In the mid-’80s, a big-haired then-Senator’s wife named Tipper Gore was taking a stroll near her 11-year-old daughter’s room. Without warning, she caught an earful of her tween’s tape deck (or turntable), as someone sang about “masturbating with a magazine” and how “…my body will never be the same.”
Tipper was gobsmacked at the reference to pleasurable coitus seeping its way into her place of residence without her approbation. She would not take this lying down: Instead she and three other women formed the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in 1985, which would establish guidelines for regulating music deemed sexual, violent, or all-around uncouth, slapping warning labels on anything that fit the bill. Among the starting “Filthy Fifteen” were Cyndi Lauper’s allegedly shameless and vile “She Bop” and Madonna’s supposed smut-fest “Dress You Up”, but No. 1, with a bullet, was Prince’s singularly pornographic fantasy “Darling Nikki.”
The best part of the story is that warning labels actually helped sell more records — it certainly didn’t hurt Minneapolis’ finest, as “Nikki” parent album Purple Rain would end up going 13x platinum. So, no matter how you feel about censorship, at least take a moment to pose inappropriately and raise a glass of liquid meth to Mrs. Gore for pointing consumers in the direction of mellifluous debauchery.
Have a look at this list to check out the great company Prince keeps in the history of banned songs — as proud a legacy as any His Purpleness leaves behind.
Chuck Berry, "My Ding-a-Ling" (1972)Chuck Berry, “My Ding-a-Ling” (1972)
Chuck Berry, "My Ding-a-Ling" (1972)
No double entendre went unturned when “My Ding-a-Ling” was first recorded by Dave Bartholomew in the ultra-conservative post-WWII environment of 1952. Twenty years later, its continued controversy would help it become Chuck Berry’s only U.S. number-one hit.
Peter, Paul and Mary, "Puff the Magic Dragon" (1963)Peter, Paul and Mary, “Puff the Magic Dragon” (1963)
Peter, Paul and Mary, "Puff the Magic Dragon" (1963)
Is it possible that little Jackie Paper was meant to be rolled for “draggin’?” Though it was fervently denied, this remained the popular speculation for Peter, Paul and Mary’s sweet song about everyone’s first, innocent “puff.”
N.W.A, "F**k tha Police" (1988)N.W.A, “F**k tha Police” (1988)
N.W.A, "F**k tha Police" (1988)
If you’ve ever paused to wonder if record “warning” labels actually dissuade potential buyers, just remember that Straight Outta Compton — which spawned the controversial whirlwind “F**k tha Police”— sold 750,000 copies before N.W.A even toured the record.
Madonna, "Papa Don't Preach" (1986)Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach” (1986)
Madonna, "Papa Don't Preach" (1986)
No, Madonna wasn’t encouraging girls everywhere to go out and get pregnant. If there’s one lesson learned from her ’86 hit, it’s not to demand a public statement from Madonna, which she refused to make after the “Preach” blowback. If Papa can’t tell her what to do, no one can.
Michael Jackson, "They Don't Care About Us" (1995)Michael Jackson, “They Don’t Care About Us” (1995)
Michael Jackson, "They Don't Care About Us" (1995)
He apologized. He re-recorded. He apologized again. But the fourth single off of Jackson’s HIStory: Past, Present, Future, Book I, will always be known for its anti-Semitic-perceived lyrics. (And not for Spike Lee directing the video. In Brazil. Which was a whole ‘nother controversy.)
Robin Thicke, "Blurred Lines" (2013)Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines” (2013)
Robin Thicke, "Blurred Lines" (2013)
The Kingsmen, "Louie Louie" (1963)The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie” (1963)
The Kingsmen, "Louie Louie" (1963)
Tough to believe that the FBI would bother to investigate the extent of one pop song’s obscenity, but that’s exactly what happened with the Kingsmen’s most famous hit. And if you think you’re the only one who couldn’t understand the mumbled lyrics, that’s exactly how and why the investigation halted — no one could tell what the hell they were talking about.
Ozzy Osbourne, "Suicide Solution" (1980)Ozzy Osbourne, “Suicide Solution” (1980)
Ozzy Osbourne, "Suicide Solution" (1980)
Six years after the release of “Solution,” a lawsuit was filed by the parents of a teen who’d killed himself, claiming the song and the band were responsible. Acquitted of any faults, bassist/lyricist Bob Daisley revealed two decades later that it was actually Ozzy he had in mind when he composed the lyrics.
Loretta Lynn, "The Pill" (1975)Loretta Lynn, “The Pill” (1975)
Loretta Lynn, "The Pill" (1975)
Though this song was recorded in 1972, Lynn’s label wouldn’t let her release the ditty — about a woman who can finally have sex without the worry of pregnancy — for three whole years, out of fear it was too risqué. You’ve come a long way, baby.
Eminem, "Stan" (2000)Eminem, “Stan” (2000)
Eminem, "Stan" (2000)
If you only know “Stan” from MTV, it’s likely you caught a cut version. Was there a guy, drinking and swerving at the wheel of a car? Did you see a woman gagged? In the trunk of said car? Banned as much as it was lauded, in the end… it’s Eminem, folks.
Blink-182, "Adam's Song" (1999)Blink-182, “Adam’s Song” (1999)
Blink-182, "Adam's Song" (1999)
Though Blink meant “Adam’s Song” as an anti-suicide message, it was the precise track one Columbine teen survivor chose to play over and over while ending his life in his parents’ garage.
The Cure, "Killing an Arab" (1979)The Cure, “Killing an Arab” (1979)
The Cure, "Killing an Arab" (1979)
Go ahead and try to find a current, live version of “Killing an Arab.” No, not “Kissing an Arab,” as it was reinvented in 2005, and definitely not 2011’s ode-to-Melville “Killing an Ahab.” Supposedly inspired by Camus’ The Stranger, the song’s caused such a mess that Cure lead singer Robert Smith has been negotiating its existence for decades.
Randy Newman, "Short People" (1977)Randy Newman, “Short People” (1977)
Randy Newman, "Short People" (1977)
The state of Maryland tried to ban this single, with its satirically anti-little-people refrain of “Short people got no reason to live,” from being played on its airwaves. Didn’t stop it from snagging the No. 2 spot on the U.S. charts.
Bruce Springsteen, "American Skin (41 Shots)" (2000)Bruce Springsteen, “American Skin (41 Shots)” (2000)
Bruce Springsteen, "American Skin (41 Shots)" (2000)
New York City was up in arms after a Madison Square Garden show of Springsteen’s in 2000, with some police representatives calling for this song — inspired by the death of Bronx resident Amadou Diallo, who was shot by police officers in 1999 — to be boycotted. In the summer of 2013, Springsteen played the song in dedication to Trayvon Martin, shortly after George Zimmerman’s controversial acquittal.
Nirvana, "Rape Me" (1993)Nirvana, “Rape Me” (1993)
Nirvana, "Rape Me" (1993)
Of course Kurt Cobain wasn’t asking anyone to rape him or anyone else, but, rather, a message of anti-rape and indestructibility, explaining to SPIN in 1993, “It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this and I’m gonna f**king rape you one of these days and you won’t even know it.'”