25+ Legendary Songs That Were Once Banned From Playing on the Radio

This article appeared in Noteabley and has been published here with permission.

“Like a Prayer” – Madonna

Madonna has courted controversies multiple times throughout her career. Her song, “Like a Prayer,” was the topic of controversy when it was first released. The opposition to the song was in fact so strong that it ended up getting banned in countries such as Egypt and Russia.

“Like a Prayer” – Madonna

The song was also criticized by certain bodies such as American Family Association and the Vatican for featuring scandalous imagery.

“The Real Slim Shady” – Eminem

Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” became a topic of controversy when FCC, in 2001, fined a Colorado Springs Radio Station for playing a sanitized version of the song. The song is essentially about the rapper’s influence on pop culture.

‘The Real Slim Shady’ – Eminem

However, it didn’t match up to the decency standards set by the FCC and was labeled indecent. The 2001 guideline issued by FCC, gave it the power to fine any song on the grounds of dubious context and innuendos.

“Juicy” – The Notorious B.I.G

Before we get to the ban part, let us tell you a few things about the song. “Juicy” was the first single from The Notorious B.I.G’s debut album. The song became the subject of ban owing to a particular line.

“Juicy” – The Notorious B.I.G

The original line was, “Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade.” The ‘blow up’ bit was misinterpreted as the celebration of attack, when it was just slang for getting rich quickly.

“Love Game” – Lady Gaga

Though she has sobered down (considerably) from her earlier days in terms of her costume choices, Lady Gaga’s music back in the day has had its own share of controversies. Her song “Love Game” was banned from the airwaves due to the words “disco stick.”

“Love Game” – Lady Gaga

Apparently, it was thought to be too risqué both in terms of audio and video. But, ban or not, Gaga will always have our love and support.

“Physical” – Olivia Newton-John

“Physical” by Olivia Newton-John, despite its huge popularity in US and UK, got banned by selected radio stations. The song was banned due to its depiction of queer love and a certain line in its lyrics that read, “There’s nothing left to talk about unless it is horizontally.”

“Physical” – Olivia Newton-John

In a 2021 interview to ET, Olivia admitted that she was initially hesitant about releasing it, adding that she even tried to stop it from being released.

“In the Air Tonight” – Phil Collins

This song by Phil Collins was banned on more than one occasion. The song was banned for the first time in 1991 by BBC during the Gulf War on the account of being ‘too depressing.’

“In the Air Tonight” – Phil Collins

In 2001, it was banned by Clear Channel Communications in the wake of 9/11. However, in a plot twist, Collins applied for a cease and desist order to stop his songs from being played in MAGA rallies in 2020.

“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” – Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones released their hit number “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” way back in 1965. But, little did they know that it could be capable of creating a scandal of epic proportions.

“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” – Rolling Stones

Its line ‘trying to make some girl’ faced massive flak because it was too lewd. The furor over it was so much that the FBI was called in to investigate that particular line. Surprisingly, when the band performed it in 2006 at the Super Bowl, they got away with it.

“Take the Power Back” – Rage Against the Machine

The controversy around “Take the Power Back” is as bizarre as the times we live in. The song was banned 20 years after its release as it was deemed to be against Arizona State Law.

“Take the Power Back” – Rage Against the Machine

The ban came to force after certain high school teachers used the song in one of the Mexican-American history classes in 2015. The school’s Superintendent upon finding the incident issued a notice of non-compliance, thus putting the ban in place.

“Louie, Louie” – The Kingsmen

The Kingsmen version of “Louie, Louie” generated a huge backlash due to its suggestive lyrics. The song was banned on various stations all across the United States owing to its smutty lyrics.

“Louie, Louie” – The Kingsmen

The song was also investigated by the FBI for 31 months after the band tried to package the original lyrics with slurry speech. But as the FBI wasn’t able to decipher the original version, the investigation was shut down.

“Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison

Did you know that even the famous song “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison was banned by the radio stations at one point in time? Well, the song was banned for a particular line in the lyrics, namely, ‘Making love in the green grass.’

“Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison

Despite that, the song made its way up into the billboard. The song’s popularity forced the stations to rethink their ban. In the end, they withdrew the ban by replacing the suggestive lyrics in the song with a more family-friendly line.

