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About questionable lyrics

Country Musings by Robert Loy, January 2002

After the attacks on Sept.11th, Clear Channel Communications gave its affiliates a list of songs, suggesting that DJs refrain from playing them because of "questionable lyrics." This was not, as was widely reported on the internet, a ban, but since Clear Channel does own almost 1,200 radio stations in the U.S. a "suggestion" from them carries more weight than a call from Joe Listener on the request line.

You can see the complete list at www.eonline.com/News/More/clearsonglist.html. Some of the choices are obvious. In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, nobody wanted to hear "It's the End of the World As We Know it" from REM or Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" or Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner." (Why anybody would want to hear "Jet Airliner" at any time is still a mystery.)

Other songs require a little more thought to see why CC thought they might be insensitive: songs like "Rocket Man" and Simon and Garfunkle's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian."

Some tunes were frowned upon not for what they say, but for what people think they say. It is widely believed that "Fire and Rain" is about a girl who dies in a plane crash, although James Taylor has frequently explained that this is not the case. Still that line about "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" could be unsettling, even if you know that it actually alludes to a musical group called The Flying Machine that Taylor had formed and then disbanded in 1967 when his drug problems forced him to leave New York and return to his home in North Carolina.

And some of the choices are just baffling. What is the objection to "Devil With a Blue Dress"? Why are Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" and Arthur Brown's "Fire" no-nos, but the Springsteen-penned Pointer Sister's hit "Fire" is okay?

Wouldn't the war hawks enjoy hearing "Bad Religion" or "Rock the Casbah" (both on the list) and mightn't the doves be comforted by Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World?"

Two more observations: For those of you keeping score AC-DC had seven songs on the list; no one else even came close. And even though Clear Channel owns lots of country stations, with the exception of Skeeter Davis's "The End of the World" and (arguably) Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone," there aren't any country songs on the list. We don't know if this is because Clear Channel expects country programmers to have enough sense to decide for themselves what is inappropriate for their audience or because they think country music is too bland to be offensive.