Scandal! 40 Of Music’s Most Controversial Moments

As Pete Doherty’s frequent court trips will attest, musicians aren’t above the law. But as Pete Doherty’s frequent court trips will also attest, musicians sometimes get it in the neck more than most. Here are 40 of music’s most controversial moments – some good, some bad and some very, very ugly…

40 Prince changes his name

What happened: Hot on the heels of his 1992 ‘Love Symbol’ album and greatest hits, Prince changes his name to an unpronounceable symbol, leading a confused record-buying public to call him: ‘TAFKAP’ (The Artist Formerly Known As Prince).

39 ‘Paul is Dead’


What happened: An article titled ‘Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?’ was published by a student newspaper in Iowa linking together a series of supposed subliminal messages on Beatles albums which suggested the bassist was, in fact, dead. The rumour grew until a press officer had to issue a statement denying Macca’s death.

38 Eminem ‘kills’ Kim

What happened: Following ’97 Bonnie & Clyde’ this was the second track which charted Eminem’s stormy, real life relationship with wife Kim. In ‘Kim’ he verbally abuses her before killing her and dumping her body in the boot of his car. Ladies, he’s a keeper!

37 Michael Jackson burns his hair

What happened?: MJ’s hair caught fire during a freak accident which occurred whilst shooting a Pepsi ad. A fireworks display went wrong, setting fire to his hair. He suffered second and third degree burns to his head and scalp.

36 Metallica vs Napster


What happened: The band discovered their entire catalogue was available for free on the peer-to-peer site. They fired a copyright lawsuit against the company along with singling out Metallica fans and getting them banned from the site.

35 Elvis joins the army

What happened?: At the height of his fame, Elvis received a letter telling him that he had been drafted. He was inducted into the army on January 20, 1958 the same day he was due to start filmingKing Creole. His career would take a decade to recover.

34 2 Live Crew banned

What happened: Following the release of single ‘Me So Horny’ and accompanying album ‘As Nasty As They Wanna Be’, record retailers were arrested for selling the LP, after it was deemed ‘obscene’.

33 Bjork attacks reporter

What happened?: Arriving at Bangkok International Airport she attacked a reporter. Later she said that she was tipped over the edge when reporters started talking to her son, who was accompanying her on the long-haul flight.

32 Judas Priest blamed for suicide

What happened: Two teens killed themselves after listening to Judas Priest, so the band went to court after being accused of being complicit in the suicide. The apparently subliminal message of ‘do it’ in the song ‘Better By You, Better By Me’ was singled out. The case was dismissed.

31 L7 chuck a tampon

What happened: The band were forced to cut their set short at the Reading Festival short following technical difficulties. The crowd began throwing mud and an angry frontwoman Donita Sparks removed her tampon on stage, throwing it into the crowd saying: “Eat my used tampon, fuckers”.

30 NWA get investigated by the FBI

What: Following the release of ‘Fuck Tha Police’, a director of the FBI sent a letter to NWA’s label warning that “advocating violence and assault is wrong.”

29 The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’

What happened?: The BBC banned the single, only playing an instrumental version on air and refusing to say the title of the song. The video was also banned, due to its nudity content and claims of misogyny.

28 Marilyn Manson becomes priest

What happened?: The king of shock rock was ordained as a minister of the Church of Satan after being ordained by Anton LaVey the author of The Satanic Bible.

27 Cocksucker Blues film

What happened: Filmed during their tour in support of ‘Exile On Main Street’, this documentary was banned by The Rolling Stones because of its no holds barred scenes of drug taking and graphic groupie sex.

26 Charles Manson writes a song for The Beach Boys

What happened: Cult leader Manson befriended Beach Boy Dennis Wilson and the two ended up living together. Manson’s song ‘Never Learn Not To Love’ ended up on their album ‘20/20’.

25 Britney shaves her head

What happened?: The singer filed for divorce from Kevin Federline and began to party hard. After checking herself in the Crossroads rehab facility, she left less than 24 hours later and what followed was a very public meltdown, including the shaving of her head with a coterie of paps watching.

24 David Bowie semingly does fascist salute

What happened?: Bowie returns to England and, whilst at Victoria Station, gives what appears to be a Nazi salute to his crowd of adoring fans. Turns out he was just having “a bit of a stretch”.

23 Madonna’s Sex book

What: To tie in with the release of her album ‘Erotica’, Madge released a coffee table book featuring photos of her engaging in a variety of sexual acts with friends Naomi Campbell and Vanilla Ice. ‘Arty’.

22 Rolling Stones busted

What happened: Following a tabloid tip off, Richards, Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and others in their circle were arrested after amphetamines, cannabis and heroin were found in their collective possession.

