We’ve certainly come a long way since the BBC banned George Formby’s ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ due to its “smutty lyrics”. Or have we? While we’re less likely to get offended by crude language, attitudes towards misogyny and racism have progressed in recent decades. In the 1970s, The Sunday Times asked, “Must we fling this pop filth at our pop kids?”. Perhaps they had a point, as here’s a list of songs that the censors would be taking their red pens to if they were to be released today.
9. Big Star, ‘Thirteen’ (1972)
Sample lyric: “Would you be an outlaw for my love? If it’s so then let me know.”
This paean to a young teen girl has been described as “one of rock’s most beautiful celebrations of adolescence”. But if the protagonist of ‘Thirteen’ is of a similar age, why must the girl be “an outlaw” for them to be together? Why is he asking the girl to tell her Dad to “get off my back”? His invitation to meet her “at the pool” is the kind of thing you’re warned about at school.
8. Rolling Stones, ‘Brown Sugar’ (1971)
Sample lyric: “Brown sugar, how come you taste so good? Brown sugar, just like a young girl should.”
The Stones are hardly known for their enlightened attitudes to the fairer sex, but this takes the biscuit. ‘Brown Sugar’ is a story about English men having sex with young slave girls who have just got off the boat to find themselves being sold at market. Oh, and the B-side was called ‘Bitch’, too.
7. Serge Gainsbourg – Lemon Incest (1985)
Sample lyric: “The love we’ll never make together is the most rare, the most troubling, the most pure, the most heady” (trans.)
Gainsbourg already had previous with controversy; his 1969 single, ‘Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus’ was banned in several countries. However, ‘Lemon Incest’ dials the discomfort factor up to 11. A duet with daughter Charlotte (a mere twelve years old at the time), it blurs the line between familial love and outright lust.
6. The Beatles, ‘Run For Your Life’ (1965)
Sample lyric: “Let this be a sermon, I mean everything I’ve said. Baby, I’m determined and I’d rather see you dead.”
The theme of a jealous man worried about losing his girl isn’t exactly unusual in pop music, but Rubber Soul’s closing track reveals a little too much of Lennon’s misogyny, and the if-I-can’t-have-you-then-nobody-can message would probably be seen as intimidation if reported to the boys in blue.
5. The Knack, ‘My Sharona’ (1979)
Sample lyric: “Such a dirty mind, always get it up for the touch of the younger kind.”
It may have been written about a real-life Sharona (then-girlfriend of Knack drummer Doug Fieger) but the lyrics point to a preference for the less mature woman in general. It sold over a million copies at the time, but these days it would make The Knack the subject of a tabloid hate campaign faster than you could say, “my-ay-ay-ay-ay woo!”
4. The Doors, ‘Alabama Song’ (1966)
Sample lyric: “Show me the way to the next little girl. Oh, don’t ask why.”
Although ‘Alabama Song’ was originally written in the 1920s as part of a German mini-opera, you’d still have thought even The Lizard King would have maybe reconsidered when deciding to record a tune about drunkenness and child prostitution. Morrison actually specifically changed the lyrics of the song to include a reference to a “little girl” rather than the original “pretty boy”.
3. Neil Diamond, “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” (1967)
Sample lyric: “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon. Soon, you’ll need a man.”
Neil Diamond’s ode to the developing lady is arguably more famous for its appearance on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack courtesy of Urge Overkill. There’s something of the lecherous uncle in the lyric, and the purred suggestion that our protagonist is merely “misunderstood” sends shivers down the spine for all the wrong reasons.
2. Donovan, ‘Mellow Yellow’ (1966)
Sample lyric: “I’m just mad about fourteen. Fourteen’s mad about me.”
Donovan’s ‘Mellow Yellow’ may seem like it’s about liking a girl, taking time to relax and similar innocent pastimes. But, hang on, who – or what – is fourteen? Just to clear up any potential ambiguity, Donovan was wont to extend the lyric to, “I’m just mad about fourteen year old girls”, when performing the track live.
1. Aerosmith, ‘Walk This Way’ (1975)
Sample lyric: “Schoolgirl sweetie with a classy kinda sexy little skirt’s climbin’ way up her knee.”
The underage girl count in ‘Walk This Way’ must be getting on for double figures. There’s the “cheerleader”, the “sister and the cousin”, the “three young ladies in the school gym locker” and more besides.