The FCC may revoke a station license, impose a monetary forfeiture or issue a warning if a station airs obscene, indecent or profane material. – FCC.gov
With that threat, it’s no wonder that radio stations and music channels ban songs for a single offensive word. So artists, unwilling to lose record sales, often give in and record an alternate track for broadcast.
Here’s our list of the Top 11 Censored Songs. Did we leave any off the list? Let us know in the Comments section below. Just watch your language.
11. They Don’t Care About Us by Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson, whose career was built around songs of love and brotherhood, drew heavy criticism with the 1995 release of They Don’t Care About Us. The track, from the album HIStory, included the lyrics, “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me / Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me.”
“The idea that these lyrics could be deemed objectionable is extremely hurtful to me, and misleading. The song in fact is about the pain of prejudice and hate,” Jackson told the New York Times. “I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man. I am not the one who was attacking… I am angry and outraged that I could be so misinterpreted.”
Jackson later apologized and returned to the studio to substitute “Do me” and “Strike me” for “Jew me” and “kike me.” On the two music videos for the song, directed by Spike Lee, sound effects were added to mask the offending words.
They Don’t Really Care About Us by Michael Jackson (original version)
They Don’t Really Care About Us by Michael Jackson (edited video)
10. Money for Nothing by Dire Straits
Dire Straits’ 1985 hit Money for Nothing has been called homophobic for its use of the gay slur “faggot.” Singer Mark Knopfler said he wrote the song in the voice of a “real ignoramus,” a deliveryman watching music videos on MTV. Aware that some would be offended by the term, the band recorded several versions of the song for radio play. One version replaced the word with “mother”; another cut the verse completely. The song reached No. 1 in 1985.
In January 2011, more than 25 years after the song’s release, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) banned radio stations from playing the unedited version after receiving one complaint. “WHAT a waste of paper,” Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher wrote. “You can and should be allowed to write a song or poem and use language that is or has been in use by real people in everyday life.”
After much negative press and listener outrage, the CBSC lifted the ban August 31, 2011. Canadian radio stations were again free to play the unedited version of Money for Nothing.
Money for Nothing by Dire Straits
9. With a Little Help From My Friends by the Beatles
With a Little Help From My Friends seemed innocent enough when it appeared on the Beatles’ 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But in a September 1970 speech, Vice President Spiro Agnew quoted the lyric “I get high with a little help from my friends” and said, “It’s a catchy tune, but until it was pointed out to me, I never realized that the ‘friends’ were assorted drugs with such nicknames as ‘Mary Jane,’ ‘Speed’ and ‘Benny.’”
The FCC soon issued a notice to radio stations warning of songs that “tend to glorify or promote the use of illegal drugs.” The songs included the Byrds’ Eight Miles High and Brewer and Shipley’s One Toke Over the Line. Unwilling to risk losing their FCC licenses, many stations banned songs on the list. “It’s really about a little help from my friends, it’s a sincere message,” John Lennon told Rolling Stone.
But Paul McCartney, in Many Years From Now, admitted, “Because it was the pot era, we had to slip in a little reference: ‘I get high!’”
With a Little Help From My Friends by the Beatles
8. You Don’t Know How It Feels by Tom Petty
Even though Tom Petty’s You Don’t Know How It Feels won MTV’s Best Male Video in 1995 the song couldn’t escape censorship from the network. Petty’s offense was the line “Let me get to the point / Let’s roll another joint.” “Standards and Practices at MTV told Warner Bros. they would not show the video with the word ‘joint’ in it,” said Petty’s press agent. “Tom is aware of this – and he’s not pleased with this – but there’s no other information to report.”
Petty went back to the studio to produce two alternatives. One was to reverse the word, transforming “joint” into the unintelligible “tnioj.” The other solution was to change “Let’s roll another joint” to “Let’s hit another joint,” which completely changes the meaning of the word.
“I don’t want to be seen as some advocate for dope,” Petty told Musician magazine. “It just seemed like something the character in that song would say.”
You Don’t Know How It Feels by Tom Petty
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