Music lovers today may wonder why some 1960s songs were banned.
Censorship has come a long way since then. And some feel it’s come too far, but others think it still has a ways to go.
Either way, we thought we’d dig into some of the banned songs to find out exactly why they weren’t allowed airplay. You might be surprised!
Let’s get started!
When Did Radio Bans and Censorship Start?
In 1912, radio was the new rage. People were building equipment and starting their own stations, often running over each others’ frequencies. It was chaos. So the US Government established the Radio Act of 1912.
The Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, was the regulatory authority over radio. However, the law forced him to allow anyone who applied for a license to have one. Incredibly, the radio station count jumped from five in 1922 to 556 in 1923.
The Radio Act of 1927 created a commission intended to correct the failure of the 1922 act. It initially wasn’t allowed to censor broadcasts, but it could establish regulations and enforce any future offenses. The commission could also renew or revoke licenses and impose fines or even prison sentences on those ‘who did not serve the public interest.’
On June 19, 1934, President Franklin D Roosevelt produced the Communications Act of 1934. The focus of this was to move broadcasting regulation from the Department of Commerce to a delegated group by creating the FCC (Federal Communications Commission.)
The Communications Act included nearly all the regulations from the Radio Act of 1927.
Realize this wasn’t just happening in the US. In fact, Britain initially founded the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) to regulate broadcasting there.
Song Bans and Censorship Hit a High
The FCC was allowed to ban ‘indecent’ songs. However, there was nothing specific as to what indecent meant. This vagueness provided ample opportunity for the commission to manipulate radio stations. The men running the FCC certainly weren’t crazy about the music coming out in the 1960s.
Broadcasters, rock musicians, and fans felt rock and roll reflected the current culture. Whereas others, including the members of the FCC, felt the music incited drug use, free sex, and other ‘obscenities.’
The commission pressured stations through red tape, warnings, fines, and even jail time. These allowed them to avoid shutting down stations while controlling what they played.
So what kinds of 1960s lyrics got songs banned in the US? Let’s take a look!
#11 Tell Laura I Love Her – Ray Peterson
Why the Song Was Banned: The FCC felt this tune about a boy dying in a stock car race was too sad and morbid to be broadcast. Tommy wants to marry Laura but can’t afford a ring. So he enters the race hoping to win the award money. As he lays near his burning wreck of a car, he asks the people around him to tell Laura he loves her.
Written by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh and recorded by Ray Peterson, many stations banned the song, thinking it would incite suicide. However, it still hit #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart. The BBC also banned the Ricky Valance version of the hit. Even so, his cover made #1 on the UK Singles Chart.
But as they pulled him from the twisted wreck With his dying breath, they heard him say Tell Laura I love her, tell Laura I need her Tell Laura not to cry My love for her will never die
First Appearance: Ray Peterson recorded the song in 1960. Ricky Valance’s version came out later the same year.
#10 Brown-Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
Why the Song Was Banned: The hit was censored primarily because the original lyrics talked about ‘making love in the green grass.’ Morrison changed the line to “Laughin’ and a-runnin’, hey, hey” to get around being banned.
However, the title was also a concern to certain people. Initially “Brown-Skinned Girl,” Morrison changed the title to “Brown-Eyed Girl” before releasing it. Sources show two reasons for this. One is that it was an accident during the taping. Others say it was on purpose to lessen the apparent interracial relationship in the song.
Inter-racial relationships were at the forefront of the US news at the time. In fact, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Loving v. Virginia, making it unconstitutional to ban interracial marriages, came out a few days before Brown-Eyed Girl debuted.
Sometimes I'm overcome thinking 'bout it Making love in the green grass Behind the stadium with you My brown-eyed girl You, my brown-eyed girl
First Appearance: Morrison released Brown-Eyed Girl as a single in the summer of 1967.
#9 Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen
Why the Song Was Banned: Louie, Louie wasn’t just banned. It was investigated by the FBI. The words to the song talk about a sailor heading home to his love in Jamaica. The controversy started when two teenagers in Indiana wrote to the governor asking for the piece to be banned because the lyrics were ‘obscene.’
Jack Ely, who sang the hit tune, slurred the words quite a bit during recording. So rumors flew, and students passed fake lyrics around high schools and colleges. The Kingsmen’s tune became even more popular due to the dispute.
In a later interview, band members declared they never deviated from the original lyrics. However, their drummer admitted to dropping a very faintly heard f-bomb when he fumbled his drumstick. Listen for it at the 54-second mark.
After 31 months, the FBI announced its results were inconclusive because they couldn’t understand the words no matter how slowly they played the recording. They’d even interviewed multiple people associated with the song. However, they skipped Jack Ely because he wasn’t part of The Kingsmen by then.
Louie, Louie is number 156 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time and peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top 100.
See Jamaica, the moon above It won't be long, me see me love Take her in my arms again Tell her I'll never leave again Louie Louie, oh no Me gotta go Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said Louie Louie, oh baby Me gotta go
First Appearance: Louie, Louie first appeared in 1955 as written and sung by R&B singer Richard Berry. It had local success on the West Coast and never made it to the Billboard Charts. The Kingsmen’s cover came out in 1963.
