Battles Of The Banned! The door To Yesterday. Alan Warner. 2019.

 Facebook supposedly once deleted audio of a 300 year-old tune 

by Johann Sebastian Bach because they believed it was an unauthorized performance of a copyrighted work. 

Welcome to the world of music censorship!

That was an extreme case but it is fascinating to look back at how and why popular music has often been deemed

 as unacceptable to the general public. When network television bleeps out what are considered offensive lyrics from songs 

performed by today’s rock and hip-hop artists on such TV shows as the annual Grammy Awards specials, it’s worth remembering 

that in his early days, Elvis Presley was once photographed only from the waist up as producers of the Ed Sullivan Show believed

 that the singer’s gyrating hips might have caused offence to the viewing audience!  


There are countless examples of popular songs that ran into censorship problems

 over the decades  on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Here are just a few random examples….


One of the most documented instances concerned the song LOUIE LOUIE written by R&B singer Richard Berry

 who, in addition to recording with doo-wop group The Flairs and recording his own novelty singles such as his composition 

OH! OH! GET OUT OF THE CAR on Flair in ’54, he was the rich-voiced narrator in the opening of the Leiber & Stoller hit 

RIOT IN CELL BLOCK #9 by The Robins on Spark in ’54; after that he provided the uncredited male ‘Henry’ voice on

 THE WALLFLOWER (Etta James/Johnny Otis) by Etta James & ‘The Peaches’ on Modern in ’55.  

Richard Berry From Ace Records. The Door To Yesterday. Alan Warner 2019

 Initially released by Richard Berry & The Pharaohs 

in 1957 on the independent west coast label Flip

LOUIE LOUIE became a bona fide hit

 when the Oregon-based group The Kingsmen 

revived the song and it was picked up in ’63 

by Wand Records, ending up at #2 on the Hot 100.

It was an innocuous-enough song 

with harmless lyric lines such as 

A fine little girl she waits for me/Me catch the ship across the sea” 

but rumors that the Kingsmen’s single might contain indecent 

references if the record was played at different speeds fueled 

controversy particularly when word got around that the FBI were investigating it for obscene  content. In the end, nothing untoward resulted from the inspection and over the ensuing years,

 LOUIE LOUIE’s popularity grew like wildfire and hundreds of performers committed it to wax including major names ranging 

from Bruce Springsteen, Otis Redding and Robert Plant 

to Iggy Pop, The Kinks and The Beach Boys! 

Songs which included colorful lyrics were often toned down

 for different markets. A good case in point is the early rock ‘n’ roll 

hit SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROLL written by Charles Calhoun 

alias Jesse Stone. The song was originally recorded by bluesman 

Joe Turner & His Blues Kings on Atlantic in ’54 

and one of its lyric lines ran

 “Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin' through

I can't believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you”. 

However, for a successful mass market cover version 

by Bill Haley & His Comets (Decca: 1954), that line was rewritten as

 “Wearing those dresses, your hair done up so nice

You look so warm, but your heart is cold as ice”.

1954 was also the year in which Hank Ballard and his group 

The Midnighters lit up the cash registers with his composition 


  on the Federal label although its suggestive lyrics 

and those of two further songs 


 were banned by many radio stations.

Etta James The Door To Yesterday. Alan Warner. 2019

 A year later, Etta James topped the R&B listings with the aforementioned THE WALLFLOWER which was conceived  

by Etta along with Johnny Otis as an answer song to 


In the same way that Bill Haley reworked 


with an alternative lyric, so Georgia Gibbs followed 

Etta James’ #1 R&B smash THE WALLFLOWER success revising 

“Roll With Me Henry” as DANCE WITH ME HENRY 

and her single on Mercury topped the Hot 100 Pop market. 

In 1956, New Orleans songwriter/producer Dave Bartholomew

 cut his composition ONE NIGHT with the singer/guitarist 

Smiley Lewis on the Imperial label.

The opening lyric ran 

One night of sin/Is what I’m now paying for” 

and although it’s not known if that phrase prevented 

the record achieving airplay, when Elvis Presley 

successfully recorded the song two years later, 

the opening words became 

One night with you/Is what I’m now praying for”. 

Thirty-one years after that, Joe Cocker revived the song 

and reclaimed Dave’s original lyric, issuing it as the title song

 of his 1989 Capitol album “One Night Of Sin”. 

Over the years, radio in this country has had a long history 

of banning popular songs. Stations often decided 

to shield their listeners from records containing 

what programmers believed were indecent or provocative lyrics. 

It was therefore not surprising that Mick Jagger & Keith Richards’ landmark 1965 Rolling Stones single (I Can’t Get No) SATISFACTION 

met with strong resistance, resulting in it being removed 

from the airwaves. 

A couple of years after that when the Stones appeared on 

the Ed Sullivan Show to perform LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER, they were asked to amend the song’s title 

and for that one TV performance, Mick sang 

“Let’s spend some time together”. 

Lloyd Price Stagger Lee. The Door To Yesterday Album Cover. Alan Warner. 2019

 Television had also been responsible for a lyric change back in 1958, when R&B singer Lloyd Price co-wrote 

(with Harold Logan) and recorded an updated version of the old blues tale about the gambler STAGGER LEE. 

