drugs, you know, so I’d kind of get away with it. Well, the first thing they saw was drugs, so I didn’t get away with that.”

28. Olivia Newton-John – Physical

When Olivia Newton-John released the song “Physical” in 1981, a couple of radio stations in Utah decided to ban it from the airwaves. Jim Sumpter, the program director of KFMY, told Billboard magazine at the time that the song “caused an uncomfortableness among listeners.” But the track was still a big hit.

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27. Eminem – The Real Slim Shady

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Fines were imposed upon radio stations that played Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.” One in Wisconsin was handed a $7,000 bill for airing the track in its unedited form. But more curiously a Colorado Springs broadcaster was fined the same amount for playing an edited version. The Colorado fine was eventually withdrawn.

26. George Michael – I Want Your Sex

Even the title of George Michael’s 1987 track was shocking to some. And the song itself was thought to recommend unsafe sex, which was a major concern at the time. So it was hastily banned from many American radio stations. The BBC also refused to broadcast it before 9:00 p.m. These days, though, it isn’t nearly so contentious.

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25. Lorde – Royals

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Of all the bans on songs that have ever existed, the one against Lorde’s “Royals” has to be among the oddest. It was pulled from some Bay Area radio stations in the run-up to an MLB game that saw the San Francisco Giants play the Kansas City Royals. Kansas supporters had adopted Lorde’s song as their own, hence the ban.

24. The Beatles – Happiness is a Warm Gun

The Beatles song “Happiness is a Warm Gun” was controversial on release and banned by the BBC. First of all, it contained lines that sounded like they could be allusions to drugs. Secondly, people took the “warm gun” in the song to mean something else entirely. According to Lennon, it was actually an anti-firearms song.

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23. Loretta Lynn – The Pill

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Loretta Lynn’s 1975 song “The Pill” was a celebration of birth control. And that didn’t go down well with some radio stations. More than 50 of them declined to air the track. But Lynn stood firm and told People that same year, “If I’d had the pill back when I was havin’ babies I’d have taken ’em like popcorn.”

22. NWA – F*** Tha Police

The band NWA were tired of being persecuted by the police due to their race, so they made a song about the subject. It ended up being one of the most controversial tracks of the 1980s. The song was banned from the radio, and the police arrested the group when they defied requests from the authorities and played the track on stage. That obviously didn’t help matters much.

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21. Frank Loesser – Baby, It’s Cold Outside

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The Oscar-winning Christmas track “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” gained a bad reputation as it grew older and values changed. These days, the lyrics could imply that something non-consensual is taking place. Because of this several radio stations won’t play the song anymore. Loesser can’t give his opinion, though – he died in 1962.

20. The Kingsmen – Louie Louie

The crisis over The Kingsmen’s 1963 hit “Louie Louie” was downright farcical. Parents insisted the song’s lyrics were filthy, the state of Indiana outlawed it and the FBI spent two years – two years! – slowing down and speeding up the record to try to identify obscene words. The eventual conclusion? The song was in fact not obscene.

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19. Donna Summer – Love to Love You, Baby

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Rumor had it that Donna Summer really had performed a sex act during the recording of “Love to Love You, Baby.” She hadn’t, but that didn’t stop the 17-minute track being very controversial. The Reverend Jesse Jackson campaigned against the song in the U.S., and in the U.K. the BBC refused to air it.

18. The Drifters – Honey Love

The lyrics of 1954’s “Honey Love” go: “I need it, I need it when the moon is bright. I need it, I need it when you hold me tight.” Cops in Memphis took “it” to mean “sex” and were appalled. They then outlawed the song from being played on jukeboxes and personally seized copies of the single. But was the song dirty or did they just have dirty minds?

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17. ABBA – Waterloo

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Surely there’s nothing objectionable about ABBA’s 1974 Eurovision-winning hit “Waterloo?” Well, during the Gulf War, the BBC became skittish and banned every song that had even the slightest allusion warfare in it. And with the track referencing a famous historical battle and all, “Waterloo” was on the BBC’s list.

16. Gordon Lightfoot – Black Day in July

Gordon Lightfoot wrote the song “Black Day in July” about the 1967 Detroit race riots. But some American radio stations refused to play the song, which disgusted Lightfoot. In 1968 he told the CBC radio show Metronome, “A lot of them don’t want to upset their listeners. It’s the housewife in the morning, let’s give her something that’ll make her happy. Why give her something that’ll make her think?”

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15. The Notorious B.I.G – Juicy

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If not for the 9/11 attacks, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” probably wouldn’t have been banned. But the 1994 song contained the line “Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade.” It was a reference to both being famous and the less catastrophic 1993 attack on the WTC. Yet even today those lyrics aren’t played on the radio.

