THE WILD & WONDERFUL WORLD OF OBSCENITY IN MUSIC
BY CHRIS LOW
(Illustrations by GEA PHILES)
Bertrand Russell’s quote that “Obscenity is whatever happens to shock some elderly and ignorant magistrate.” Is no better illustrated than in terms of music and songs that have been deemed “obscene” for one reason or another.
Since the Prohibition era blues recordings of the 1920s celebrating sex, drugs and everything else fun that didn’t come out of a bottle there have been songs that have provoked outrage and censure from the custodians of morality just as they have provided titillation and thrills for music fans.
But just what songs have been declared “obscene” and for what reasons? Clearly it’s a matter of interpretation and taste but even in recent times there have been songs that have fallen foul of what is deemed socially acceptable and court hearings where judgement has been made on whether these songs are “likely to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences”, an interpretation still largely based on a definition of “obscenity” passed in 1857.
While studies of all offending songs in history would easily fill a book and researching them fill my next twelve months, for the purpose of this piece, I’m just going to list and comment on a number of those myself and a couple of friends I had a drink with earlier tonight could think of. It’s nowhere near exhaustive, and doesn’t purport to be. But then again, neither does any definition of what exactly classifies a song as “obscene”. Log onto YouTube and enjoy…..
Anti-nowhere league – So what? (1981) “I’ve fucked a sheep/And I’ve fucked a goat/I rammed my cock /right down its throat” a bearded man in studded leather cod-piece growled on this biker-punk B-side. I doubt he did but that didn’t stop copies of the single being seized by the Metropolitan Police’s Obscene Publication Squad shortly after release.
Buju Banton – Boom Bye Bye (1988) Turgid exhortation to the shooting and burning of homosexuals. Banton is presently serving a ten year sentence for cocaine and firearms charges in a US prison where, despite initial protestations he was “framed by de faggots” in the time honoured tradition of most rampant homophobes, he can be expected to reappraise his position and embrace the opportunities presented.
Body Count – Cop Killer (1992) Controversial anti-police brutality track from rapper Ice-T’s rock project. Vice President Quayle branded ‘Cop Killer‘ ‘obscene’ and following police pressure, public boycotts and record label stockholder withdrawals the track was removed from later pressings of the LP. Ice T can now be seen in a variety of movies and TV dramas. Playing a cop.
Brainbombs – Obey LP (1996) Sounding like a – rather wonderful – cross between Flipper and Blurt, Brainbombs have spent the past thirty odd years releasing records themed around serial killers, child rape, extreme sex, torture and murder. Their song “Ass Fucking Murder” is as good an introduction to their oeuvre as any. No idea if they have ever encountered any obscenity problems in their native Sweden but one can only admire that Scandinavian liberalism if they haven’t.
Crass – Penis Envy (1981) + other releases. The original anarcho-punks, Crass’ first brush with the law for obscenity and outrage came with the release of their first 7”, Reality Asylum which attracted the attentions of the Blasphemy Squad for its anti-religious sentiments. At the time of the Falklands Conflict their anti-war “Sheep farming in The Falklands” and Thatcher baiting “How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead” singles provoked outrage in parliament but it was their uncompromising feminist LP “Penis Envy”, and in particular, one of the songs on it, “Beta Motel” that led to them being successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, a ruling later overturned by the Court of Appeal, after copies were seized from a Manchester record shop. Another act who had also had a release on Crass Records, Flux of Punk Indians were similarly prosecuted in an associated case due to the title of their LP: “The fucking cunts treat us like pricks”.
David Allen Coe – Nothing Sacred (1978) At the peak of his career as a fairly popular country singer, Coe, it would seem, had an epiphany that his calling was to record offensive songs. Getting off to an auspicious start with the independently released ‘Nothing sacred’ LP featuring such sure-fire hits as “Cum Stains on the Pillow” and “ Masterbation Blues” (sic) his career didn’t improve much on his spelling following the release of the follow-up album which included a sensitive study of interracial divorce. It was entitled “Nigger fucker”.
