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5 Songs That Were Controversially “Banned” Following 9/11

“Lyrically questionable” songs were strongly urged to be taken off the airwaves

By Isa NanPublished 6 months ago 13 min read
Image by Lerone Pieters on Unsplash

21 years ago today, the world bore witness to one of the most tragic events in history. Almost 3000 people lost their lives and over 25,000 people were injured during the heinous 9/11 attacks.

Since then, the world has changed in many ways in light of 9/11. This has not only extended to safety and security measures but also to the media. Movies, TV shows and even music have all had to make adjustments following the attack on America.

Following 9/11, iHeartMedia (then known as Clear Channel Communications), circulated an internal memo containing a list of various songs that they deemed “lyrically questionable” in light of recent events. While not an outright ban on the songs, the memo strongly urged many American radio stations to keep these songs off the air.

In total 164 individual songs (and the entire repertoire of Rage Against The Machine) were included on the list and they cover multiple generations, artists and genres of music. Many who saw the list noticed that the choice of discouraged songs ranged from completely justified to somewhat unreasonable.

Generally, music that dealt with death, airplanes, war, disasters and violence were discouraged. The general consensus was that given the climate of the time, a temporary restriction on such songs would be sensible and sensitive to the situation.

However, the list would also include a few controversial song choices that included songs about celebrations, unity, peace and Middle Eastern people. These songs were more polarising choices and divided opinions somewhat.

For you to make your own decisions on which songs were justified and which may have been a bit of a stretch, here is the full list of songs on the Clear Channel memorandum.

