5. Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Now onto the thorny and very un-British subject of sex. “Relax….when you wanna come” sang the band from Liverpool and earned themselves a ban from the BBC on the basis of obscenity. The DJ Mike Read was the first to notice the sexual imagery on the sleeve and take it off the turntable live on air. The subsequent ban ensured the record shot to number 1 and stayed there for 5 weeks.
The song later featured in the film “Zoolander“, where it was used as a trigger to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Now, THAT’S controversial!
4. Je T’aime…Moi non plus – Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
Another song that was deemed too sexy for the radio, this was first recorded by Gainsbourg and his then girlfriend Brigette Bardot, although Bardot’s husband unsurprisingly objected and the song wasn’t released until 1986. The first released version, in 1969, featured Birkin and her suggestive heavy breathing, which prompted rumors of lewd goings-on during recording sessions. It was banned by several countries and even Gainsbourg’s native France wouldn’t play it before 11PM. Again, the publicity only helped and it reached number 1 in the UK.
3. Tell Laura I Love Her – Ray Peterson
From the sexy to the dreary, this was the tale of wimpy Laura and her speed-demon boyfriend Tommy who dies in a firey crash while trying to win the money for an engagement ring. Remarkable for featuring a man able to sing an entire chorus in his “dying breath”, the record didn’t win over the executives at Decca who decided it was “tasteless and vulgar” and ordered the destruction of the 20,000 copies already pressed. A rival label rushed out a cover version and it went to number 1 for 3 weeks. Bet they regretted that! (Executives at Decca were later to reject the Beatles as well – their decision making skills probably needed a review). It also sparked a host of other teen morbidity songs, including “Teen Angel” and “Leader of the Pack”.
2. God Save the Queen – Sex Pistols
While many of these bands may have been surprised to find their hard work dismissed, that can’t be said about the Sex Pistols. A band who went out of their way to shock and alarm (even swearing on live TV), recording a song about the “fascist regime” of the Queen in her Silver Jubilee year was a quick ticket to being banned. Using the Queen’s image on the sleeve only sealed the deal. The single would have got to number 1 but chart fixing ensured it stayed at number 2 and saved the BBC the embarrassment of having to play or mention it on “Top of the Pops”. What’s that they were saying about a fascist regime? Looks like they might have had a point….!
1. Smack My Bitch Up – Prodigy
Another song that surprised no-one by getting banned in 1997. The title alone was enough to get it censored – a borderline swear word that was offensive and degrading to women, and the implied approval of domestic violence. What very few people pointed out was that it was also a pretty weak song, compared to the other singles from “Fat of the Land“.
Still, the furore over the lyrics continued. It was banned from the BBC and only a lyric-free version played, and TV shows refused to show the song title in their chart countdowns. It peaked at Number 8 in the UK although it hit Number 1 in Finland. The group defended the title, saying it was about “doing anything intensely”, although the video showed drugs, violence towards women and sex with strippers all from a first person perspective…which is later revealed to be a woman. It won praise from some quarters for the way it subverted the stereotype but most just focused on the numerous ban-able things contained in it. Generally, an exercise in how to offend just about everyone without achieving anything.
And that’s rock n roll!