“Love to Love You, Baby” – Donna Summer

It’s hard to believe that this silky track by Donna Summer was once banned. The critics found it distasteful. The BBC refused to play the track on its platform regardless of its popularity. On one occasion, it resulted in riots in Italy, involving close to 5,000 men and women.

“Love to Love You, Baby” – Donna Summer

Despite all that, it established Summer as the first lady of love, making her more popular than ever. We always knew that music can be really powerful.

“If U Seek Amy” – Britney Spears

Yes, Britney is finally free. But, she at one point was trapped in bans and what-not. Her song, “If U Seek Amy” angered the radio stations leading them to place a ban on it.

“If U Seek Amy” – Britney Spears

The song also drew the ire of The Parents Television Council owing to the use of a profane word. The PTC felt that it violated the broadcast decency guidelines, and it ought to be banned from being played on the radio stations during certain hours of the day.

“Rolling in the Deep” – Adele

Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is another surprising entry in the list of songs that were banned from radio. Apparently, there was a curse word in the song that particularly drove people crazy.

“Rolling in the Deep” – Adele

Adele, after receiving so much hate, decided to replace the word with a milder one — “ship.” Also, the phrase ‘rolling in the deep’ means having someone’s back. We guess this is one of those brouhahas that we won’t be able to comprehend fully.

“Atomic” – Blondie

Blondie’s song “Atomic” was banned by the BBC during the Gulf War. We would like to tell you that BBC during this period banned a total of 68 songs (this includes “Atomic” by Blondie).

“Atomic” – Blondie

The song was banned on the grounds of being too illogical and tense. However, BBC got their memo and realized they were wrong, as the song mainly talks about sensuality and had nothing to do with war.

“Royals” – Lorde

Lorde’s song “Royals” was banned to avoid the tension between the fans of two rival baseball teams from escalating further. In 2014, two San Francisco radio stations banned Lorde’s song owing to their affiliation with their basketball team.

“Royals” – Lorde

They felt that playing “Royals” would polarize the fan base – and also, affect their business interests at large at that time. However, this brief ban was lifted after the World Series in 2014.

“Johnny Remember Me” – John Leyton

“Johnny Remember Me” by John Leyton became the number one single in 1961 UK Singles Chart. It was the only hit delivered by the television star John Leyton. However, the track was banned by BBC owing to its lyrics.

“Johnny Remember Me” – John Leyton

The song’s lyrics follow a young man who is haunted by his departed lover. BBC considered it to be too grisly to play for their listeners. The song’s ghostly vocals were sung by a singer named Lissa Gray.

“You Don’t Know How it Feels” – Tom Petty

“You Don’t Know How it Feels” was released by Tom Petty in 1994 as a part of his album Wildflowers. The radio stations refused to play it as it mentioned psychotropic and mind-altering substances.

“You Don’t Know How it Feels” – Tom Petty

Petty, too, in an interaction, exclaimed, “I wrote this song not thinking that it was controversial in any way and I nearly left this song off the album. Imagine my surprise when this song comes on television and they say let’s roll another…”

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” – The Shirelles

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles is iconic in the sense that it became the first track on the Billboard Hot 100 by a black female music band. The song was released in 1960 and was about a woman’s steamy night out with a man.

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” – The Shirelles

Sadly, it was banned by radio stations due to the nature of its lyrics. But, the ban actually played into the hands of The Shirelles as they managed to sell over one million copies of their album.

“Wham Bam! Thank You, Ma’am” – Dean Martin

Dean Martin’s “Wham Bam! Thank You, Ma’am” attracted hordes of controversy when it was first released. The song divided people due to the usage of the song’s title phrase. If you have heard the lyrics you would know.

“Wham Bam! Thank You, Ma’am” – Dean Martin

It only shows that artists back in the day were quite daring. Despite the prevalent prudishness that often caused songs to be banned, it did not stop them from creating daring lyrics for their music.

“Imagine” – John Lennon

John Lennon, in general, was a controversial figure and so were his songs. One of his songs, “Imagine,” was banned twice. It was first banned by the BBC during the Gulf war.