Coil – Scatology (1984) def: “the study of or preoccupation with excrement or obscenity.” This is a concept album thereof, albeit all very arty and they were mates with Derek Jarman so can’t imagine they ever got their collars felt for any of it’s contents. However, Coil did feature erstwhile Throbbing Gristle member, Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson. In their prior incarnation as Coum Transmissions they faced obscenity charges after covering their hometown in a poster featuring the band’s phallic logo. Years later, they were famously branded “The wreckers of civilisation” by (paedophile) Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn following their ICA “prostitution” art exhibition which displayed pornographic photos juxtaposed with used tampons. In 1992 Coum & Throbbing Gristle founder, Genesis P Orridge, was forced to flee the UK after the Obscene Publications Squad raided his home after a spurious TV documentary was broadcast alleging he was leader of a satanic cult and his Temple of Psychic Youth ceremonies were in fact ritual abuse.
Ian Dury – Plaistow Patricia (1977) Oh the hilarity when I got the janitor to put this track on at a school disco rather than chart-topper at the time “Hit me with Your rhythm stick” . Today, like John Cooper Clarke, it’s probably on the English syllabus taught in schools
Dead Kennedys – Frankenchrist (1985) Due to the poster that came with the record rather than any of the songs themselves (tho “Hellnation” was held up to Moral Majority scrutiny) DKs singer Jello Biafra was brought to trial for “distributing matter harmful to minors” and had to defend his use of a H.R. Giger painting depicting a tableau of suppurating peni. Which he did successfully. Ironically, years later, one of the signings to Jello’s Alternative Tentacles label Jay Munly had a song that was deemed obscene and refused distribution. Entitled “My Darling Sambo” one can possibly understand why.
D-Day – Too Young to Date (1979) Bizarre and solitary release by this Texan power-pop act. No great surprise when one sees the cover image and reads the lyrics – “Met an only guy his name is Michael/ His just told me about my menstrual cycle/He said the blood on his fingers wasn’t from a cut/Maybe some day I’ll be a teenage slut/ Said he doesn’t want to marry/He just wants to pop my cherry” . See also “Killed By Death Punk Classic” Henry Essence – 14 year old lover, which, in mitigation, was recorded when most of the band were of similarly tender years.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax (1983) Banned by the BBC, “relax” was famously pulled off the air by DJ Mike Read for being “disgusting”. Unlike many of his fellow 1970s record-spinning, shite- talking cohorts the long arm of the law hasn’t descended on Read for molestation charges but the clammy hand of schadenfreude wasn’t slow to do so and he was roundly ridiculed for his sanctimonious on-air outburst while “Relax” went on to reach No.1 in the charts and become the UK’s seventh best selling single of all time.
Marianne Faithful – why d’ya do it (1979) The final track on this classic album, “Why d’ya do it?” is a vitriol dripping attack on a lover’s infidelity. It led to the album being banned in Australia, allegedly due to the graphic references to oral sex rather than the song’s cod-reggae backing.
Serge Gainsbourg – “Je t’aime… moi non plus” (1969)– Reputedly recorded whilst Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin were having sex in the studio booth, the reality was sadly of a more mundane nature despite such lines as “I come as I enter between your kidneys” . Deemed obscene by the Vatican and banned by the BBC, Je T’aime was the first record recorded tin a foreign language to reach No1 in the UK. And remains the best. Perhaps not surprisingly, ‘Lemon Incest’, Gainsbourg’s salubrious duet with his 12 year old daughter, Charlotte, didn’t attain the same commercial success.
Gerogerigegege – ‘Senzuri’ (1987) If you’ve always wanted to listen to recordings of a fat man masturbating and/or defecating into a toilet, Gerogerigegege (their name is a phoneticism of vomiting) are the band for you. Have they been prosecuted for obscenity? They’re from Tokyo. During my numerous visits to Tokyo I have seen a man masturbating on a busy tube train and on the occasion I saw a drunk defecating on the street a policeman wearing ivory white gloves helped him back on with his trousers. Fuck knows what you’d have to do to be prosecuted for obscenity in Tokyo!
