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  • Writer's pictureReece Bithrey

Taking A Little Look Into The BBC's Banned Songs List

(Picture Credit - BBC)

It's a well-known fact that the BBC used to ban songs for all manner of reasons. Be it down to sex, drugs or violence, there was always a BBC overlord there to spoil the musical party. As times have gone on, the broadcaster has taken a more lenient view on music, but there was a time where they were as vigilant as a plainclothes copper. Here we're going to take a look at some of the tunes that the BBC deemed as dangerous to air.


The Sex Pistols - God Save The Queen

(Picture Credit - Rolling Stone)

Released in the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, God Save The Queen created some mass hysteria, so much so that some outlets couldn't even bear to publish the song's name. In a stand for traditionalist views, the BBC banned the raunchy punk rockers' second single, partially for the descriptions of the monarch as a"fascist". Despite its banning, God Save The Queen apparently outsold that week's number one - Rod Stewart's I Don’t Want To Talk About It and The First Cut Is The Deepest. It's pretty well-publicised about their zany PR stunt of sailing a boat down the Thames past the Houses Of Parliament to promote the single - there's been no song as shouty and controversial since and it's rather unlikely to happen again.


Louis Armstrong - Mack The Knife

(Picture Credit - NPR)

Rolling back the years a little more takes us to 1956 and Louis Armstrong's version of popular song Mack The Knife, although the song's most famous version may be attributed to Bobby Darin. The reason for banning the upbeat number - it's supposedly about a bloodthirsty murderer. Whilst it's not downbeat musically, its lyrical content is the main culprit of being banned - "On the sidewalk, one Sunday morning/ Lies a body, oozin' life/ Someone's sneaking round the corner/ Could that someone be Mack the Knife?". The lyrics are majorly subtle references to bloodshed, but it doesn't take all too long to work it all out. Regardless of lyrical content, it's still an iconic track.


The Shamen - Ebeneezer Goode

(Picture Credit - Flickr)

Now, whilst the BBC had been caught out by apparent drugs references in songs in the past, such as during Donovan's Mellow Yellow that was rumoured to be about the psychedelic effects of smoking banana skins, when The Shamen came round in 1992, they were on the case as soon as possible. Ebeneezer Goode's references to popular drug ecstasy at the time were hardly subtle - “Eezer Goode/Eezer Goode/He’s Ebeneezer Goode”, or in a more explicit translation - "E's are good". Despite its banning, the BBC did lift it after a bit of time - that might've been down to the fact that it stood at the top of the charts for four weeks.


The Wizard Of Oz Film Cast - Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead

(Picture Credit - The Telegraph)

Despite being a slightly older song, Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead came back to prominence with the death of Britain's first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher back in 2013. The song was initially banned for being disrespectful towards the dead, but anti-Thatcherites would campaign to get it to the top of the singles charts. As it got to number two, it meant that the BBC would have to play it on their chart shows. The BBC received complaints that they were letting the charts be hijacked for political purposes and they finally gave in - Radio One would go on to play a few seconds of it during their chart show, explaining to the audience why it was at the top of the charts.


George Formby - When I'm Cleaning Windows

(Picture Credit - Birmingham Mail)

Finally, we come to something from the rather early days of the BBC and legendary ukulele player, George Formby. When I'm Cleaning Windows, perhaps Formby's most famous work, was banned due to its supposed 'racy lyrics' for the time. Lord Reith, the BBC's then Director General, made a statement at the point of release - "If the public wants to listen to Formby singing his disgusting little ditty, they'll have to be content to hear it in the cinemas, not over the nation's airwaves.". Formby was furious at the block of his song on the BBC and his then wife and manager Beryl Ingham informed the BBC that When I'm Cleaning Windows was a particular favourite of Queen Mary and the Royal Family. On that matter, Formby pointed out that he's sang the song before them at the Royal Variety. Following these revelations, the BBC would eventually relent and start to broadcast the Formby classic.


Over the years, it's fair to say that BBC have prohibited their fair share of songs, some for obvious reasons, others for more dubious ones. It's just fascinating to take a look into some of the zany and wacky reasons that stop songs being aired.


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