Hot licks sink ships? Fans of rock’n’roll radio might have noticed a few conspicuous absences lately where once were staples of classic and contemporary rock that would have been played into the ground during any other month but this one. In the wake of the attacks on Washington and New York, Clear Channel Communications, a San Antonio-based company whose holdings of over a thousand radio stations nationwide include several in Montana, circulated a list of songs to be voluntarily deleted from the play lists of subsidiary stations on account of their possible offensiveness to listeners.
Although the widely-circulated list offers no specific explanations or qualifications for any of the 150 songs included on it, in many cases the grounds for voluntary suspension are either obvious from the title alone or can readily be grasped by listeners with even the most passive knowledge of classic rock. Songs with titles that make explicit references to war, death, destruction and detonation—“Death Blooms,” (Mudvayne), “Dead and Bloated” (Stone Temple Pilots), “Blow Up the Outside World” (Soundgarden), “The Night Chicago Died” (Paper Lace) even “Killer Queen”—are understandably singled out. Mention of “sorrow” in a title puts the kibosh on one song each by Alice and Chains and Metallica. Songs with disturbing allusions and subject matter embedded more deeply than merely a suggestive title are also on probation; this particular distinction might account for “99 Luftballons” (Nena), “Mother” (Pink Floyd), “In the Year 2525” (Zager and Evans).
Songs with references to airplanes and air travel are also on the bench (Steve Miller can presumably expect a slight dip in royalties this month, as can Peter, Paul and Mary), as are songs with references to falling; there even seems to be a category set aside for general malfeasance and villainy aforethought, (AC/DC, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”). Many of the songs on the Clear Channel list, in fact, could have been submitted for deletion in several categories. Forget the aggro rap-metal stuff—you never really stop to think about the apocalyptic imagery in a lot of classic rock until someone tries to take it so literally.
But there are a number of perplexing inclusions on the list as well. Some of them merely take the voluntary moratorium on songs with “fire” and “burning” in the title to absurd extremes (“I’m on Fire,” by Bruce Springsteen; “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion),” by John Parr, “Burnin’ for You,” by Blue Oyster Cult—although BÖC’s big hit, “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” inexplicably make the cut), while others are fixated on the (now) morbid connotations of commonplace words there’s really no getting around in English (“See You in September,” by the Happenings; “Ruby Tuesday,” by the Rolling Stones).
“Peace Train” and “Morning Has Broken” seem like colossal gaffes—until you remember onetime folkie Cat Stevens’ conversion to Islam. All songs by Rage Against the Machine are verboten—the only other categorical suspension for an artist. Other red-shirted tunes with a muddle-headedly literal case for their own exclusion when you take a line or two out of context: “America,” by Neil Young, “Dancing in the Streets,” and “Travelin’ Band,” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
But of all the glaring oversights: Conspicuously missing from the list is Billy Joel’s most wretched song ever, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” a musical crime if ever there was one. Plus he says “fire,” like, 50 times!