12 inoffensive songs that were banned in the 1950s
Image: Bobby Darin in 1959, AP Photo
As times change, so do the moral standards of the day. In a quarter century, we went from Elvis' scandalous hips on Ed Sullivan to MTV. Presley shook up more than lower body when he arrived on the scene. He revolutionized music, if not society itself. Unsurprisingly, a lot of early rock 'n' roll was deemed dangerous to young minds. But radio stations were no strangers to banning music at that point.
No, seemingly innocent pop tunes were banned before 1957. All of the following got in trouble somewhere. Today, they could pass as kids music.
Dean Martin - "Wham! Bam! Thank You, Ma'am!"
Wham! Bam! You broke my heart. You took my heart and tore it apart.
Image: AP Photo
Dottie O'Brien - "Four or Five Times"
First recorded in 1927, "Four or Five Times" had been covered numerous times to no controversy over the next few decades — until a woman sang it. Dottie O'Brien's version was deemed too "sexually suggestive" by the FCC and radio stations in 1951.
Image: Capitol Records / YouTube
Rosemary Clooney - "Mambo Italiano"
Now this hardly makes a lick of sense. The spiciest thing about "Mambo Italiano" is the mention of "enchilada," yet WABC in New York banned the song in 1954 for its supposedly suggestive lyrics.
Image: Philips / Discogs
Webb Pierce - "There Stands the Glass"
Some radio stations banned this country number because it advocated drinking. A country song with booze? Perish the thought!
Image: Decca / Discogs
Bobby Darin - "Splish Splash"
The gentleman Darin is "relaxing in the tub." He hops out of the water. As he sings, "I wrapped a towel around and I opened the door," only to discover a party going on. Now, some radio stations found it too suggestive that a man would be at a party wearing only a towel. Why, he's a rectangle of terrycloth away from being naked! That being said, his immediate reaction is to retreat to the tub. In the second verse, he does eventually put on his dancin' shoes and join the celebration. But he never mentions the rest of his clothes! Gasp!
Billie Holiday - "Love for Sale"
"Old love, new love, every love but true love," the jazz legend sings. This standard, written by Cole Porter, is rather bluntly about prostitution. "Who would like to sample my supply." ABC radio banned the song in 1956. The number dates all the way back to 1930, when it debuted on Broadway in the musical The New Yorkers. It was immediately banned, but nevertheless Libby Holman's version hit No. 5 on the charts in 1931. Other Holiday gems like "Strange Fruit" and "I Cover the Waterfront" also faced radio bans.
Image: Clef Records
Link Wray - "Rumble"
Believe it or not, this is an instrumental. Yes, no words are spoken or sung throughout the rippin' tune, but there was one word on the sleeve. The title alone was enough to ban this rockabilly staple, as "Rumble" was thought to incite violence and "juvenile delinquency." Good thing he didn't call it "Switchblade." Decades later, it found new popularity in the film Pulp Fiction.
The Everly Brothers - "Wake Up Little Susie"
Two teens sleep through a movie. That's it. This beloved ditty is explicitly about how innocent acts could be misconstrued as deviant behavior in the stiff 1950s. And yet… it was banned by the city of Boston.
The Coasters - "Charlie Brown"
The BBC had the Coasters truly singing, "Why's everybody always pickin' on me?" British radio banned this lighthearted teen tune because it mentioned "spitballs." That's it. Heck, that's like banning "doo wop" because it has "doo" in the name.
The Drifters - "Honey Love"
What is "it"? That's what censors got hung up on in the 1950s. It could've been love. In fact, it was probably love. That is the title, after all. Nevertheless, Memphis police siezed copies of the 45 and would not allow it to be placed in jukeboxes, due to its "suggestive" lyrics.
Lonnie Donegan - "Diggin' My Potatoes"
Skiffle legend Donegan reshaped British pop culture, notably inspiring a bunch of teens in Liverpool to start a band called the Quarrymen. "Rock Island Line" was his bluesy breakthrough. His follow-up, "Diggin' My Potatoes," however, faced bans on both sides of the Atlantic due to its lyrics, as its largely a euphemism for catching another man with his woman: "When I came back home, that fool in my 'tatoe patch / You know, he diggin' my potatoes."
The Five Keys - 'On Stage!'
We end not with a song, but a photograph. On the cover of the Five Keys' 1957 album On Stage!, lead singer Rudy West, pictured on the far left, had some rather unfortunate arm placement. His right hand peeks out just a bit from behind his suit. Some thought the finger was… something else. The album cover had to be airbrushed.
Image: Capitol Records