14. Jimmy Boyd – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

When “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” first came out in 1952 it was sung by a 13-year-old boy, Jimmy Boyd. He probably didn’t anticipate what would happen next. Church leaders were shocked and some radio stations banned the song. Boyd had to explain that “mommy” in the song isn’t having an affair – she’s kissing her husband who’s dressed as Santa.

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13. Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines

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When “Blurred Lines” came out people were appalled at how it treated consent. Robin Thicke sang lyrics such as “I hate these blurred lines, I know you want it.” And he didn’t exactly conduct himself well in interviews, either. In 2013 he told GQ magazine, “People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman.’” A number of colleges refused to allow their radio stations to play it.

12. Shirley Bassey – Burn My Candle

Shirley Bassey’s debut single “Burn My Candle” had some pretty suggestive lyrics. It included lines such as “Who has a notch that’s on the handle/Open my door and spurn the scandal/Who wants to help me burn my candle at both ends.” The BBC were shocked and banned it. That clearly didn’t hurt Bassey’s career, though.

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11. Queen – I Want To Break Free

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When Queen released “I Want To Break Free” in America, it was met with outrage. It wasn’t so much the lyrics of the song itself, but the video that accompanied it, which showed Freddie Mercury in drag. This was too much for American sensibilities, and MTV didn’t broadcast the song. Queen took a hit in the U.S. but continued to be massive almost everywhere else.

10. The Shirelles – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow

The Shirelles’ song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow today. But to 1960s audiences it was clearly about a girl losing her virginity, and that was shocking. Multiple American radio stations ended up boycotting it. But the song still made music history as the first single from a female black group to reach Billboard’s number one spot.

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9. Tom Robinson – Glad to be Gay

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Tom Robinson was proud to be gay, and he wrote a song saying so. It became an anthem for the LGBT community in 1970s Britain. But the BBC clutched their pearls and banned it, although DJ John Peel defied that order from above. Ironically, many years later Robinson became a BBC radio presenter himself.

8. Lady Gaga – Judas

Lady Gaga caused an absolute storm when she released her song “Judas” in 2011. It was banned from an entire country. The Lebanese government deemed the track sacrilegious. And not only could it not be played on the radio there, but the authorities also confiscated copies of Gaga’s album before they could be distributed.

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7. The Game – Red Nation

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In 2011 MTV and BET banned the single “Red Nation” by The Game. According to a tweet by The Game, the reason given was that he and featured artist Lil Wayne “were too gang affiliated in it.” The song went on to be a hit anyway, though. And it later transpired to be a favorite of the Navy Seal who shot Osama bin Laden.

6. Heaven 17 – We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang

Heaven 17’s 1981 song didn’t go easy on Ronald Reagan. The band labeled him a “fascist god in motion” and asked, “Have you heard it on the news / About this fascist groove thang? / Evil men with racist views / Spreadin’ all across the land.” Despite the group being British rather than American, the BBC still decided to ban it.

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5. Body Count – Cop Killer

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The title of the song “Cop Killer” speaks for itself. Ice-T and his band Body Count released the track in 1992 and it was an unflinching piece of rage against the American police. Ice-T was suddenly placed on the FBI’s National Threat list and, terrifyingly, cops warned record store staff that if they carried on stocking the record police would no longer take their 911 calls.

4. The Wizard of Oz – Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead

The song “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead” celebrates the death of a villain in The Wizard of Oz. But in 2013 pranksters decided to use it to celebrate a different death. After the passing of the unpopular former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher, some Brits bought copies of “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead” hoping to propel it to number one in the charts. It only made number two, and the BBC just played a snippet of the song.

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3. Madonna – Like a Prayer

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Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” was incredibly controversial at the time of its release. The imagery used in the video was criticized by the Vatican, and Pepsi had to ditch a planned campaign that used the track. Madonna paid tribute to the track on Instagram in 2019, noting that she’d tried to share the video the previous day but it’d been blocked.

2. The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen

The Sex Pistols released “God Save the Queen” in 1977, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. But it wasn’t a celebration of her – it was the exact opposite. The lyrics included: “God save the queen / She ain’t no human being / There is no future / In England’s dreaming.” People were outraged. A politician even publicly wished for the death of the band, and the BBC refused to play the song.

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1. Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

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The song “Strange Fruit” is based on a poem that was written to protest a lynching. When Billie Holiday sang it in 1939, there were plenty who didn’t want to hear. Radio stations decided not to play it and Holiday’s record label Columbia refused to record it. But in 1999 Time magazine deemed it to be the most important track of the 20th century.

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