21 Milli Vanilli caught lip syncing

What happened: Whilst performing a ‘live’ version of ‘Girl You Know It’s True’ for MTV, the backing track began skipping and the duo were forced to repeat the line ‘Girl, you know it’s…’ until running off stage. By 1990 they had publicly admitted they had never sung on their records.

20 Sinead O’Connor rips up photo of the Pope

What happened?: Appearing on Saturday Night Live , the singer sang an a capella rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ before tearing up a photograph of Paul John Paul II and told the audience to ‘fight the real enemy’.

19 The KLF quit

What happened: After a chaotic performance of ‘3AM Eternal’ aided by Extreme Noise Terror (which concluded with a real machine gun firing blanks at the audience) the band announced their retirement from the industry via a dead sheep left at the after party. The words ‘I died for you’ were scrawled on a piece of paper tied to the animal’s corpse.

18 Rage Against The Machine make the Christmas Number One

What happened: Thanks to a Facebook campaign, RATM’s ‘Killing In The Name Of’ beat X Factor winner Joe McElderry’s syrupy version of Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’ to the top spot.

17 Keith Moon kills chauffeur

What happened: Whilst attempting to escape a car attack from patrons outside a pub, the drummer took control of his car and, in the process, accidentally killed his chauffeur.

16 Elvis’ pelvic thrusts banned

What happened: After his gyrations onThe Milton Berle Show, Elvis was named ‘The Pelvis’. While on The Ed Sullivan Show, he was only filmed from the waist up.

15 Woodstock 99 riots

What happened: Bad camping conditions, hot weather, expensive provisions and incitements from the likes of Limp Bizkit saw 60 concertgoers hospitalized, vandalism caused and millions lost to looting.

14 Jim Morrison exposes himself at gig

What happened: A drunk Morrison exposed himself to a restless Miami crowd mid-gig and simulated masturbation. He was charged with ‘indecent exposure’.

13 Axl Rose attacks a fan

What happened: Axl dove off stage to attack a fan with a video camera. He then complained about security before storming off stage with the rest of the band. He was later charged with inciting the arena-wide riot which followed.

12 Rolling Stones’ Altamont tragedy

What happened?: Tragedy struck at the free concert, as a Hell’s Angel got into a complicated fracas with a concert goer brandishing a gun. The Hell’s Angel stabbed the gig-goer to death. The whole episode was caught on film.

11 Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes burns down boyfriend’s house

What happened: TLC’s feistiest member set fire to her ex-boyfriends $1.3 million house. She was fined $1 million and sentenced to five year probation.

10 GG Allin goes to court for infamous live performances.

What happened: Shock rocker goes to court for “throwing faeces” into the crowd at one of his gigs. You don’t get that with Wild Beasts.

9 BBC bans Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’

What happened Auntie Beeb decided the ban the song after the TV show The Tube aired the unedited, S&M-featuring promo video. DJ Mike Reid also objected to the single’s sleeve which depicted a half-naked man and woman wearing sadomasochistic clothes.

8 Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ video

What happened: Pepsi cancelled their sponsorship deal after seeing Madonna’s video for the single, which portrayed her getting hot and heavy with a black Jesus Christ figure.

7 George Michael gets busted for indecent exposure

What happened: The former Wham! Singer was arrested in a Los Angeles public toilet for ‘engaging in lewd act’ with an undercover police officer.

6 Ozzy Osbourne bites the head off a bat

What happened: Ozzy bit the head off a bat which was thrown onstage. He later admitted he didn’t realize what it was at the time, and had to have a rabies shot afterwards.

5 Sex Pistols’ Bill Grundy appearance

What: Less than a week after the release of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ The Pistols and their mates invaded Grundy’s sensible sofa. They swore their way through the interview and the next morning The Daily Mirror’s frontpage headline proclaimed, ‘The filth and the fury’.

4 Michael Jackson scandal

What happened: 13-year-old companion of Michael Jackson, Jordan Chandler, accused the singer of sexual abuse. Jackson was never charged, but his public image was forever tarnished.

3 Jerry Lee Lewis marries his child bride

What happened?: On to his third wife, the ‘Killer’ had got hitched to his 13 year old cousin (while technically still being married to his second wife). The press labeled him a ‘cradle robber’.

2 Gary Glitter falls from grace

What happened: Pornographic images of children were discovered on the hard drive of the glam rock singer’s computer. Two years later he was sentenced and put onto the sex offender register.

1 Sid Vicious finds Nancy Spungen dead

What happened?: Sid Vicious awoke to find Nancy dead in their Chelsea Hotel room in suspicious circumstances. There were reports that he had accidentally stabbed her, there were others which suggested she was involved in a drug deal that went horribly wrong.