Saturday 22 January 2011

The Changing Trends In Music Censorship

In the comments to last week's article on the banning of Money For Nothing in Canada, a fellow jewel robber added this.

Several years ago, TOTP2 featured Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello. The phrase, "one more bullet, one less white nigger" had mysteriously disappeared. I complained to the BBC about this censorship and received quite a sympathetic reply.
Hmm, interesting.

You see, by then I'd already stumbled on another piece of linguistic censorship during one of my occasional rambles around YouTube's vast collection of music clips.

I bought this record back then (65p from an unlabelled wooden cubby hole behind a counter where only the shop owner knew which chart hit was which), and I remember watching Geldof and chums on TOTP when they recorded this performance. I didn't notice until last week, though, that the lyrics had been subtlely changed.

At around one minute in (if you're impatient, though I'd recommend watching the whole thing) the lyric "And pus and grime ooze from its scab crusted sores" was replaced with "And blood and tears pour down the drains and the sewers". Now, I'm pretty sure that someone who was labelled a 'punk' at the time and would later not be afraid to order "give us yer fucking money" on TV or to make demands of Margaret Thatcher, wouldn't be voluntarily squeamish about uttering 'pus', 'grime', 'scab', and 'sores' on telly. So one must assume it was an alteration forced on them by an overly-sensitive BBC.

If I recall correctly, Oliver's Army was in the charts at around the same time, yet in the late 70s Nanny Beeb were obviously less worried about an artist using 'nigger' than lurid lyrical descriptions of urban deprivation.

They were also not too concerned by Geldof's unconvincing pretend saxophone solo, but just a few years later were to ban the original video for Billy Ocean's When The Going Gets Tough for featuring Danny DeVito comedically faking it on the sax.

Censorship of artistic performance, sadly, will always be with us, but the words or ideas which are targeted seem to be just as motivated by current trends and tastes as the music itself.

Fortunately - as the professionally-offended should surely have worked out by now - such meddling always, but always, ends up making fools of the censors while making loads of cash for the censored.

Who can ever forget how Frankie Goes To Hollywood were 'made' by Mike Read's banning of Relax, or how Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus rocketed to number 1 when deemed too racy to be heard on British radio? Similarly, Dire Straits are now enjoying a huge revival of fortune - and a boost to their bank balances - thanks to the quite astounding idiocy of righteous offence-seekers.

In this area, more than any other, it proves that the natural default position of any population is a libertarian one. Rather than enjoying being told what is best for them by those who have decided they know everything - and falling obediently into line - the natural reaction is always to actively rebel against being issued with overweening advice.

Now, if we could just illustrate to a generally bovine public that they should be equally mistrusting of authoritarian, highly-paid, vested interest dickery in other spheres ...


Pavlov's Cat said...

I was watching 'Dave' the other day (the TV channel, not some bloke called Dave) I know, but there was nothing else on.

And chanced upon a QI that I hadn't seen, and apparently Paul McCartney's fag in hand on the cover of the Abbey Road album has been airbrushed out in some releases and this was back in 2003.

So the anti-smokers got there well before the PC police.

Bucko said...

Have you read "Zen and the art of mortorcycle maintenance"?
There is an excellent story about the Rolling Stone being censored. I'm too drunk to dig it out now.

Anonymous said...

They banned the Sex Pistols god save the queen.
I suppose it was nothing to do with the queen, it was the fascist regime bit the BBC was told to drop.
Oh hang I think the BBC were afraid the next line might be ...
God save the queen the BBC are the NKVD ........
Na I reckon most of the BBC think the NKVD were freedom fighters.
Till they knock on your door BBC trash.
Ve aaa heuur to heulp.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that as the levels of smoking have steadily declined, so too have levels of creative excellence? A 20-year-long ex-smoker once said to me that “all the most interesting, creative people are smokers,” (which was why she would always join the smokers in the smoking room) and her comment has always stayed with me. Pretty much all of the most groundbreakingly creative people whose works have stayed the test of time were smokers, and of the more modern examples it is possible to pinpoint with quite startling accuracy pretty much the exact point at which they gave up smoking, because the quality of their work either takes a dramatic nose-dive or they disappear from the creative world altogether. It's as if they suddenly lose their "edge."

This can be seen in other areas of life as well – creativity is not, after all, confined purely to the Arts themselves – and it explains much about the poor quality of public-service institutions, management within private enterprises, and general working practices of the country as a whole. Tobacco stimulates the imagination whilst focussing the mind – the two essential prerequisites for genuine creative genius to manifest itself – and I think this is occurring less and less in countless areas of life as the number of smokers dwindles and the opportunities for people to smoke become increasingly restricted.

I agree with a comment which I read on another blog recently – the anti-smoking movement really didn’t realise exactly what it was unleashing when it started out on its quest to eliminate the scourge of tobacco from the world. And one of the “unforeseen casualties” is, I think, the kind of creativity which has enhanced and enriched our lives for centuries, but now suddenly seems to be in very short supply.

Cazzy Jones said...

A similar example from those days was the BBC's fading of the Specials' "Too Much Too Young" in order to censor the last line of the song, "Try wearing a cap". One must, of course, conclude that this simply reflected the presumed shock and horror at the mention of contraceptives rather than the potential threat to the production of future generations of Labour voting BBC watching useful idiots, were the advice in the last line of the song to be heeded.

funambulist said...

It's been going on a very long time. In Peter Gabriel's 'Games without Frontiers' they were censoring long ago - and Tom Robinson had to change the line 'Have another cigarette' to the ludicrous 'Avocado vinaigrette' on a BBC production I caught once - again many years ago.

Nanny has always been around - she's just more so nowadays.

Ivan D said...

I have very little sympathy for the BBC with respect to the censorship of entertainment but I can understand their caution bearing in mind today’s apology to offended Japanese viewers

It would appear that righteous and easily offended group of Japanese viewers will now have an influence over what we are all allowed to watch /listen to.

I wonder therefore if the BBC would respond with similar alacrity and contrition if a similar number of people complained about its poor quality, misleading and biased coverage of public health issues.

I note also that just Tam Fry and two other righteous complainers persuaded the ASA to ban an add claiming a drink was nourishing on the grounds that it contained too much of a nutrient. Food for thought there too.

Paul Garrard said...

Good post. More like this and you could be cured from being a reactionary 'stick in the mud'

Woodsy42 said...

Of course early era Top of the Pops doesn't really count. It was all mimed and the BBC were famously protective of that production 'secret'. That's why Ready Steady Go was by far the better programme even for those not smitten by Cathy McGowan.
John Peel's famous (non) playing of the mandolin for Rod Stewart and the faces on TOTP was an early display of artistic integrity agaist miming.

Furor Teutonicus said...

Was all trhat not about the same time they banned Jasper Carrots "Funky moped" ?

Then maybe I dreamed it all.....

Furor Teutonicus said...

Follow ups to...