  Issued on an ABC-Paramount single, the lyric included the lines

 “Stagger Lee shot Billy/Oh he shot the poor boy so bad/Till the bullet came through Billy/And it broke the bartender’s glass”. 

“American Bandstand” host Dick Clark thought the lyric far too violent for inclusion on his show which resulted 

in Lloyd Price recording a heavily sanitized version of his song for use on that one program. 

ALONG COMES MARY (Tandyn Almer) by The Association (Valiant: 1966) was often banned by radio stations because

 at that time, the name Mary was associated with marijuana. Copious other songs that were similarly accused of containing 

drug references included WHITE RABBIT by Jefferson Airplane, A DAY IN THE LIFE and 


and even PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON by Peter, Paul & Mary.

Salacious language and dubious sexual references in lyrics have regularly ruffled the censors’ feathers on both sides of the Atlantic. 

For example, the 1983 song RELAX (Holly Johnson/Peter Gill/Mark O’Toole) by Liverpool group Frankie Goes To Hollywood

 alluded to gay sex and even though it was a major chart song in Britain, the record’s local airplay was restricted.

Inflammatory song titles also came under close scrutiny such as the titillating ME SO HORNY

 (Mark Ross/Ricardo Williams) by Florida rappers 2 Live Crew; that song sparked major headlines when it was

 released in 1989 and their explicit album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was not surprisingly banned from record stores.


Songs referring to religion and particularly God often ran into the crosshairs of 

overseas radio programmers. In 1953, for example, American singer Frankie Laine charted 

with a ballad titled ANSWER ME, LORD ABOVE

(Gerhard Winkler/Fred Raunch/Carl Sigman)

    which was based on a German song titled “Mutterlein”. 

The BBC in London banned Frankie’s record and a cover version by British singer 

David Whitfield because of the lyric’s religious connotation. 

Both Laine and Whitfield recut the song replacing the opening phrase 

Answer me, Lord above” with “Answer me, oh my love”. 

David Whitfield’s second recording then went to #1 in the UK 

and a few months later, a version by Nat King Cole 

with the revised lyric titled ANSWER ME, MY LOVE 

went to #6 on Billboard’s pop chart in early ’54. 



Frankie Laine

Frankie Laine. The Door To Yesterday. Alan Warner. 2019

 Frankie Laine’s original ANSWER ME, LORD ABOVE and 74 other records that were banned by Britain’s 

government-controlled  BBC between 1931 and 1957 were gathered together by broadcaster and journalist 

Spencer Leigh on a 3-CD box set titled “This Record Is Not To Be Broadcast” which my friend Bob Fisher

 issued in 2008 on the UK label he co-founded, Acrobat Music. 

What this collection underlined was just how wide and varied the BBC’s net spread 

when it came to their directors positioning themselves as arbiters of social taste and style. 

While one can understand negative reaction to the double entendre of Billy Ward & His Dominoes’ 


 causing concern, some of the other victims such as British singer Lita Roza’s KEEP ME IN MIND and Frank Sinatra’s

 version of (How Little It Matters) HOW LITTLE WE KNOW seemed rather tame by comparison.

In 1961, A HUNDRED POUNDS OF CLAY (Bob Elgin/Luther Dixon/Kay Rogers) 

was a #3 Pop hit here by Gene McDaniels on the Liberty label.  

The song was immediately covered for the British market by local singer 

Craig Douglas on Top Rank, the UK label that had recently been purchased by EMI. The Beeb instantly objected 

to an irreverent part of the lyric. Consequently Craig Douglas’s 45 was withdrawn and re-recorded so that, 

for instance, the line “He created a woman and a-lots of lovin’ for a man” 

was replaced by “He created old Adam then he made a woman for the man”. 

The BBC also strictly prohibited songs that referred to commercial products.

For instance, Ray Davies gave in and recorded a revised version of his 

1970 Kinks hit LOLA replacing the words ‘Coca Cola’ with ‘Cherry Cola’

Similarly in ’73 when Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show hit the Top Ten here with Shel Silverstein’s 

song THE COVER OF ‘ROLLING STONE’, BBC Radio in London refused to play it under that title

so Dr. Hook (billed as Dr. Hook & Friends) revised and reissued it as THE COVER OF ‘RADIO TIMES’ 

referencing the BBC’s equivalent of TV Guide! 

Let’s finish with The Sex Pistols, the poster boys for the 1970’s punk revolution and their second single 

which struck a brazen, blasphemous tone with the British establishment. Issued here on Warner Bros., 

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN (Johnny Rotten/Steve Jones/Glen Matlock/Paul Cook) hit #2 on the British chart

 in June ’77 despite being banned by the BBC; it was released in the UK on Virgin after EMI had dropped the band 

following their drunken and foul language-ridden appearance on live television. 

With Johnny Rotten’s lead vocal, GOD SAVE THE QUEEN is a first-class rock 45 

driven by a vigorous guitar riff played by bassist Glen Matlock 

who was later replaced in the group by Sid Vicious

Rock on.

Alan Warner

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