Taboo Tunes: A History of Banned Bands and Censored Songs

Jul 14, 2004 at 12:00 am

Think that the Lambada was the forbidden dance? Consider the widespread ban of such seemingly inoffensive Roaring ’20s gyrations as the Grizzly Bear and the Bunny Hug in numerous American towns. Think people overreact to racy music now? Let’s not forget the Romans who actually made public displays of bawdy music an act punishable by death. It’s all chronicled in this, a tome that could be called Censorship’s Greatest Hits. With so much saucy suppressed material to cover, it’s a shame this isn’t a large reference book. Instead author Peter Blecha offers as many amusing examples of senseless censorship he can find to bring us up to present day in this breezy overview, from the FBI’s two-year investigation of the “dirty lyrics” of “Louie Louie” to Clear Channel’s hysterical ban of 150 songs after 9/11, including “Bennie and the Jets,” “Jump,” “I Go to Pieces” and “Doctor My Eyes.” Even now it’s hard to fathom what link they could possibly draw between the terrorists attacks and “Devil With a Blue Dress On.”

Taboo Tunes lets you chuckle at banned album cover art and recurring dopes like Jessie Helm (a radio commentator in the ’50s who broke Elvis records on air) to Texas governor George Bush (who passed corporate censorship legislation). You’ll see recurring martyrs like Alan Freed, whose “Rock ’n’ Roll Dance Party” show was canceled when Frankie Lymon was spotted shimmying with a white audience member, and unlikely villains like “American Bandstand” whose pre-Dick Clark edict barred black teenagers from dancing on the show altogether. Boo-sis! You’ll also learn about lazy fact-checkers who rallied radio stations to ban anti-drug ditties like “Kicks” and “The Pusher” without getting past the title. That this book can boast so many recent examples of our nation overreacting like the stupid town in Footloose is a reality you may find both disturbing and oddly comforting.

E-mail Serene Dominic at [email protected].