The BBC has never explicitly admitted banning particular records – that would be gauche – but it’s ushered a few stage left. Even last night (14 April) they handled the Thatcher ding-dong with taste and discretion, following up their official statement – “The BBC finds this campaign distasteful but does not believe the record should be banned” – with a news story explaining exactly why ‘Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead’ was in the chart rather than airing an unexpurgated 51 seconds during the chart countdown.
But they haven’t always been so circumspect, so conciliatory. Sometimes they’ve booted records miles from the playlist or let Top Of The Pops go out with a gaping great hole somewhere in the running order. Here’s a pick of a few offending articles.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ‘Relax’ (1984)
Those people who tell you preposterous tartan-suit-clad Radio 1 DJ Mike Read was solely responsible for ‘Relax’ going to No.1 are talking out of their hat. But his unilateral banning certainly didn’t harm its rise. An arresting Top Of The Pops performance had already seen ‘Relax’ vault from No.35 to No.6 on the singles chart, the kind of full-throttle climb that – in those days – would all but guarantee the top of the pile was just a skip away, and Read’s on-air takedown of the dodgy lyrical content only sealed the deal. By the end of the year, with BBC execs presumably reasoning that your mum had probably heard it by now, ‘Relax’ was reinstated and sitting pretty on the TOTP Christmas Special.
Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, ‘Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus’ (1969)
France’s lascivious old goat had defiled our English rose. The BBC decided ‘Je T’Aime…’ was not “suitable” for broadcast because of frankly unacceptable panting, but the real killer blow was dealt by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. Obviously. She had a share in Philips, who owned Fontana, the label that took Birkin and Gainsbourg’s single to No.2 in the UK, and the record was soon dropped like a stone before opportunist Irish label Major Minor picked it up again and sent it to No.1. As for the BBC, it would continue its fight against panting for years to come.
Lil Louis, ‘French Kiss’ (1989)
Some of the most famous panting of the 1980s could be heard on Chicago house whizkid Lil Louis’s ‘French Kiss’, a single that took the beat right down and stuffed its middle eight with a fairly enthusiastic female orgasm. This sort of fun would not stand and the BBC shelved Louis’s moment in the sun for “heavy breathing”. Of course, you could still hear it in the clubs, where dancefloors would grind to a halt for 90 glorious seconds while everyone studied their shoes.
D-Mob featuring Gary Haisman, ‘We Call It Acieeed’ (1988)
It wasn’t just sex swamping 80s nightclubs. There was also the pervading wickedness of acid house, turning the kids onto hard drug use via the twin evils of smiley face t-shirts and Wallabee shoes. Tabloid hysteria was at fever pitch when D-Mob’s novelty single entered the charts and, once they’d cottoned on, the BBC dutifully barred it from Top Of The Pops.
Wings, ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ (1972)
Sometimes you can see where they’re coming from, what with Wings putting out their incendiary (“Meanwhile back in Ireland/There’s a man who looks like me/And he dreams of God and country/And he’s feeling really bad“) single mere days after Bloody Sunday. Emboldened by circumstance, the BBC took the brave step of defying Macca.
George Michael, ‘I Want Your Sex’ (1987)
“Sex is natural/Sex is good/Not everybody does it/But everybody should!” George’s subversive post-Wham! polemic had BBC chiefs all of flurry when it popped out in 1987, so they banned any pre-watershed plays. Which meant only John Peel could play it.
The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl, ‘Fairytale Of New York’ (1987)
Not so much an outright banning, but on Top Of The Pops The Pogues were required to tone down some of the meatier epithets in ‘Fairytale Of New York’. Ronan Keating would do their job for them when he covered it on the B-side of ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ in 2000 – “You’re cheap and you’re haggard,” went the ‘improved’ lyric and everyone felt warm, Christmassy and, erm, unoffended.
Spandau Ballet, ‘I’ll Fly For You’ (1991)
The first Gulf War was a fantastic opportunity for banning crap records that might vaguely be misconstrued as being about war/bombs/fighter planes/walking like an Egyptian. So in 1991, Spandau Ballet’s 1984 single was blacklisted under the most flimsy of pretexts just in case there was the remotest lunatic possibility anyone was thinking of playing it. Someone’s missed a trick here – the Spandau catalogue could be picked through for further banning. “With a thrill in my head and a pill on my tongue…” – drug references! The campaign against ‘True’ starts here.
Cliff Richard, ‘Honky Tonk Angel’ (1975)
We can’t really pin this one on the BBC because Cliff actually pulled this one himself. He went on TV to announce he was withdrawing it after somewhat implausibly realising it was about a prostitute and not a piano player like he assumed, probably just beating the jittery BBC to the punch. He’s a dark horse, that Cliff. What about that one about plying your partner with drink and lunging for them under the Christmas decorations?
The Blow Monkeys featuring Curtis Mayfield, ‘Celebrate (The Day After You)’ (1987)
Hoofed out of the playlist meeting for anti-Thatcherite propaganda. How quaint.