Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two Songs That Actually Deserve to Be Banned From Radio

I'm an erotica writer, so I aggressively defend freedom of speech. I write whatever I want, and so should songwriters. That said, I don't read my erotica on the public airwaves. If you want it, you have to seek out a copy. Here, I'm advocating for these songs to be for sale to anyone who chooses to seek them out, but removed from public airwaves. 

I think it's fine for adults who are able to exercise critical thinking skills to listen to them, but I wouldn't necessarily inflict them on younger minds with less ability to consume media thoughtfully. 

1. "Brown Sugar," The Rolling Stones

This should really be a no-brainer.

"Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields,
Sold in a market down in New Orleans.
Scarred old slaver know he's doin' alright.
Hear him whip the women just around midnight."

Human trafficking. You're talking about kidnapping women and selling them into slavery. That's human trafficking, and it's the lowest of the low of all human activities.

The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music
I can hardly think of anything more disgusting and evil - yet no one seems repulsed by this song. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Wikipedia notes:

"The lyrical subject matter has often been a point of interest and controversy. Described by rock critic Robert Christgau as 'a rocker so compelling that it discourages exegesis,'[7] 'Brown Sugar''s popularity indeed often overshadowed its scandalous lyrics, which were essentially a pastiche of a number of taboo subjects, including slavery, interracial sex, cunnilingus, and less distinctly, sadomasochism, lost virginity, and heroin.[8]"

7 Robert Christgau "Rolling Stones". The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. 1976 (accessed 24 June 2007).
8 Unterberger, Richie. The Rolling Stones "Brown Sugar". allmusic. 2007 (accessed 25 April 2007).

Yes, rock critic Robert Christgau is a Caucasian male. I have a feeling Caucasian males feel less of a need to understand this song than women and also men of color do. Nothing's at stake in it for the white male.


The cunnilingus ("how come you taste so good") and sadomasochistic tinges wouldn't be so controversial, though, if we were talking about consensual sexual activities between adults. However, it seems clear from context we're dealing with African women being held captive and raped by white men.

This would be disturbing enough, but the creepy factor goes off the charts once you realize these lyrics were written by Mick Jagger, a white man who is the father of Karis Hunt, whose mother, the American actress, model, and novelist Marsha Hunt, is of African descent. He can respect a dark-skinned multiracial woman enough to have a romantic relationship and a daughter with her. Yet song lyrics that don't degrade women of color to the status of commodities and objects to be sexually abused seem beyond his comprehension. Again, I quote Wikipedia:

"After noting that the lyrics could mean so many lewd subjects, he again noted that the combination of those subjects, the lyrical ambiguity was partially why the song was considered successful. He noted, 'That makes it... the whole mess thrown in. God knows what I'm on about on that song. It's such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go... I never would write that song now.' When Jann Wenner asked him why, Jagger replied, 'I would probably censor myself. I'd think, "Oh God, I can't. I've got to stop. I can't just write raw like that."'"[6]

6 "Jagger Remembers". Rolling Stone. 14 December 1995.

"Raw" is a bit of an understatement. Still, Jagger may have become a bit more enlightened since the 1970s -- but "Brown Sugar" hasn't. This song has got to go.


That said, Mick Jagger is still alive. Petition for him to re-record the song with completely different lyrics? 

2. "Cocaine," Eric Clapton. Miley Cyrus was widely criticized because her song "We Can't Stop" included the lyrics "dancing with molly" and "tryin' to get a line in the bathroom." The flak was presumably because of her previous "good girl"/Disney image and the presumptive young age of many of her fans. The same critics probably assume young people don't listen to "classic rock" radio, which is why Eric Clapton gets a pass to sing "If you want to hang out, you've got to take her out" about the extract of coca leaves.

Hip hop songs have to bleep out even veiled marijuana references, but Eric Clapton's paean to cocaine seems immune from these kinds of precautions. If we seriously intend to get drug references off the public airwaves, we need to start with this blatant love song to a drug that causes heart arrhythmia, heart attacks, strokes, irrationally violent behavior, nasal perforation, permanent lung damage, ulcers, and sudden kidney failure. Not to mention, it creates a criminal demand responsible for the deaths of countless law enforcement officers and innocent civilians.

You can read more about the effects of cocaine at WebMD

Some will claim this is actually an anti-cocaine song. If one of these is you, please use the comments to explain how, because I don't see it.


Both of these examples come from "classic rock" radio, which I sometimes listen to at work with my husband. Beyond the issues raised about these specific songs, classic rock heavily features the styles, words, attitudes, and preferences of white male artists over female artists and male artists of color. On the station I usually tune in to, I hear a small number of white women's voices: Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Deborah Harry, and Chrissie Hynde. I love them all, but they are only six women. 

Men of color are represented solely by Santana and Jimi Hendrix. Women of color as lead singers are entirely absent, unless we count Merry Clayton's vocals on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter." Because it focuses so narrowly and excludes a lot of amazing artists, classic rock radio is very problematic for me. 

But I like some of the songs, though. 

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