BEEB BLACK LIST: The Gulf War Banned Bangers of 1990-91

Air Combat Force, 2000

War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, as Edwin Starr asserted in his 1970 classic. Nevertheless, President H.W Bush (not the younger fella, but Homer’s disgruntled neighbour in The Simpsons) mustn’t have really understood this sonic rhetoric too well in 1990. This is not a modern history blog – though the Mark Corrigan in me perhaps would like it to be – so I’ll just be concise about The Gulf War. It began in response to Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait over oil price disputes. 35 allies. That’s the most allies ever in a War since WW2. Thatcher and Bush launched aerial and naval bombardment. They deployed troops in Saudi Arabia. It’s estimated that around 3,500 civilians lost their lives in Iraq and 1,000 more in Kuwait. It was an incredibly dark time. Why is this terrible series of world events relevant to this Manchester music blog, you ask? Well, in my research for a university essay, I stumbled across some curious information.

It’s no secret that the BBC have censored music before – virtually no artists were safe from the iron fist of the Beeb. From George Formby to the Sex Pistols, any songs that were deemed ‘inappropriate’ for airplay (normally due to lyrical content) were banished onto a blacklist of sorts. At the beginning of the Gulf War, a separate blacklist was created comprised of sixty-seven banned songs. These banned songs were not to be played on any BBC station for the duration of the war, and were normally banned due to containing war/violent imagery. However, a lot of the songs on this list were banned because of fairly tenuous links to the conflict. Any song that referenced a desert – such as Midnight At The Oasis was banned. There’s also an abundance of songs written with anti-war rhetoric at their heart: Army Dreamers, for example. Most interesting is that songs have been banned that reference other much older conflicts; admittedly, songs like Two Tribes and Everybody Wants To Rule The World reference the much fresher elongated period of the Cold War. But Waterloo being banned? You’d have hoped the 1815 Battle of Waterloo wouldn’t have been in too poor taste at this point, surely.

Still, despite the ludicrous censorship of many of these songs, one can understand their perspective in some respects. The news was absolutely saturated with warfare. War-heavy songs understandably wouldn’t have been played on radio stations to give listeners a little break from their other morose cultural intakes of the day. Some of the songs on this list even (in my opinion) were actually right to be banned, as some deal with heavy topics insensitively in terms of the timeframe they were being released. I decided to select my personal favourite of the Secret 67. I’ll pop them on a little playlist; and I’ll list them below. Rather than going into depth about these songs and maybe even speculating on why I think they were censored, I invite you to give the playlist a listen and to come to your own conclusions. It was strangely quite entertaining trying to work out how on Earth the BBC stretched some of these to deserve banishment!

Some of the songs on here are dated, and thus lyrically represent ideals that aren’t at all acceptable anymore. Please be aware of this and understand my enjoying these songs does not mean I lyrically condone stone-age ideals. I align more with Kate Bush’s ideological stance on the war, don’t you worry. Do feel free to leave a comment about your speculations, and please do let me know if this is a deeply dry subject matter – I just felt remarkably compelled to share these offerings!

3 replies to “BEEB BLACK LIST: The Gulf War Banned Bangers of 1990-91

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