Banning, Censoring, or Restricting Music: A Legacy of Note

Because music's all around us every day — pumping directly into our ears or sounding from the backdrop of visual entertainment and nature's own chorus — we may never wonder what it would be to live without its treasure.

Sometimes, people seek to limit our freedom to hear certain music, often because of song lyrics. When broadcast networks, radio stations, or the music industry issues a playlist of what's unacceptable to air, censorship may seem to come into play.

Throughout history, musical selections have been banned or blacklisted in response to politics, human sentiment, or headlines of the moment. What some call censorship, others see as sensitivity to the times.

For example, as September 11 blasted through everyone's world, the musical climate began to change in response to the tragedies. Well-intended respect for those feeling profound loss boiled over into a rolling ban for many songs with sentimental or political charge.

Gone for a while were Dave Matthew's Band's "Crash Into Me," Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young," Kansas's "Dust in the Wind," Martha & the Vandella's "Nowhere to Run," and Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire." Cat Stevens's once controversial "Peace Train" and John Lennon's "Imagine" also made the hit list of what not to play in some places.

Here's a decade-by-decade sampling of how music as an art form has created cause for concern — and has battled restriction and repression:

The 1950's in music:

(1954) Cole Porter's original "I Get a Kick Out of You" gets cleaned up for radio. "I get no kick from cocaine" morphs into "I get perfume from Spain."

(1955) Officials nix rock and roll concerts scheduled for several venues on the East and West Coasts after outbursts of fighting are reported during performances. (Oops. Actually, concert-goers were dancing.) The same year, Elvis receives the dire warning: If he moves his hips on stage at all, he will be arrested for obscene acts. Two years later, cameramen were told to shoot Elvis only from the waist up as the King made his third prime-time appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The 1960's:

(1965) A prominent record label changes up Frank Zappa's song "Money" to get rid of a sexual reference.

(1968) Radio stations refuse to play The Doors' "Unknown Soldier," because it speaks against war.

The 1970's:

(1972) John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" gets cut from radio playlists because the "high" reference may be to drugs, rather than inspiration from nature's elegance.

The 1980's:

(1989) A city council sets the stage for similar emergency measures by enacting an ordinance that puts music among the list of things banned from the view of unmarried people under the age of 17

The 1990's:

(1998) A high school band, intending to play an instrumental-only version of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," is denied permission to perform the music. (Drug references in the lyrics are purely unacceptable.)

The 2000's:

(2002) A music label releases its advanced Parental Advisory stickers (legislated warning systems introduced more than a decade before), outlining even more intense warnings against strong language and nasty content.

Making music these days is not so different than any other time in the history of song. Free expression's always on the lookout for a place to do its thing.