By declaring that he “ain’t singing” for Pepsi, Neil Young is effectively doing its bidding for free. Still, “This Note’s For You” video is a great satire of 80’s corporate rock: a dog in sunglasses licks his chops at a bikini-clad girl, and a Michael Jackson lookalike catches fire, leading MTV to ban the clip after threats from Michael Jackson’s lawyers.
Columbia Records refused to let Billie Holiday record ‘Strange Fruit’; when Commodore Records did, Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun called it “the beginning of the civil rights movement”. Strange Fruit – a song about lynchings – was considered so powerful that some US cities banned it, worried it would provoke civil disharmony.
The Beatles’ track “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” was not censored by the BBC for referencing firearms, or for its phallic implications, but, John Lennon claimed, for being “about shooting up drugs”. Given that the phrase came from Charlie Brown “Happiness Is a Warm Puppy”, it would have been an endearingly innocent heroin reference.
I need a fix cause I’m going down
Down to the abyss that I’ve left up town
I need a fix cause I’m going down
But Lennon was talking about a real gun because he took the phrase from the cover of gun magazine called The American Rifleman that was in the studio at Abbey Road.
“George Martin showed me the cover of a magazine that said ‘Happiness is a warm gun’. I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. Warm gun means you’ve just shot something.“
“Happiness Is a Warm Gun was another one which was banned on the radio -they said it was about shooting up drugs. But they were advertising guns and I thought it was crazy that I made a song out of it. It wasn’t about ‘H’ at all.”
John Lennon used to be irritated by the fact that fans and even the authorities gave or found meanings in his songs that weren’t there. He used to say that more often than not “his songs mean what they say”.
If you didn’t know what foreplay is, you aren’t ready to have sex. That is what “Hello” is to me: all main event without any warm-up, like moving from a handshake to a cum shot in 60 seconds. It’s okay, Adele. I can find a place in my heart to forgive you, even if your song trained me to cringe when I hear the word “hello”. I wasn’t crazy about this song, so naturally, my ears bleed every time I hear it. Goodbye, Adele.
When Journey went on hiatus toward the end of the Eighties, keyboardist Jonathan Cain and guitarist Neil Schon formed Bad English with John Waite of the Babys on vocals – and went on to achieve levels of cheesy terribleness their other band had barely approached. No blow-dried power ballad ever did it bigger, dumber, emptier or gloppier than “When I See You Smile,” a love letter to a girl who never forgets to bring an umbrella along on dates (“And when the rain is falling, I don’t feel it ’cause you’re here with me now“). Waite’s herniated vocals make Steve Perry sound like Al Green.
The Kinks, “Lola” is one of the stranger examples on the list. While the famous Kinks song gained controversy for being about the love between a man and a transvestite, it was banned by the BBC for product placement regarding a reference in the lyrics to Coca-Cola. Kinks frontman and songwriter Ray Davies responded by recording a different version of the song that changed the line “where you drink champagne and it tastes like Coca Cola” to “cherry cola” so that the government-run station, which at the time could not be seen as endorsing any product, could play the song.
Nirvana, “Rape Me”, the very title of this track from 1993’s In Utero was enough to get it pulled from the shelves of Walmart and Kmart. While Kurt Cobain was known for his strict adherence to his punk ethos, he relented to pressure by changing the title to “Waif Me” for sales at those stores that demanded it, because he recognized that some of his fans didn’t have access to other resources for buying music in the pre-Internet age. “I just feel bad for all the kids who are forced to buy their music from big chain stores and have to have the edited music,” Cobain said
The release of In Utero wasn’t the first time the band encountered issues with the song, as they wanted to perform it at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1992, but we’re told “no” by MTV execs. They agreed to play “Lithium” instead, but just to give the MTV people a good scare Cobain started playing the intro to “Rape Me” before starting “Lithium.” This was also the famous performance in which Krist Novoselic accidentally dropped his bass on his head and the group taunted their sworn enemy Axl Rose a lot.
There are probably a dozen or so Rolling Stones songs I could have picked for this list. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is a great song, but it is overused in commercials (that Coke ad from 2004 was particularly annoying), TV shows (from the great ‘Sopranos’ to the stinky ‘Swingtown’) and movies (it underscores a pivotal scene in ‘The Big Chill’, but we blame that 1983 movie for the song’s downfall) has been just as epic.
Between the movie trailers, video games and its role as the de facto theme song for ‘CSI: Miami,’ the Who’s counterculture classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” has lost much of its power over the past 44 years. After all, how can you give it to the Man when your song is bumping up against Michael Bay movies and tampon commercials?
The granddaddy of overplayed songs still resonates with audiences 42 years after its release. There isn’t a day that goes by without ‘Free Bird’ flying high on some radio. Everyone knows it. Shout ‘Free Bird’ at a concert these days, and chances are the band onstage (if they have any sense of humor) will at least attempt to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s guitar anthem. But give it a rest already — we know that solo better than almost anything else in Skynyrd’s catalog.