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Censorship Uncovered: Music

Background and Reference Sources

Oxford Music Online presents a conservative view of music censorship, but a good historical review.

The Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, part of Credo Reference, has an informative article on censorship of popular music, especially through the 20th century.


An early example of censorship of music:

The "tritone" was banned by the Church in the middle ages. It is composed of an interval of augmented 4th which comprises 3 whole tones, e.g. from F up or down to B. Difficult to sing, and in medieval times its use was prohibited. There was saying, involving the Hexachord names for the notes, Mi contra fa diabolus est in musica, ‘Mi against fa is the devil in music’, hence the frequent use of the tritone in comps. to suggest evil.  -- Oxford Dictionary of Music.  Find a more descriptive entry in Grove (Oxford) Music Online.

And a 20th-century example:

The Parents' Music Resource Center was formed by a group of prominent women in reaction to obscene lyrics in contemporary popular music. Link to a collection of articles from the 1980s and 1990s in the Los Angeles Times.


Rokia Traoré On Taking Up Music, And Mali's 'Iron Women'

NPR broadcast, September 25, 2013

When war broke out in the West African nation of Mali last year, one of the targets was that country's ancient music tradition. Islamist rebels occupied northern Mali, and banned music.

Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré was finishing her fifth album. The daughter of a Malian diplomat,she grew up moving from continent to continent, absorbing all kinds of musical influences. But her homeland is the center  of her new record, Beautiful Africa.



Clothing may be subject to censorship, too, and this song protests a ban on wearing green in Ireland.

"The Wearing of the Green" is an Irish street ballad dating to the late 18th century. The context of the song is the repression around the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Wearing a shamrock in the "caubeen" (hat) was a sign of rebellion, and green was the colour of the Society of the United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary organisation. During the period, displaying revolutionary insignia was punishable by hanging.

The rendition here is by early 20th-century tenor John McCormack.


O Paddy dear, an' did ye hear the news that's goin' round? 
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground;
St. Patrick's Day no more we'll keep, his colour can't be seen,
For there's a cruel law against the wearin' o' the Green.

O I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand 
And he asked 'How's poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?'
She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen
For they're hangin' men and women there for wearin' o' the green

Then if the colour we must wear is England's cruel red, 
Let it remind us of the blood that Ireland has shed,
So take the shamrock from your hat and throw it on the sod,
But never fear, 'twill take root there, though under foot 'tis trod

When law can stop the blades of grass from growin' as they grow,
And when the leaves in summer time, their colours dare not show,
Then I will change the colour, too, I wear in my caubeen,
But 'till that day, please God, I'll stick to wearin' o' the green.

Books in the Colby Catalog

Censored Lyrics/Music Album Covers

     Images (From top-left, clockwise):
  • Cover of Eminem album containing the track "My Darling" which was taken off iTunes
  • Cover of John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's album "Two Virgins"
  • Cover of Lady Gaga album "Born This Way", censored in Malaysia and some European/Asian countries
  • Cover of The Rolling Stones album "Beggar's Banquet"
  • Cover of The Beatles album "Yesterday and Today"
  • Poster for The Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" 


Artists that have had their lyrics blacklisted, banned, or censored:

  • Eminem (numerous songs)
  • The Beatles (“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” was taken off airplay because its initals spelled "LSD")
  • Pink Floyd (“The Wall” was banned in South Africa in 1980 for supporting racial equity and education)
  • Judge Dread (holds the record for most songs banned from BBC Radio)
  • The Rolling Stones (“Let’s Spend The Night Together” was challenged to be changed to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together”)
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