“Imagine” – John Lennon

“Imagine” was banned for the second time, during the 2001 post 9/11 attack. Ironically, these bans have been against the ethos of the song, which is about, peace. Guess, certain bans don’t make any sense at all.

“Puff the Magic Dragon” – Peter, Paul, and Mary

Contrary to its title, “Puff the Magic Dragon” has nothing to do with hallucinogens. Because of its title, the song was banned in certain countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong apart from being declared as ‘controversial’ by Spiro Agnew.

“Puff the Magic Dragon” – Peter, Paul, and Mary

The song was constantly sung by many powerful voices all across the globe. Regardless of that, it managed to become a big hit.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Frank Sinatra

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Frank Sinatra won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Original Song. However, it was shunned by the radio stations as it was considered inappropriate.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Frank Sinatra

The song was dropped by almost all the major stations in Canada as it failed to meet their societal standards. The song is suggestive of the attitudes towards consent during that time.

“Light My Fire” – The Doors

The Doors were banned from The Ed Sullivan Show after they refused to change a line of the lyrics in “Light my Fire”. The band’s lead singer Jim Morrison initially said that he’d change the line, but later stuck to the original version.

“Light My Fire” – The Doors

The song was again banned, 24 years later, this time by BBC due to the word fire. It was also, the final song to be performed by Morrison before a live audience in 1970.

“Splish Splash” – Bobby Darin

“Splish Splash” by Bobby Darin was banned due to its problematic message. The song’s lyrics follow a man who comes out of his long shower only to realize that there is a party going on in the adjacent room.

“Splish Splash” – Bobby Darin

The fact that he attends a party wrapped up in a towel was too difficult for some stations to swallow. Furthermore, they thought that the imagery gets complicated with the second verse, which mentions him putting on shoes (not the clothes) to join in the celebrations.

“My Generation” – The Who

The Who’s “My Generation” was laden with cuss words and explicit references to depression. But, it wasn’t these things that got it banned. The song was banned as it was perceived to be making fun of people who stutter — “Why don’t you just f-f-f-f-fade away.”

“My Generation” – The Who

The Who was banned by BBC as soon it was released. Still, after a hit and miss, the song became one of the greatest hits of its time.

“G-d Only Knows” – Beach Boys

Beach Boys were one of the first few bands to use the word ‘G-d’ in their song’s title. Although the song only loosely refers to G-d, without mentioning a specific figure, it was labeled by certain US stations as an anti-religion number.

“God Only Knows” – Beach Boys

The band’s singer Brian Wilson said in an interview that “I was scared that they’d ban playing it on the radio because of its title.” Guess his fears were not unfounded.

“Burn My Candle” – Shirley Bassey

Shirley Bassey was barely 19 years old when her song “Burn my Candle” was released. She had a hard time understanding the reason when her song got banned.

“Burn My Candle” – Shirley Bassey

“Burn My Candle” was banned by BBC, as the broadcaster thought it to be full of titillating lines. However, the ban only proved to be a minor setback in Bassey’s career without affecting it in a major way.

“Red Nation” – The Game

“Red Nation” by The Game was released in 2012. The song was quickly banned by MTV and BET for its gang lifestyle imagery. The song’s music video made numerous references to the various aspects of a criminal’s lifestyle.

“Red Nation” – The Game

But, this affected neither the singer nor the popularity of the song. The Game even went on to say that he wished more of his songs got banned so that people get intrigued about them.

“Honey Love” – The Drifters

“Honey Love” by The Drifters was released in 1940. The song ran into trouble with Memphis police officials as they thought it to be too suggestive. The cops were unclear about the meaning of the word “it” in the song.

“Honey Love” – The Drifters

They equated it with something suggestive, ultimately seizing the copies of the album throughout the city. Never before, the word “it” would have offended the authorities so badly!

“I Love a Man in Uniform” – Gang of Four

Prior to “I Love a Man in Uniform,” Gang of Four was in the news for their other number, “He’s a Tourist” But, that didn’t deter the band to stop getting creative.

“I Love a Man in Uniform” – Gang of Four

“I Love a Man in Uniform” was banned by various stations because of its inappropriate lyrics. The inappropriateness of its lyrics was defined in terms of the ongoing situation (British troops joining the Falklands War) in the country.