CRAIG BROWN: Pop hits that weren’t Everly so cleverly…
Don Everly, the elder of the two Everly Brothers, has just died, aged 84.
One of the Everly Brothers’ finest songs, Wake Up Little Susie, shocked many American parents when it was released in 1957. I remember an American friend of mine telling me that her mother would leap up to switch off the radio whenever it came on. It was banned in Boston and some radio stations refused to play it.
Parents worried about what on earth Susie and the singer had been up to. If only they had listened to the end, they might have been reassured that the couple had simply dropped off to sleep while watching a boring film: ‘The movie wasn’t so hot/ It didn’t have much of a plot/ We fell asleep, our goose is cooked/ Our reputation is shot/ Wake up, little Susie.’
The censorship of pop music has always been a chancy business. Perfectly innocent songs are banned, while frankly sinister songs are given the go-ahead.
One of the Everly Brothers’ finest songs was Wake Up Little Susie
Today it seems extraordinary that back in 1973, glam rocker Gary Glitter was allowed to perform his most sexually explicit song — Do You Wanna Touch Me — on the popular BBC children’s television programme Crackerjack.
‘Every growin’ boy/ Needs a little joy’ sang Glitter, adding, ‘Do you want to touch me there?’
In live concerts attended largely by adolescents, the singer made it perfectly clear which part of his body he was referring to.
The year before, on June 16, 1972, the veteran busybody Mary Whitehouse, founder of the Clean Up TV campaign, wrote to the Chairman of the BBC expressing her disquiet at the new double album by the Rolling Stones.
‘Dear Lord Hill,’ she wrote, ‘I understand that the new Rolling Stone’s [sic] record, Exile On Main Street, is being played on Radio 1. This record uses four-letter words. Although they are somewhat blurred, there is no question of what they are meant to be.’
Poor old Lord Hill was forced to don his headphones. Four days later, he offered his verdict to Mrs Whitehouse. ‘I have this morning listened with great care to the tracks we have played on Radio 1. I have listened to them at a fast rate, at a medium rate, at a slow rate.
‘Though my hearing is excellent, I did not hear any of the offending four-letter words whatever. Could it be that, believing offending words to be there and zealous to discover them, you imagined that you heard what you did not hear?’
That same year The Osmonds, who were Mormons and widely regarded as the most puritanical family in America, found that their single, Crazy Horses — which reached Number Two in the UK charts — was banned in South Africa. Unbeknown to them, the word ‘horses’ is slang for heroin in that country.
Veteran busybody Mary Whitehouse wrote to the BBC expressing her disquiet at a new Rolling Stones album
This meant that when Donny Osmond sang ‘What a show, there they go smokin’ up the sky, yeah/ Crazy horses all got riders, and they’re you and I’, the South African government saw it as a green light for drug-traffickers.
One of the few records in my parents’ collection was Thank Heaven For Little Girls, a hit for Maurice Chevalier in 1958.
Everyone found it charming at the time but the years have rendered its lyrics, coupled with Chevalier’s leery-old-man delivery, dreadfully creepy.
‘Each time I see a little girl,’ it begins, ‘of five or six or seven/ I can’t resist a joyous urge/ To smile and say/ Thank heaven for little girls/ For little girls get bigger every day . . . Those little eyes/ So helpless and appealing/ When they were flashing/ Send you crashing/ Through the ceiling/ Thank heaven for little girls . . .’ And so on.
Back then, no one thought the lyrics at all suspect, yet they are now quite clearly beyond the pale. Similarly, I recently heard Gary Puckett & The Union Gap’s Young Girl, which reached Number One in the charts in 1968.
It now seems astonishing it was released. ‘Young girl, get out of my mind/ My love for you is way out of line/ Better run girl . . . Beneath your perfume and make-up/ You’re just a baby in disguise/ And though you know that it’s wrong to be/ Alone with me/ That come-on look is in your eyes.’ Eek!
For years, Neil Sedaka’s Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, released in 1961 and sung in his off-puttingly high-pitched voice, was a mainstay of Radio 2: ‘Tonight’s the night I’ve waited for/ Because you’re not a baby any more/ You’ve turned into the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen/ Happy birthday, sweet sixteen.’ Would Radio 2 ever think of playing it today?
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