The BBC has deemed many records unfit for air since it began radio transmissions in the 1920s. Songs have been considered unbroadcastable for countless reasons, though offenders have frequently breached rules on religious grounds, and because of drug references, profanity and attacks on the monarchy.
Songs of a sexual nature, such as Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, have benefitted in no uncertain measure to their censure, shooting up to No.1, but what about the times where a song has been cast aside and the reason is just plain weird? Here are eight songs that didn't pass muster for what now seems like the most arbitrary of reasons.
My Generation - The Who
Reason for banning: Possibly offensive to stutterers
Like The Smiths' How Soon Is Now? in the 80s and Pulp's Common People in the 90s, My Generation is a song that captures the youthful zeitgeist of its time and has become indelibly linked with the era that made it famous. The Who's turbocharged hit was the sound of mid-60s rebellion, and it was so dangerous the BBC decided to ban it. But wait a minute; the song didn't offend censors at the implication of a swear word that never quite materialises, or because of the anarchical outro they'd play live that would sometimes involve Pete Townshend smashing his guitar to pieces and Keith Moon blowing up his drum kit… the record was actually banned because of Roger Daltrey's vocal stutter, and the fear that it might be offensive to other stutterers. By the time the single had sold around 300,000 copies, and given that other stations were playing it on heavy rotation, the BBC relaxed its ban.
Space Oddity - David Bowie
Reason for banning: Astronauts on dangerous mission
Longtime David Bowie producer and "principled hippy" Tony Visconti passed over the chance to produce Space Oddity because at the time he said it was a "cheap shot", recorded in order to get some publicity when the Apollo 11 mission was in the news in 1969 (future Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon took the job instead). The fact it was so topical actually worked against the song that would became the singer's first big hit - for a few weeks anyway - when the BBC refused to play it until Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins had landed safely back down to earth. The lifting of the embargo then saw the record drift as high as No.5, and it went to No.1 in the UK six years later when RCA re-released it at the height of Bowie mania. According to Paul Trynka's book Starman, Visconti admits he has "grown to like it a bit".
Lola - The Kinks
Reason for banning: Advertising
Just three years after the Sexual Offences Act was passed in 1967 in the UK, The Kinks' Ray Davies took on what might have been considered a taboo subject in the song Lola - where he dances and drinks champagne with either a cross-dressing male or perhaps a trans woman (the first sex change operations requiring surgery and hormone therapy began in the early 1950s). Despite the subject matter, Lola passed the censors but fell foul of a reference to a soft drink company. As Ultimate Classic Rock reported, Davies had to dash across the Atlantic to overdub the words "cherry" and "cola", which appeased the committee and no doubt gave the Atlantan drinks giant ideas for a future product line. A good many songs were banned because of inadvertent product placement, from Chuck Berry's Maybellene (a cosmetics company, albeit with a different spelling) to Pink Floyd's passing reference to a London newspaper in the 1968 song It Would Be So Nice.
Summer Smash - Denim
Reason for banning: The death of the Princess of Wales
Indie darling Lawrence of Belgravia, also of Felt and Go-Kart Mozart, was the victim of very bad timing when his poptastic Summer Smash was banned by the BBC in 1997. The titular onomatopoeia was considered too much given the sad circumstances of Princess Diana's death in a tunnel in Paris that summer. Denim weren't the only ones needing to make changes; Kylie Minogue's "Britpop-inspired" fifth album Impossible Princess was delayed until 1998 and had to be eponymously titled for a while because of the tragedy. In times of war, it has become common for a long list of tunes to be blacklisted; most famously, the first Gulf War saw Phil Collins's In the Air Tonight added to the list (because it might remind listeners of scud missiles).
Landing of the Daleks - The Earthlings
Reason for ban: Use of morse code
Proto-electronic outfit The Earthlings from Birmingham were inspired in 1965 by a hot new BBC science fiction show called Doctor Who. The BBC had no objections to the appropriation of the notorious extraterrestrial mutants from the series, but it did take issue with the broadcasting of an SOS in Morse code, which appears about two thirds of the way in. It was decided that the record might be broadcast at a later date if the code was in some way scrambled. Presumably it would have been fine post-1998 when Morse code as a way for ships to Mayday was replaced with a new satellite safety system, though by then it may have lost some of its relevancy.
Read more: 7 secret codes and ciphers hidden in music
Monster Mash - Bobby 'Boris' Pickett
Reason for ban: "Too morbid"
Massachusetts singer Bobby Pickett wrote novelty song Monster Mash in 1962 to spoof dance crazes such as The Twist and The Mashed Potato that were prevalent at the time. As a member of a club band called The Cordials, he'd penned the track with his band mate Leonard Capizzi, and he decided to adopt 'Boris' in his stage name in reference to the legendary horror film actor Boris Karloff who he impersonates throughout the record. With lyrics like "it was a graveyard smash", the BBC failed to see the funny side and banned the song for being "too morbid". Though it made No.1 on the Billboard charts in the year it was written, the offending novelty hit didn't chart in the UK until 1973, when it went to No.3.
Sink the Bismarck - Johnny Horton
Reason for ban: Factual inconsistencies
Saga ballad specialist Johnny Horton followed up his biggest hit, 1959's The Battle of New Orleans, with another country-tinged historical tale featuring military drumming the following year. Sink the Bismarck from 1960 was a chart success despite the fact the committee frowned upon its historical inaccuracies, such as the claim the Second World War began in 1941 in the first line, and that the first pressing of the single spelled the name of the ship incorrectly (the sleeve carried the typo "Bismark"). After critics had panned the single, the BBC stopped playing it. Despite antipathy from the broadcaster, the song went to No.3 in the UK charts in May of that year, though Horton's luck was to be short-lived, as was his life: he was tragically killed in a car crash six months later, aged just 35.
Three Stars - Ruby Wright
Reason for ban: "Nauseating material"
Indiana country singer-songwriter Ruby Wright (not to be confused with the more famous Tennessee-born country singer Ruby Wright) squeezed into the Top 20 in 1959 with a song in tribute to Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, who had all died earlier that year in a plane crash. With the help of Cincinnati DJ Dick Pike, who provided mawkish spoken word during the verses, they paid tribute to the day the music died some 12 years before Don McLean. The BBC tended to frown upon death discs such as The Shangri-Las' The Leader of the Pack and Ricky Valance's Tell Laura I Love Her during the 50s and 60s, and behind closed doors it referred to Three Stars as a "nauseating piece of material".