GG Allin – Most recordings though the 1987 “Hated In The Nation” LP compiles the best/worst. The career of GG Allin was a career OF obscene songs and pushing the limits of obscenity in rock & roll performance. Shitting onstage then eating and smearing his naked torso with it; mutilating himself; attacking and molesting audience members… his onstage antics resulted in numerous prosecutions and prison spells until his premature death by heroin overdose at a party (he had always promised to commit suicide onstage, taking as many of his audience with him as he could). In fact, pretty much the only thing GG Allin DIDN’T do onstage was sing a decent song.
Ivor Biggun & the Red Nosed Burglars – The Winkers Son (Misprint) (1978) Novelty record lauding the onanistic delights of ‘Mother palm and her five daughters’ that, inscrutably, i’m sure got quite high in the charts. George Fornby for wankers.
Jock Strapp Ensemble – Rugby Songs Vols 1+ 2 (1964) Collections of bawdy ballads that while obviously banned from radio play sold by the bucket-load and, for better or worse, kept Island Records afloat for years, facilitating their release of seminal reggae compilations not to mention releases by Bob Marley & The Wailers. The best known ‘rugby song’ is, by far, “Friggin’ in the riggin’” as covered by the Sex Pistols. Not generally regarded as their finest moment. Another 1977 punk act, the Pork Dukes, had already trod similar territory and received bans for their trouble but the less said about them the better
The Kingsmen, ‘Louie Louie’ (1963) The ’60s garage standard was banned by the Governor of Indiana, on account of such improbably indecent lyrics such as “I fuck my girl all kinds of ways” and “I felt my boner in her hair”. An FBI indecency case was initiated but all charges were dropped, presumably when it was realised the Governor of Indiana was mental.
KMFDM – Power (1996) Deemed obscene for about two minutes after a reference to the song was discovered in a diary or something kept by one of the Columbine murderers and no doubt leaked to the press by KMFDM themselves. The reference was probably “this song is shit”.
Lil Louis – French Kiss (1989) The “I Feel Love” of House Music. Surprise summer smash by the diminutive Chicago acid house producer that was banned from the radio because of it’s breathy, orgasmic break-down. No one should ever be denied hearing as wonderful a record as this.
Leather Nun – FFA aka Fist Fuckers Associated (1983) – Within it’s admittedly limited genre this still remains the best of funky odes to fist-fucking. Leather Nun were mates with Throbbing Gristle and this ditty is in fact an adaptation of another of their oddball crowd, Monte Cazazza, whose spoken word version which is even odder. Not sure if it ever caused them any obscenity issues but I dare say they wouldn’t have been too bothered if it had with lyrics like: “It was your mistake/When you thought I hesitate/I shoved my greased fist/Right up to your prostate”
The Mentors – Golden Shower (1985) Sadly, El Duce, pirate hat-wearing street-bum singer of The Mentors is destined to be best remembered for his brief appearance in the “Kurt & Courtney” documentary, filmed shortly before he was killed after having fallen asleep in a drunken stupor on a train track. However, an infinitely greater claim to fame than his acquaintance with the Nirvana singer is that the lyrics to his song “Golden Shower” were actually read out in full as an example of “obscenity” in the 1985 congressional hearings: “Listen little girl, it’s near the hour/Come with me and take golden shower/Listen little slut, do as you’re told/Come with daddy for me to pour the gold/All through my excrements you shall roam/Open your mouth and taste the foam/Bend up and smell my anal vapour/Your face is my toilet paper”. God works in mysterious ways to have taken such a poet from us.
George Michael, ‘I Want Your Sex’ (1987) The pre cop-cottaging, crack-smoking and car-crashing former Wham! pinup’s ode to monogamy was banned from TV music shows and radio play for supposedly promoting promiscuous sex. There’s a lesson in that somewhere.
