Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tragedy and the Inexplicably Offensive

I ran across something odd the other day when I was wikipediaing (if we can google, can we wikipedia? It's such an awkward verb, isn't it? something for the linguists in the audience to ponder).

Think back to the week following September 12, 2001. The country was in mourning, and transportation and economy had ground to a halt, thanks to a combination of fear and shock. Most of us were getting back in the swing of things, but the attacks had touched all aspects of life, even pop culture. Not only did we have to endure countless country tribute songs, and ditties about killing Osama, we had to deal with controversy and censorship. There was a techno-pop band named "I am the World Trade Center" who suddenly started getting bad reviews, and were forced to shorten the moniker to "I am the World". Hard rockers "Anthrax" refused to change their name, though apparently one member joked that he was stocking up on Cipro to "avoid an ironic death." And perhaps most strangely, a memo ciruculated the stations of radio giant Clear Channel with a list of songs that were "lyrically questionable," and were suggested not to be played.

A look at the list shows over 150 songs, many of which make sense, though I'm not a fan of censorship. I could see why people might find them offensive or unsettling. There are songs that reference plane crashes (such as AC/DC's "Shot Down in Flames", and Alanis Morissettte's "Ironic"), songs about suicide (Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot", Ozzy Osbourne's "Suicide Solution", System of a Down's "Chop Suey", Third Eye Blind's "Jumper"), songs with violent lyrics (AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Alien Ant Farm's "Smooth Criminal", though curiously, not the original by Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife", Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff", Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust", Saliva's "Click Click Boom") and songs about death, either directly or indirectly (Buddy Holly and the Crickets' "That'll be the Day", Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heavan's Door", and the Guns and Roses cover, Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky", Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young", Kansas's "Dust in the Wind", Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", J Frank Wilson's "Last Kiss"). Then there are the ones that have little or no offensive content, but somehow reference flying or planes (Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly", Lenny Kravits's "Fly Away", Sugar Ray's "Fly", Peter, Paul and Mary's "Leaving on a Jet Plane, Elton John's "Benny and the Jets", Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Aeroplane"), and songs that reference New York (AC/DC's "Safe in New York City", The Ad Libs "The Boy from New York City", Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York", which was apparently one New York station's most requested songs that week). Then, there are some songs that seem to be there for no reason other than that they have revolutionary lyrics (Beastie Boys' "Sabotage", Black Sabbath's "War Pigs", The Clash's "Rock the Casbah", Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe", John Lennon's "Imagine", Don McLean's "American Pie", Nena's "99 Luftballons", Peter Paul and Mary's "Blowin' in the Wind", U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

Then, we move into the realm of the ridiculous. First, there are the songs with the mistaken lyrics (Drowning Pool's "Bodies", which is about mosh pits, The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", which is about drugs, Boston's "Smokin'", which is also about drugs, The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me", which is about a girl, Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire", which is about also about a girl). Then, there are songs which I can't figure out why they're there at all (Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World", because positive thinking is bad, I guess, The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian", because Egypt is a Muslim country I guess, The Beatles' "Ticket to Ride", because the ticket might be for a plane, maybe, Neil Diamond's "America", because we wouldn't want to sing about how awesome America is, Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man", because I heard the hijackers were all man whores, Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss him Goodbye", because I'm thinking they watched that funeral scene from Remember the Titans a few too many times).

My personal favorite, though is "All songs by Rage Against the Machine". I mean, yeah, it's Rage, but that's just ridiculous. Thankfully, this didn't last long, and was not manditory. I just found it interesting.

I dedicate this post to Tom Morello's distortion pedal, and all of its warbly noises that were temporarily not banned.


Sean said...

I'm thinking we should probably ban any song with the name "Richard" in the title or as part of the lyrics. You know, just to be safe.

Jason Johnston said...

That was a really interesting post. It reminds me of the depression/WWII era in America when there was a pretty big issue of censorship with music (among other things.) Copeland in particular got a lot of flack from Roosevelt and other political figures because of his tendencies towards Communism.

MEO said...

99 Luft balloons is about protesting the war by releasing a balloon for each person who died in the war.

Imagine is another protest song.

Rock the Casbah mentions dropping bombs on worshipers.

Hey Joe is about killin' someone.

American Pie is about when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and some other famous musician die is a plane crash.

Sunday Bloody Sunday is about deaths in the streets. (Wiking teaches that it's about civilians getting shot by the police in Northern Ireland.)

So it looks like they've pulled out almost anything about protesting, or killing, or plane crashes, etc.

Richard said...

Copeland? That sucks... Copeland is awesome. Maybe he should have called it "Fanfare for the Upper-Middle Class".

And MEO, that is why I grouped those into the "songs that have revolutionary lyrics" section. :-D

Jason Johnston said...

"Maybe he should have called it "Fanfare for the Upper-Middle Class"."

HAHA!!! That's really funny :)

Mr. Greene (and His Orchestra) said...

You know, Sean, they probably should. Being a Ron Paul supporter, I apparently might be in a militia according to the state of Missouri.

Michelle said...

That is incrediably interesting!
I almost want to cry that they wanted to ban "Imagine"? I feel offense for John Lennon. It's weird.
I know this post is "old" but I just stumbled across it.

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