  1. 3 Doors Down — Duck and Run
  2. 311 — Down
  3. AC/DC — Shot Down in Flames
  4. AC/DC — Shoot to Thrill
  5. AC/DC — Dirty Deeds
  6. AC/DC — Highway to Hell
  7. AC/DC — Safe in New York City
  8. AC/DC — TNT
  9. AC/DC — Hell’s Bells
  10. Ad Libs — The Boy from New York City
  11. Alanis Morissette — Ironic
  12. Alice in Chains — Rooster
  13. Alice in Chains — Sea of Sorrow
  14. Alice in Chains — Down in a Hole
  15. Alice in Chains — Them Bones
  16. Alien Ant Farm — Smooth Criminal
  17. Animals — We Gotta Get Out of This Place
  18. Arthur Brown — Fire
  19. Bangles — Walk Like an Egyptian
  20. Barenaked Ladies — Falling for the First Time
  21. Barry McGuire — Eve of Destruction
  22. Beastie Boys — Sure Shot
  23. Beastie Boys — Sabotage
  24. The Beatles — A Day in the Life
  25. The Beatles — Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
  26. The Beatles — Ticket To Ride
  27. The Beatles — Ob La Di, Obla Da
  28. Billy Joel — Only the Good Die Young
  29. Black Sabbath — War Pigs
  30. Black Sabbath — Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
  31. Blood Sweat and Tears — And When I Die
  32. Blue Oyster Cult — Burnin’ For You
  33. Bob Dylan/Guns N Roses — Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
  34. Bobby Darin — Mack the Knife
  35. Boston — Smokin’
  36. Brooklyn Bridge — Worst That Could Happen
  37. Bruce Springsteen — I’m On Fire
  38. Bruce Springsteen — Goin’ Down
  39. Bruce Springsteen — War
  40. Buddy Holly and the Crickets — That’ll Be the Day
  41. Bush — Speed Kills
  42. Carole King — I Feel the Earth Move
  43. Cat Stevens — Peace Train
  44. Cat Stevens — Morning Has Broken
  45. Chi-Lites — Have You Seen Her
  46. The Clash — Rock the Casbah
  47. Creedence Clearwater Revival — Travelin’ Band
  48. The Cult — Fire Woman
  49. Dave Clark Five — Bits and Pieces
  50. Dave Matthews Band — Crash Into Me
  51. Dio — Holy Diver
  52. Don McLean — American Pie
  53. The Doors — The End
  54. Drifters — On Broadway
  55. Drowning Pool — Bodies
  56. Edwin Starr — War
  57. Elton John — Benny & The Jets
  58. Elton John — Daniel
  59. Elton John — Rocket Man
  60. Elvis — (You’re the) Devil in Disguise
  61. Everclear — Santa Monica
  62. Filter — Hey Man, Nice Shot
  63. Fontella Bass — Rescue Me
  64. Foo Fighters — Learn to Fly
  65. Jimi Hendrix — Hey Joe
  66. Frank Sinatra — New York, New York
  67. Fuel — Bad Day
  68. The Gap Band — You Dropped a Bomb On Me
  69. Godsmack — Bad Religion
  70. Green Day — Brain Stew
  71. Happenings — See You in September
  72. Herman’s Hermits — Wonderful World
  73. Hollies — He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
  74. J. Frank Wilson — Last Kiss
  75. Jackson Brown — Doctor My Eyes
  76. James Taylor — Fire and Rain
  77. Jan and Dean — Dead Man’s Curve
  78. Jerry Lee Lewis — Great Balls of Fire
  79. Jimi Hendrix — Hey Joe
  80. John Lennon — Imagine
  81. John Mellencamp — Crumblin Down
  82. John Mellencamp — I’m On Fire
  83. John Parr — St. Elmo’s Fire
  84. Judas Priest — Some Heads Are Gonna Roll
  85. Kansas — Dust in the Wind
  86. Korn — Falling Away From Me
  87. Led Zeppelin — Stairway to Heaven
  88. Lenny Kravitz — Fly Away
  89. Limp Bizkit — Break Stuff
  90. Local H — Bound for the Floor
  91. Los Bravos — Black is Black
  92. Louis Armstrong — What A Wonderful World
  93. Lynyrd Skynyrd — Tuesday’s Gone
  94. Martha & the Vandellas — Nowhere to Run
  95. Martha & the Vandellas — Dancing in the Street
  96. Megadeth — Dread and the Fugitive
  97. Megadeth — Sweating Bullets
  98. Metallica — Seek and Destroy
  99. Metallica — Harvester of Sorrow
  100. Metallica — Enter Sandman
  101. Metallica — Fade to Black
  102. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels — Devil with the Blue Dress
  103. Mudvayne — Death Blooms
  104. Neil Diamond — America
  105. Nina — 99 Luft Balloons/99 Red Balloons
  106. Nine Inch Nails — Head Like a Hole
  107. Norman Greenbaum — Spirit in the Sky
  108. Oingo Boingo — Dead Man’s Party
  109. Ozzy Osbourne — Suicide Solution
  110. Paper Lace — The Night Chicago Died
  111. Pat Benatar — Hit Me with Your Best Shot
  112. Pat Benatar — Love is a Battlefield
  113. Paul McCartney and Wings — Live and Let Die
  114. Peter Gabriel — When You’re Falling
  115. Peter and Gordon — I Go To Pieces
  116. Peter and Gordon — A World Without Love
  117. Peter Paul and Mary — Blowin’ in the Wind
  118. Peter Paul and Mary — Leavin’ on a Jet Plane
  119. Petula Clark — A Sign of the Times
  120. Phil Collins — In the Air Tonight
  121. Pink Floyd — Run Like Hell
  122. Pink Floyd — Mother
  123. P.O.D.- Boom
  124. Pretenders — My City Was Gone
  125. Queen — Another One Bites the Dust
  126. Queen — Killer Queen
  127. Rage Against The Machine- Every song in their catalogue
  128. Red Hot Chili Peppers — Aeroplane
  129. Red Hot Chili Peppers — Under the Bridge
  130. REM — It’s the End of the World as We Know It
  131. Rickey Nelson — Travelin’ Man
  132. Rolling Stones — Ruby Tuesday
  133. Saliva — Click Click Boom
  134. Sam Cooke — Wonderful World
  135. Santana — Evil Ways
  136. Savage Garden — Crash and Burn
  137. Shelly Fabares — Johnny Angel
  138. Simon And Garfunkel — Bridge Over Troubled Water
  139. Skeeter Davis — End of the World
  140. Slipknot — Left Behind
  141. Slipknot — Wait and Bleed
  142. Smashing Pumpkins — Bullet With Butterfly Wings
  143. Soundgarden — Blow Up the Outside World
  144. Soundgarden — Fell on Black Days
  145. Soundgarden — Black Hole Sun
  146. Steam — Na Na Na Na Hey Hey
  147. Steve Miller — Jet Airliner
  148. Stone Temple Pilots — Big Bang Baby
  149. Stone Temple Pilots — Dead and Bloated
  150. Sugar Ray — Fly
  151. Surfaris — Wipeout
  152. System of a Down — Chop Suey!
  153. Talking Heads — Burning Down the House
  154. Temple of the Dog — Say Hello to Heaven
  155. Third Eye Blind — Jumper
  156. Three Degrees — When Will I See You Again
  157. Tom Petty — Free Fallin’
  158. Tool — Intolerance
  159. The Trammps — Disco Inferno
  160. U2 — Sunday Bloody Sunday
  161. Van Halen — Dancing In The Street
  162. Van Halen — Jump
  163. Yager and Evans — In the Year 2525
  164. Youngbloods — Get Together
  165. Zombies — She’s Not There

Among this wide-ranging list, there are a few songs that stand out quite a bit among the pack. Be it due to the appropriateness or controversy of their ban, the reaction from the musicians themselves or public response, here are 5 songs that were controversially “banned” in the wake of 9/11.

#5. Wipeout: The Surfaris

While the list was premised upon the intention of restricting songs whose lyrics or subject matter could potentially offend or upset people in the wake of 9/11, Wipeout by The Surfaris stands out rather conspicuously. The song is a purely instrumental composition.

Composed in 1962 and released the following year, Wipeout soon became synonymous with the surfing culture of 1960s America. To this day, many associate the song with hitting the beach and getting on a surfboard. There are no offensive lyrics to speak of nor does the song sound particularly ominous or menacing.

The only thing that could justify its inclusion on the list would be its title. A “wipe out” is basically defined as a particularly painful fall off a surfboard. It has since been used in a wider context to describe any type of fall, crash or erasure. Thus, it is somewhat understandable that a song with such a title may have the potential to bring up some undesirable imagery in one’s mind.

Thus, Wipeout made the list seemingly for its title alone despite the song not containing any words at all or referencing anything remotely controversial. That being said, its always best to keep away from anything potentially upsetting in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

#4. Bodies: Drowning Pool

Now this is a song that definitely deserved a place on any temporary ban list in the wake of any tragedy of such magnitude. Surely, nobody wants to hear a song that repeatedly talks about bodies hitting the floor following a gruesome terrorist attack. To some, such a song would not be preferable regardless of the circumstances.

However, the circulated memo did have quite the adverse impact on Drowning Pool. Prior to 9/11, Drowning Pool had begun making waves as an up and coming Nu Metal group and Bodies occupied a comfortable position at the top of the charts. Unfortunately, after 9/11 the song was taken off the air for over a year and forced the band into somewhat of a slump.

Despite the song’s intense tone and somewhat touchy lyrics, Drowning Pool has clarified that Bodies was not written with any reference to death or violence but rather about the intense, high energy dancing that the band observed at their concerts. The phrase about the bodies hitting the floor was actually about how members of the audience would dance wildly with enjoyment and flail about in close proximity to one another.

Bodies being taken off the air was very noticeable as it was a very popular song at the time and it showed that even the most prominent songs of the era would not be spared if it had the potential to offend someone. For Drowning Pool it was an unforeseen case of horribly bad timing. Fortunately for them, they would bounce back in the following years as Bodies once again became popular through its frequent use in various YouTube clips.

#3. Walk Like An Egyptian: The Bangles

For The Bangles, 9/11 wasn’t the first time that they would see their hit song Walk Like An Egyptian restricted on the air waves. A decade earlier, the BBC discouraged airing the song on radio in the wake of the Gulf War.

With references to Egypt, Egyptians and The Nile, it appeared that the song’s references to The Middle East or Middle Eastern culture may have had the potential to inflame emotions. While you can make of that what you will, it is clear that the song itself is fairly innocuous.

In fact, Walk Like An Egyptian is not even really about Egyptians. The man who wrote the song, Liam Sternberg, came up with the idea of Walk Like An Egyptian while on a cruise. On a day where the waters were especially choppy, Sternberg compared the postures of the passengers to the people struggling to maintain their balance to the figures seen on Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The song itself was recorded as a lighthearted dance number and was treated as such until the Gulf War. When interviewed, Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson referred to the bans as “a joke” and questioned why their song would be discouraged from being played without its true meaning being understood. It goes to show that the fine line between sensitivity and sensibility has always had the potential to divide opinions.

#2. What A Wonderful World: Louis Armstrong

Recorded in 1967 by Louis Armstrong, What A Wonderful World has stood the test of time and remains a staple at all manner of happy and sentimental occasions. A song written about the beauty of a growing world, even a song of such happiness and positivity was not exempt from the list.

The reason given for discouraging the playing What A Wonderful World on the radio was that it was inappropriate to air songs about happiness and an idealistic world in the immediate aftermath of such a horrific event. It did not seem right to talk about how great life was at a time where it clearly was not for so many people.

Despite that, the proposed restrictions on this classic hit was met with vocal criticism. Unlike how many of the more controversial songs on this list divided opinions, a clear majority felt that What A Wonderful World was a comforting song in times of grief and did not agree with the ban.

Regardless, the banning of this song shows that not even upbeat or inspirational music were exempt from making the airwaves. It goes to show that sensitivity sometimes does not mean pretending that everything is all good and rosey.

#1. Imagine: John Lennon

While no doubt a beautiful and memorable song, Imagine has always been very polarising. Seen by some as a call for peace and unity and by others as a politically fuelled message to abandon religion and turn to Communism, John Lennon’s classic hit has been the subject of as much scrutiny as it has praise.

It is perhaps due to the song’s extremely polarising nature that it made the suggested ban list. After all, it can be interpreted in so many ways and anyone can make a valid point as to why it should or should not have stayed on the air in the aftermath of 9/11. Some would find the song socially relevant as a rally for unity in the face of tragedy, others would find its idealistic message inappropriate for the time and others still would not agree with the song’s political nature given the climate.

Regardless of your view about Imagine especially in that situation, it cannot be said that your feelings are completely unjustified. A song that divides opinions even under normal circumstances would undoubtedly create more controversy and discourse during such turbulent times. Despite the proposed ban, Neil Young would perform the song live during a 9/11 tribute concert on the same night that Paul Simon performed Bridge Over Troubled Water, another banned song.

No matter people’s opinions on the song as a whole, the proposed ban of Imagine in the aftermath of 9/11 certainly got everyone on all sides of the argument talking. Thus making it one of the most controversial entries on the list.

At the end of the day, regardless of whether we agree with the entries on the list or not (or the list itself as a whole), we should acknowledge the fact that it came from a good place. In a time of grief, tragedy and uncertainty, the best course of action is to unite and try to keep those affected by the incident away from anything that could hurt, upset or offend them.

21 years on from 9/11 and many still bear the scars from that day. Be it physical injuries, mental trauma or the grief of having lost a loved one, we owe it to these people and those who lost their lives that day to ensure that such a horrific act never happens again.

In many ways, for better or worse, this was the music world’s first response to the events of 9/11. Whether we agree with it or not, let us accept the fact that they tried to be sensitive and like them, give our thoughts to everyone who was affected on that day.

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About the Creator

Isa Nan

Written accounts of life, death and everything in between

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