No Remorse – Barbecue In Rostock (1996) Despite Skrewdriver’s infamously higher profile, neo-nazi Combat 18’s house-band No Remorse’s charming celebration of the firebombing of a German Turkish hostel lays claim to being the first record to be successfully prosecuted in Britain for offensive and inciteful lyrics under the Public Order Act. Sample song title “Zigger, Zigger, Shoot them fucking niggers”. As far as offensive musical genres go it doesn’t get much more odious than the bonehead White Power scene and whilst other maggot-dicked closet-cases have strapped on guitars and tried their best, No Remorse remain the vilest of the vile.
Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks LP + ‘God Save The Queen’ 7” (1977). Released as a welcome antidote to 1977’s Royal Jubilee fever “God Save The Queen” reached No1 in the UK singles chart despite being banned by TV, radio and many record shops. The release of their LP, Never Mind The Bollocks soon attracted further controversy when a Nottingham Virgin Record store manager was arrested and charged under the Indecent Advertising Act of 1899 for displaying the cover in his window leading to an unsuccessful obscenity charge. “Bodies” is without doubt the stand-out track on the LP with it’s glorious “Fuck this and fuck that/Fuck it all and fuck a fucking brat” tirade sounding every bit as vicious and noxious as punk SHOULD have always sounded.
Two Live Crew – As Nasty as They Wanna Be (1989) The album that claim to the crown to being the first record in legal history to be ruled “obscene” by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. A celebrated case for First Amendment champions who successfully overturned the ruling. The musically curious may be disappointed by it’s fairly pedestrian 808 beats and nursery rhyme chants but there’s a great YouTube clip of them on some TV show performing “Face down, ass up, that’s the way we like to fuck” infront of an audience comprised of teens and pensioners if you have a look.
WASP – Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)(1988) Disappointingly, more, I shouldn’t wonder, for WASP than anyone else, despite unsurprising radio bans this cock-rock classic was never prosecuted for obscenity and only succeeded in reaching number 9 on the Parents Music Resource Center’s “Filthy 15” list. Must try harder next time, WASP.
Whitehouse – Great White Death (1985) Named after the British anti-obscenity campaigner, Mary Whitehouse. Ironically for these ‘power electronics’ pioneers whose mission statement was to produce “the most violently repulsive records ever conceived”, their only brush with censorship was via their supposedly libertarian distributors, Rough Trade, who refused to stock their records and the cover printers who refused to print the erect penis image on the front of their “Erector” LP. While most of Whitehouse’s early releases are unsurpassed in lyrical prurience and sonic violence, Great White Death is arguably their most immediately offensive and obscene release, boasting such superlative works as “I’m coming up your ass” and “you don’t have to say please (get down on your knees and suck my cock”)
Frank Zappa – Dynah Moe Humm (1973) Was one of several songs deemed to be obscene by the management of the Royal Albert hall who cancelled a concert because of it. Zappa took them to court over the cancellation and won. Zappa was one artist who suffered more unduly than others on account of the perceived ‘obscenity’ of his material. The record label that pressed his Jazz From Hell album had it labelled with a Parental Advisory sticker simply because of the song title “G-Spot Tornado”. It was an instrumental!
And if that’s not enough, The PMRC also released the Filthy Fifteen, a list of the 15 songs they found most objectionable, with reasons –
|#||Artist||Song title||Lyrical content|
|2||Sheena Easton||“Sugar Walls“||Sex|
|3||Judas Priest||“Eat Me Alive“||Sex|
|4||Vanity||“Strap On ‘Robbie Baby’“||Sex|
|6||AC/DC||“Let Me Put My Love Into You“||Sex|
|7||Twisted Sister||“We’re Not Gonna Take It“||Violence|
|8||Madonna||“Dress You Up“||Sex|
|9||W.A.S.P.||“Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)“||Sex/Language|
|10||Def Leppard||“High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)“||Drug and alcohol use|
|11||Mercyful Fate||“Into the Coven“||Occult|
|12||Black Sabbath||“Trashed“||Drug and alcohol use|
|13||Mary Jane Girls||“In My House“||Sex|
|15||Cyndi Lauper||“She Bop“||Sex/Masturbation|