The Quick 10: 10 Moments in Music Censorship History

Super interesting topic today "“ I was quite intrigued by the research (with lots of YouTube clips). I know there are some moments in music censorship history that didn't make the list, so if you know of one, leave it in the comments. I mean, you can try. I might delete your comment if I don't agree with you.

dylan1. Bob Dylan on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1963. Dylan was on the show to promote his then-new album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and told producers he wanted to sing "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" for his musical number. He even did a runthrough for the producers, who apparently had no problem with it. But just a couple of hours before the show was supposed to air, he was told the song was a no-go. So Dylan walked out and never came back. However, Ed Sullivan later said he had nothing to do with the decision, unlike our next example. Apparently it was a network decision. The John Birch Society was an anti-government group the network had reported on via its news outlets. The official word is that they didn't want to cross wires and make political statements about events their journalists were reporting on.

2. The Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1967. They sang "Let's Spend the Night Together," quite a scandalous song at the time. Some radio stations pulled it altogether; others opted to bleep the word "night." Can you imagine? I wonder what words that we censor today will be perfectly acceptable on the oldies station in 40 years. Anyway, Sullivan asked the Stones to sing "Let's Spend Some Time Together" instead (as if the lyric "I'll satisfy your every need" was somehow not sexual?). The Stones agreed, and everyone was happy. However, Mick was anxious to prove to the fans that he hadn't just bowed to the will of Ed Sullivan and insisted that he didn't sing "Let's spend some time together," but "Let's spend some mmmm together." Because somehow that makes Mick more of a rebel. However, this video shows Mick saying "Time" at least once, and the backup singing clearly emphasizing "Time" loudly on all of the other occasions.

3. The Doors, Ed Sullivan, 1967. In our final Ed Sullivan example, the Doors made an appearance on the show and were asked to change the lyric of "Light My Fire" that said "Girl, we couldn't get much higher." The Doors said, "Sure, no problem"... and proceeded to go ahead and sing the song, unaltered.

Anyone who has watched the Oliver Stone movie knows that. However, in the movie, Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison looks directly into the camera and delivers the line as a huge insult to Sullivan. In the real clip from the show, Jim Morrison is just singing with his eyes closed (which I understand was pretty typical).

4. The Sex Pistols, Thames Television's "Today" with Bill Grundy. There was some under-the-breath cursing early on in the interview, but it got worse. But to be honest, Grundy sort of had it coming - he rather raunchily suggested to Siouxsie Sioux on air that they meet up after the show. Steve Jones called him a dirty... well, check out the YouTube video if you want, but, you know... there's some language. They are The Sex Pistols. They were immediately dropped from EMI, their label, and Grundy was suspended from his job for two weeks. The show was canceled two months later.

5. Nirvana, MTV Video Music Awards, 1992 and In Utero album back cover, 1993. When Nirvana's In Utero album was released in 1993, their song "Rape Me" was changed to "Waif Me" on the back cover of the CD when big-box stores Wal-Mart and K-Mart refused to sell it otherwise. Kurt Cobain said, "I just feel bad for all the kids who are forced to buy their music from big chain stores and have to have the edited music," but it wasn't the first time he had run across censorship issues with the song. Nirvana intended to premiere the song at the MTV VMA's in 1992, but the network said no way. The band agreed to play Lithium instead (even though MTV really wanted them to play "Smells LIke Teen Spirit"), but when Nirvana took the stage, they played the first five seconds of "Rape Me," presumably just to make the execs backstage freak out. But then they played "Lithium" as agreed and all was well.

6. Madonna, Pepsi, 1989. Madonna was supposed to have a campaign out for Pepsi in the Spring of 1989... just when released her controversial "Like a Prayer" video. The ad would have shown her drinking a Pepsi, watching a home video of herself as an eight-year-old girl at her birthday party. But "Like a Prayer" came out just a day after the Pepsi campaign launched, so after a single airing of the commercial (during The Cosby Show Pepsi yanked the commercials. Madonna totally made out on this one, though: she kept her $5 million endorsement deal and won the MTV Viewer's Choice Award for the video. She thanked Pepsi for making such a big deal out of her video and giving her so much free publicity.

7. Pearl Jam, AT&T, 2007. When Pearl Jam's Lollapalooza concert was cybercast by AT&T, Eddie Vedder and co. did a cover of the Pink Floyd song "Another Brick in the Wall," but changed some of the words to, "George Bush, leave this world alone," and "George Bush, find yourself another home." AT&T "accidentally" omitted those lyrics from the Webcast. In a statement, AT&T blamed the mistake on their Webcast vendor and said that there was no reason for the lyrics to be censored.

8. Cher, MTV, 1989. Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" video caused quite the stir, largely because of her outfit... or lack thereof. Supposedly it's a fishnet body stocking and a very revealing swimsuit, but to me, it's always looked like some pantyhose and some strategically-placed electrical tape. Also, she's straddling a cannon through part of the video. MTV would only show it after 9 p.m., and some different shots were used to make the video less sexually-charged. Scandalous at the time, but today, I kind of just look at the video and go, "Oh, Cher."

9. Neil Young, MTV, 1989. Neil's song "This Note's for You" mocked the bands and companies who used their music to promote consumerism. The song specifically says,

"Ain't singin' for Pepsi
Ain't singin' for Coke
I don't sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note's for you.

Ain't singin' for Miller
Don't sing for Bud
I won't sing for politicians
Ain't singin' for Spuds
This note's for you."

The video spoofs the famous Michael Jackson incident where his hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi ad. MTV refused to play the video, at first saying it was worried about trademark infringements from Michael Jackson and other celebrities portrayed in the video. So Neil Young's record company said they would sign an agreement releasing MTV from any responsibility from any future lawsuits. They also said they could scrap the funny video and just feature Neil singing. MTV refused, this time saying that they don't allow any artists to name specific products in their songs. This argument was pretty weak, though, based on the fact that "Parents Just Don't Understand" was in high rotation at the time, and it was uncensored despite name drops of McDonalds, Adidas and Porsche, among others.
Neil wrote an open letter to MTV and called them spineless, and MTV finally gave in and played the video. The joke was on MTV: fans voted the video as the Best Video of the Year in the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.

10. Pete Seeger, CBS, 1967. Controversial folk singer Pete Seeger was scheduled to be on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour singing "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," a song about Vietnam. When CBS saw the taped performance, they immediately cut it from the program before it could air as they didn't want to make it seem like they were criticizing the President. There was much protest from fans, Seeger and the Smothers Brothers' staff, and Pete was allowed back on in February, 1968, to perform the song.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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