Banned! Along our journey into senior status, some of our most beloved music was banned. Are we ever really old enough to listen to Peter, Paul and Mary’s ‘Puff the Magic Dragon?’ My sisters and I loved this song, and used to sing all the lyrics. Maybe we were being too childish.
This classic fun song for the young ones in the 1960s was, indeed, censored in Hong Kong and Singapore. Our tender tiny ears could not be polluted by these supposed drug references.
‘Little Jackie Paper’ was thought to be referring to rolling paper, while the word ‘dragon’ was said to be a homophone of ‘draggin” (you know, inhaling smoke). ‘Autumn mists’ and even ‘Puff’ himself were alleged to refer to the clouds of smoke from wacky tobaccy.
Yet this song became popular, despite the censor’s rating. Similarly, Bob Dylan’s ‘Let Me Follow You Down’ in 1962 was banned by the BBC because it contained the phrase “Gold-almighty world”.
And The Beatles fell foul of the BBC on a regular basis. In 1967 their LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, which was banned because some believed it paid tribute to the psychedelic drug LSD (Lennon asserts it was a drawing by his then three-year-old son that inspired the masterpiece song). ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’ as well as the band’s 1970 hit ‘Come Together’ were also banned by the broadcaster.
Here in Australia, Melbourne pub rock band, Skyhooks produced the album Living in the 70s. By that time we really all were living in the ’70s. Even then, we were never supposed to be ready for lyrics such as, “You just like me cause I’m good in bed!” Well, really, Skyhooks were picked up by a talent scout. This album sold heaps.
That was not the end of censorship. The ‘authorities’ banned Cold Chisel’s ‘Khe Sanh’. This was another song that soon had us all singing along. It had references to the real world of survivors. Cold Chisel was another pub rock band, banned from the airwaves because the song’s lyrics had sex and drug references (lines such as: “their legs were often open, but their minds were always closed”. It was one of the most popular songs ever recorded by an Australian act, reaching number four on the charts in the band’s hometown of Adelaide, but sales at the time were modest. Today it’s on the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia registry for its historical, cultural and aesthetically significant sound.
Banned, banned, banned. Maybe now we are seniors, our tiny shell like ears are old enough to hear such epic music. To add to this, in the middle of the 1982 armed conflict between Britain and the Falklands, the BBC censors were at it again. The censors took the hatchet to a Split Enz favourite, ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’. The censors did not consider that the world was quite ready for that.
Never mind. I dare say censorship stills exists for the music industry. All quite tame, those old songs, singing along to retro lyrics. In real life, they were banned for a while. Are you ever really ready to sing along with ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’?