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° Rubrique About The World

ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

  The Parent's Music Resource Center from information to censorship. 

Site Philagora, tous droits réservés ©



In the early fifties, the trade magazines Billboard and Variety launched a crusade against 'leerics' in Rhythm and Blues songs, which led to the banning of many R&B records by jukeboxes operators  and radio stations disk jockeys. They were supported in their efforts by various religious organisations, including black ones. With the advent of rock & roll, the situation worsened.2 State authorities (such as the Texas Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commision) began suggesting to radio stations which records should be banned (almost all by black artists).

Many stations were but too happy to cooperate. In 1956, the North Alabama White Citizens Council declared that rock & roll appealed to 'the base in man, br[ought] out animalism and vulgarity,' and was part of a 'plot by the NAACP to mongrelize America.' In the same year, Gene Vincent was found guilty of obscenity and public lewdness by a Virginia State court (Martin, p.73) while Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis were ostracised for their private sexual lives. Rock & roll was also associated with juvenile violence and described as an incentive for rioting. 

The Ed Sullivan Show is a telling indicator of the fluctuating threshold separating what was deemed acceptable from what was not. Sullivan had for instance initially refused to host Elvis Presley as 'unfit for a family audience' until his national appeal called for a reversal of opinion. He subsequently described Presley as the epitome of Americanness (although shooting him only from the waist up). During the sixties, other artists were banned from the programme until their commercial clout proved irresistible, but they also had to comply with some restrictions: in 1965, the Rolling Stones had words from 'Satisfaction' deleted and had later to alter their hit 'Let's Spend the Night Together' into 'Let's Spend Some Time Together' (however, The Doors' Jim Morrison sang 'Light My Fire' with its original lyrics despite his promise to sanitize them, to the ire of Ed Sullivan).

In the mid-seventies, after a few rather uneventful years, blue songs came under attack again. This time, even industry officials joined the fray. Vice-presidents at Casablanca, ABC or Warner Brothers Records, programme directors at major radio stations and even the National Association of Broadcasters expressed their concern over sexual lyrics.

The strongest attack came from Reverend Jesse Jackson who, through his PUSH organisation, launched a campaign against off-white songs, most by black artists. As the PMRC ladies would do a few years later, he placed the blame for the increase in illegitimate births and abortions on songs advocating sex (Martin, p.251). On the whole, though, his campaign failed and was blamed for confusing ethic with ethnic issues, despite an attempt at fending off the criticism by focusing, with the help of feminist organisations, on the Rolling Stones' Some Girls album. By the early eighties, the issue of sexual lyrics had lost momentum, though occasional cases of censorship still occured since, as Martin and Segrave write, 'rather than lying dormant, sex rock became the focus of a sort of sniper warfare as opposed to an all-out assault by anti-rock forces' (p.256). 
It would remain in that situation until the campaign launched by the PMRC in 1985.


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° Rubrique About The World