#8 Puff the Magic Dragon – Peter, Paul, and Mary
Why the Song Was Banned: Many people suggest Puff the Magic Dragon is about smoking weed. But the lyrics sound more like someone was dropping acid when they wrote it.
Either way, the words are about a dragon named Puff who was happy when his friend, Jackie Paper, visited. The dragon became sad when his friend never returned. Read into it what you will.
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave So Puff, that mighty dragon, sadly slipped into his cave Oh, Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
First Appearance: Peter Yarrow wrote the song and always stated the piece was simply an innocent fantasy. Peter, Paul, and Mary released the hit in 1962.
#7 My Generation – The Who
Why the Song Was Banned: Stations banned The Who’s song because Roger Daltry purposely stuttered on some words. The BBC kept it off the air to avoid offending people who actually had stuttering issues. However, the song still became a huge hit, so they allowed it to air. It eventually reached #2 in the UK charts, but only #74 in the US.
My Generation ranks at number 232 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time.
Why don't you all f-fade away (talkin' 'bout my generation) Don't try to dig what we all s-s-s-say (talkin' 'bout my generation) I'm not trying to 'cause a big s-s-sensation (talkin' 'bout my generation) I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation (talkin' 'bout my generation)
First Appearance: My Generation came out in 1965 on The Who’s debut album, My Generation.
#6 Let’s Spend the Night Together – The Rolling Stones
Why the Song Was Banned: If you aren’t sure why station managers banned this song, maybe take another look at the words. The theme was so evident that Ed Sullivan told them to change the words or they wouldn’t be on his show.
However, instead of singing ‘Let’s spend some time together’ as Sullivan suggested, Jagger sang ‘Let’s spend some mmmm together’ while reportedly rolling his eyes.
We could have fun just groovin' around Around, and round, and oh my my Let's spend the night together Now I need you more than ever Let's spend the night together
First Appearance: The Stones released the hit in 1967 on a double-single with Ruby Tuesday.
#5 Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – The Beatles
Why the Song Was Banned: Many people thought this Beatles hit was about LSD, either because of the title’s initials or the psychedelic imagery.
John Lennon, however, reportedly said a drawing his son, Julian, made in school inspired the song. Julian apparently even titled his artwork ‘Lucy – in the sky with diamonds.’ The lyrics themselves came from Lennon having read the Alice in Wonderland books.
Picture yourself in a boat on a river With tangerine trees and marmalade skies Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
First Appearance: “Lucy” was on The Beatles’ 1967 concept album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
#4 Love Me Two Times – The Doors
Why the Song Was Banned: Again, the sexual intention here is clear. The man is asking his lover to ‘love’ him twice because he’s going away for a bit. He wants one for today and one for the road, so to speak.
Love me one time Yeah, my knees got weak Love me two times girl Last me All through the week Love me two times I'm goin' away
First Appearance: Love Me Two Times was initially on The Doors’ 1967 release of Strange Days.
#3 God Only Knows – Beach Boys
Why the Song Was Banned: We thought broadcasters banned this song because of the suicidal inference in “So what good would living do me.” Surprisingly, the reason for its ban across much of the US was for the use of the word ‘God’ in a rock song. The Beach Boys weren’t saying anything negative about God, but people still considered it blasphemous.
God Only Knows is on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time at number 11.
I may not always love you But long as there are stars above you You never need to doubt it I'll make you so sure about it God only knows what I'd be without you
First Appearance: The song was on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, released in 1966.
#2 Leader of the Pack – The Shangri-Las
Why the Song Was Banned: Teen tragedy strikes again. Betty and Jimmy are engaged. But, Jimmy’s the leader of a bike gang and ‘from the wrong side of the tracks.’ Betty’s father forces her to break up with Jimmy, who takes off in tears and dies in a crash. So now we’ve added a bit of Romeo and Juliet to the story, which has its own history of being banned.
Leader of the Pack is number 316 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time.
He sort of smiled and kissed me goodbye The tears were beginning to show As he drove away on that rainy night I begged him to go slow But whether he heard, I'll never know
First Appearance: The Shangri-Las released The Leader of the Pack as a single in 1964, and it quickly rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
#1 Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles
Why the Song Was Banned: The reference to sexual intimacy here is pretty clear. The woman sees love in the man’s eyes, hears it in his sighs, but wonders if he’s just putting it on for the night. Although banned by many stations, the song still made #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making The Shirelles the first black female group to see a #1 hit.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow made it to number 151 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time.
… Is this a lasting treasure Or just a moment's pleasure? Can I believe the magic of your sighs? Will you still love me tomorrow?
First Appearance: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow came out in 1960 as a single.
Which Banned Song from the 1960s is Your Favorite?
Thankfully, all of these songs made it through their bans to become the great hits they are today. Many made it to the top ten, and some are even on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time. Do you have a favorite banned song? Tell us about it!