In the final post on controversial music moments (for the time being), we look at several songs from the last 20 years which, for whatever reason, have aroused public ire. I’ve limited the list to songs that were comparatively well-known, the reactions to which many readers will remember.
And, in honor of the Parents Music Resource Centre’s infamous “Filthy Fifteen” , a list published in 1985 of the songs the PMRC found most objectionable, this list is the Nasty Nine, with a bonus nine from prior to 1990 that would have had Tipper Gore flipping her wig if she’d heard them (in fact, she did hear one of them and it made the Fifteen). Enjoy!
Eminem — “Kim” (2000)
Any number of the Detroit MC’s songs could have made this list, but it’s this horrifically graphic stream-of-consciousness fantasy about killing his then-wife Kim Mathers (a previous release, “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” , saw him rapping about dumping her body in the woods) that’s the most shocking. Mathers later sued Eminem for defamation.
Katy Perry — “I Kissed A Girl” (2008)
Perry’s flippant ode to sexuality raised the ire of both conservative Christian groups and critics annoyed at the singer’s means of attracting attention. None of which stopped Perry from becoming one of 2008s biggest breakout stars, with her album “One Of The Boys” selling over 5 million copies worldwide.
Body Count — “Cop Killer” (1992)
The story of a man whose frustration with police brutality leads him to off corrupt LAPD officers, “Cop Killer” was inspired in part by the Rodney King scandal and prompted a large-scale boycott of products released by Time Warner (its parent album, Body eponymous debut, was released by Sire/Warner Bros Records). Ice-T later voluntarily removed the track from further pressings of the album.
Alanis Morissette — “You Oughta Know” (1995)
After 15 years and four subsequent albums, “You Oughta Know” remains Morissette’s calling card, a howling diatribe against an ex featuring the infamous line about performing oral in a theater. The identity of the recipient was the subject of much speculation, with the lucky man widely believed to be “Full House” star Dave Coulier. As Stephanie Tanner would say, how rude.
Green Day — “American Idiot” (2004)
The lead single from Green Day’s career-reviving album of the same name, “American Idiot” criticized the US Government, its invasion of Iraq and its continuing refusal to recognize rights from the point of view of the album’s protagonist, “Jesus Of Suburbia” . Despite the subsequent release of three musically-superior singles, “American Idiot” is still the album’s best-known track, ranking at #13 in Rolling Stone’s Singles of the Decade list.
Britney Spears — “If U Seek Amy” (2009)
Say it out loud. Despite the obvious double entendre, Spears maintains that the third single from her mega-successful “Circus” album was written about the widespread public and media fascination with her life. An edited version, titled “If U See Amy” , was released shortly after to appease the horrified parents of young Britney fans.
Rage Against The Machine — “Killing In The Name” (1992)
RATM’s first single caused controversy upon its release with its powerful message and “F*** you, I won’t do what you tell me” refrain, and again in 2009 due to a successful Facebook campaign to propel it to the top of the UK sales chart. In an infamous moment for rock radio, the uncensored version was played in 1993 on Bruno Brookes’ UK Top 40 countdown, prompting 138 complaints.
Pulp — “Sorted For E’s and Wizz” (1995)
Not only did the lyrics to “Sorted For E’s And Wizz” (which described the experiences of a teenager going to a rave in a field, and his subsequent comedown) contain Mary Jane references, but its sleeve featured instructions on how to make a paper wallet to hold it. Britain’s Daily Mail was not amused with an article on its front page urging authorities to “Ban This Sick Stunt’.
Nine Inch Nails — “Closer” (1994)
Despite a decidedly un-radio-friendly chorus of “I wanna f*** you like an animal’, and an equally confronting video, “Closer” became a huge hit for Trent Reznor and his not-so-merry men and remains their best-known song.
And nine to show that musicians were stirring the pot before Katy Perry was even born. . .
The Kingsmen — “Louie Louie”
Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin — “Je t’Aime. . . Moi Non Plus”
Peter, Paul & Mary — “Puff The Magic Dragon”
Prince — “Darling Nikki”
2 Live Crew — the whole “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” album
Frankie Goes To Hollywood — “Relax”
N.W.A. — F*** Tha’ Police
The Kinks — Lola
(UPDATE: removed all links that no longer work)