A history of music censorship

This week marks the 30th anniversary of BBC banning radio play of Frankie Goes
To Hollywood's 'Relax'

Share
Related Topics

As a parent of three children I know only too well the response from a child when you tell them they can’t do or have something…. you set up a personal challenge to the child to find out exactly what it is about that thing you have refused them.

30 years ago a similar situation played out between a puritanical, moralistic ‘aunty’, the BBC, and a group of petulant young men from Liverpool, members of the soon to become infamous band Frankie Goes to Hollywood (FGTH).  FGTH debut single ‘Relax’, released on Trevor Horn and Paul Morley’s recently formed ZTT label, entered the British charts in 1983 in a fairly inconspicuous manner at number 67, and then slowly climbed only as far as 35 seven weeks later.

Courting some minor controversy, with a clever promotional strategy devised by Morley, the single never really took off until Thursday 5th January 1984 when FGTH performed ‘Relax’ for the first time on BBC‘s ‘Top of the Pops’. Within a week the single catapulted itself to number 6 and, when BBC Radio 1 disc jockey Mike Read refused to play it on his radio show, thousands of inquisitive teenagers went straight to their local record shop to find out what all the fuss was about In doing so it put the record at number 1 in the charts by January 24th, where it remained for five consecutive weeks and became the biggest selling single of 1984.

So what was the fuss all about? Mike Read said he found the graphical images of the record sleeve and the song lyrics sexually suggestive, distasteful and should be banned, unbeknown to him that the BBC had already decided to ban the record from its daytime playlists anyway. The ban unsurprisingly backfired on the BBC, drew more attention to the song and became more of an embarrassment to them as the song was being played elsewhere by commercial radio stations and TV channels. The band publicly denied that the lyrics were of a sexual nature, even going as far as to suggest that the BBC directors and Mike Read were reading more into this than was apparent, thus questioning what sort of ‘deviants’ the BBC were employing. Later however the band retracted any public pretence about the suggestive nature of the song.

Music censorship has a long history. As early as 1940 George Formby had his song “When I’m Cleaning Windows” banned due to its alleged smutty lyrics!!! The Sex Pistols infamous Jubilee punk anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ suffered a similar fate, and one of my favourite anarcho-punk bands Crass, had to suffer the indignity of a record pressing plant refusing to press  the song, "Reality Asylum", accusing Crass of blasphemy. Instead, they had on the record a blank space with silence in its place, which Crass humorously dubbed "The sound of Free Speech" in protest.

More recently fewer songs are getting outright bans, however the BBC, and similarly the USA radio network Clear Channel, also deemed some songs inappropriate for airplay during the Gulf War such as “War” by Edwin Starr, “Give Peace A Chance” by the Plastic Ono Band and “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” by the Cutting Crew-which in my humble opinion should be banned outright for just being plain awful.

However the ‘alteration’ of lyrical content to enable airplay, or ‘radio edit’ versions is becoming more commonplace as artists strive to express themselves more freely whilst their record labels try to maximise airplay by remaining within broadcasting guidelines. Of course with the availability of music online, either as downloads or streams, censorship is now losing some of its bite as listeners are freely able to source ‘explicit’ versions of popular songs.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker