Censorship of music, the practice of censoring music from the public, may take the form of partial or total censorship with the latter banning the music entirely. The music in question may be a song, or part thereof, a collection of songs (such as a particular album) or a genre of music.
While songs and albums have been banned in the past it has become less common in western countries. However, the censorship of particular words deemed as profanity is still commonplace.
Censorship of pop music
A classic example of partial censorship in the UK is the single "God Save the Queen", by the Sex Pistols, released by Virgin Records on May 27th, 1977. The sale of this single, that coincided with the Queen's silver jubilee celebrations, was not banned. However, the track was barred for airplay on BBC's Radio 1, then the most popular radio channel in the UK. This public service broadcaster censored this single, that reached Number 2 in the charts, because of its lyrics. It is rumoured that the single actually reached Number 1, but that this was suppressed in a further act of censorship.
"God save the Queen, this is a fascist regime."
This act of censorship merely confirmed the attitude of the singer.
Another song famously banned by Radio 1 was "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 1983 because the lyrics "when you're gonna come" were seen to refer to the climax of the sexual act. In a famous incident Radio 1 disc jockey Mike Read took the record off the turntable and broke it in two. After this, but without consulting Read, Radio 1 decided to ban the record. As a result the record went straight to number one, where it stayed for five weeks.
1981, the International Year of Disabled People, saw the BBC ban Ian Dury's "Spasticus Autisticus" until after dark. Drury, who himself had suffered from polio, had written the song as a positive message for people with disabilities. The chorus' refrain, "I'm spasticus, autisticus", was inspired by the response of the rebelling gladiators of Rome who (at least in the version of the story as portrayed in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus), all answered to the name of their leader, "I am Spartacus", to protect him.
The Beastie Boys received mass publicity when they arrived in the UK in 1987. Headline stories of their activities in bars and hotel rooms, along with a tour containing dancers in cages and a large inflatable penis, led to massive sales of their "Fight for your Right to Party". The video, showing the three members of the band invade and trash a party, was subsequently banned by Top of the Pops due to it's portrayal of "loutish behaviour".
In order to allow songs to be played wherever possible it is common to censor particular words, particularly profanity. Some labels produce censored versions themselves, sometimes with alternative lyrics, to comply with the rules set by various radio and television programmes. Some channels decide to censor them themselves using one of four methods:
- Blanking; when the volume is set to zero for all or part of the word
- Bleeping; playing a noise, usually a "bleep", over all or part of the word
- Resampling; using a like-sounding portion of vocals and music to override the offending word
- Backmasking; simply taking the offending word and reversing the audio. Sometimes the whole audio is reversed, most times only the vocal track is reversed.
The censorship of some of the less common swear words or obvious innuendo may differ between channels. The word ho in Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For" was censored by some channels (for example MTV) while not by others (such as BBC Radio 1). Likewise some channels censored the line "keep her coming every night" in Maroon 5's "This Love" because of the inference of the word cuming.
Censorship in classical music
For many years Wagner and even Beethoven were never played in Israel, though they were not formally banned, because of their association with the Nazi era (even though both died long before the Nazis came to power), and Beethoven at least could not conceivably be considered to have held fascist or anti-semitic leanings. The conductor Sir Simon Rattle provoked controversy by performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Israel. Jewish conductor Daniel Barenboim has also done a great deal to make German classical music acceptable in Israel, but caused controversy on July 7th 2001 by conducting Wagner in Jerusalem. Unlike Beethoven, Wagner was an anti-semite. After protests by holocaust survivors and pressure from the Israeli government the original programme was changed in an act of self-censorship. Barenboim agreed not to play Wagner's Die Walküre, replacing it with pieces by Robert Schumann and Igor Stravinsky. At the end of the concert Barenboim announced his intention to play Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde as an encore, and that those who did not want to hear it should leave first. This statement was greeted with loud applause by the majority, and the disapproval of a minority. Barenboim was denounced as a fascist in the press, though some would argue that fascism was actually to be found in the act of censorship. Barenboim wanted to play the music because of the great quality of the music in itself.
These articles have more information on particular cases of music censorship.