Friday, 26 April 2013

“The Shag is Totally Cool” and other great records banned by the BBC

Poor old Billy Graves! I’m certain that shagging didn’t have the same connotations in America in 1959 as it did here, and yet the poor chap was told to shag off.

The BBC didn’t actually bother banning George Formby’s dirty little double entendre ditties – both sides knew they’d never be played in any case:

Okay, why do you imagine this one got the hook:

I guess this lovable Coasters track was banned because the lyrics were thought to promote – or, at the very least, to make light of - juvenile delinquency. (Nowadays, of course, the BBC thoroughly approves of young people rioting, because it proves how liberated and free-spirited our wonderfully progressive state education has made them.)

Can you guess why The Cougars got the axe in 1963? Apparently there was a long-standing ban on records which treated classical music with levity. Nero & the Gladiators suffered the same fate with “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. Mind you, starting it off with “Say there, Brutus, where is this king’s pad?” was probably a bit provocative. And yet B. Bumble & the Stingers’ had made it under the wire the previous year with “Nut Rocker”! I thought maybe the BBC was just prejudiced against British acts – but they were happy to ban “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” from the musical Kismet, which was based on Borodin’s String Quartet in D , and this 1937 number from Tommy Dorsey, based on an aria by Rimsky-Korsakov:

Songs about death were a problem, too. I was surprised to discover that the Joe Meek-produced 1961 chart-topper “Johnny Remember Me” was forbidden: I must have been listening to it on ITV and Radio Luxembourg.

The corporation’s pro-life stance also did for Bobby Darin’s brilliant version of “Mack the Knife” (1959)  and Ray Peterson’s mawkish “Tell Laura I Love Her”, which may even have brought a tear to my seven-year old eye in 1960.

Not hard to see why the next one didn’t make the cut:

Kept woman, drugs, lewdness, large meals – you name it, Cab Calloway sticks it in there. But the greatest record banned for the sheer low-life sleaziness of its lyrics was undoubtedly this Johnny Burnette masterpiece:

Mind you, they don’t come much sleazier – or exotic – than this Scott Walker version of a Jacques Brel ditty about transvestites and singers with Spanish bums:

When it comes to sex, let’s face it, Gene Vincent was simply demanding to be escorted off the premises:

I suppose Kitty Wells singing a song about prostitutes – “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” – was always going to present a problem. And Billy Ward & the Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man” is – let’s be frank - absolutely filthy.  But I’m not sure why Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” got thrown out onto the pavement – perhaps the spoken bits.

But the one that did surprise me was – wait for it – Cliff Richard’s second single “High Class Baby”. Really? Unless, of course, “I bought myself a ticket, but you won’t let me pass” struck someone as a bit saucy:

It’s easy to sneer at the BBC’s erstwhile hyper-sensitivity, but, given the nature of much of its drama and comedy these days – strewn with profanity, casual sex, yobbery, sacrilege and contempt for the values of ordinary, decent folk - I’m not sure the re-introduction of some sort of filtering mechanism would be such a bad thing: after all, I don’t see why the sensibilities of, for instance, homosexuals, Muslims, gypsies and blacks deserve more protection than those of, say, white, Christian, bourgeois conservatives.

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