Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Gulf War One and the BBC’s banned songs

As the result of a Twitter conversation with SOAS’ David Wearing which started with the 39 Steps and worked its way through the works of John Buchan, Greenmantle, BBC Radio 4 and 7/7, I arrived at the subject of the songs banned by the BBC during the first Gulf War. I recall it being a subject of some amusement at the time (probably in the NME or Melody Maker) that The Clash’s Rock the Casbah was not on the list, whereas Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ was (and apparently because it made someone think of Scud missiles, not for some entirely justifiable aesthetic reasons).

Anyway, this led me on a small internet search, with the end point of that ever-reliable hoard of information, Wikipedia, and a list apparently once published by Channel 4 and the New Staggers of 67 tracks which the BBC had barred from playlists for the duration of the war. It doesn’t seem to be complete – I remember The Cure’s Killing an Arab being mentioned at the time, but it’s not there. But it does highlight the the bizarreness of some of the choices. Like ‘Warpaint’, an early 60s Everly-Brothers-style number about someone’s girlfriend wearing too much make-up. Or A-ha’s ‘Hunting High and Low’. God knows what that’s actually about, but I’m fairly sure it’s not an expression of fervent political opinion on either side of the militarism debate.

The full list is reproduced below. I’ve also created a YouTube playlist of most of the songs on it, although I couldn’t cope with Elton John or Status Quo.

In listening to (at least snippets of) most of these while I compiled the list, I stumbled over a few interesting points. One, which will be “interesting” only to people who remember one-hit-wonders Johnny Hates Jazz from the mid-80s, and probably not even then, is that their single UK hit, ‘I Don’t Want to Be A Hero’, which I recall only as a piece of archetypally dreadful 80s pop, actually has pretty radical lyrics.

Oh send me off to war
In a far away land
I never knew existed
Subject me to the truth
To the horror and pain
Until my mind is twisted

And what if I fail
Will you put me in jail
For a murder I will not commit?
‘Cos you don’t understand
Till there’s blood on your hands
That it’s time to forget and forgive

The other is that 10CC, whose perhaps tastelessly satirical but to some extent politicised song ‘Rubber Bullets’ was about the Attica Prison Massacre, apparently had it ‘restricted’ on the BBC when it hit number 1 in the UK in the early 70s because the Beeb thought it was about Northern Ireland. It was then completely barred for Gulf War One. But however progressive their politics might have been on race in the USA, they still seem to have been happy to engage in the early 70s hate-fest against Arabs, as can be seen in the utterly bizarre track ‘Oh Effendi’:

That List

(I Just) Died in Your Arms Cutting Crew 1986
Act of War Elton John and Millie Jackson 1985
Armed and Extremely Dangerous First Choice 1973
Army Dreamers Kate Bush 1980
Atomic Blondie (band) 1979
Back in the U.S.S.R The Beatles 1968
Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) The Temptations 1970
Bang Bang B. A. Robertson 1979
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) Cher 1966
Billy Don’t Be a Hero Paper Lace 1974
Boom Bang-a-Bang Lulu 1969
Brothers in Arms Dire Straits 1985
Buffalo Soldier Bob Marley and the Wailers 1983
Burning Bridges Status Quo 1988
The End of the World Skeeter Davis 1962
Everybody Wants to Rule the World Tears for Fears 1985
Fields of Fire Big Country 1982
Fire The Crazy World of Arthur Brown 1968
Flash Queen 1980
Fools Rush In Ricky Nelson 1963
Forget Me Not Martha and the Vandellas 1968
Ghost Town The Specials 1981
Gimme Hope Jo’anna Eddy Grant 1988
Give Peace a Chance Plastic Ono Band 1969
Heaven Help Us All Stevie Wonder 1979
Hunting High and Low A-ha 1985
I Don’t Like Mondays The Boomtown Rats 1979
I Don’t Want to Be a Hero Johnny Hates Jazz 1987
I Shot the Sheriff Eric Clapton 1974
I Will Survive Arrival 1980
I’ll Fly for You Spandau Ballet 1984
I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun Cat Stevens 1967
I’m on Fire Bruce Springsteen 1984
Imagine John Lennon 1971
In the Air Tonight Phil Collins 1981
In the Army Now Status Quo 1986
Israelites Desmond Dekker and the Aces 1968
Killer Queen Queen 1974
Killing Me Softly with His Song Roberta Flack 1973
Light My Fire José Feliciano 1968
A Little Peace Nicole 1982
Living on the Front Line Eddy Grant 1979
Love Is a Battlefield Pat Benatar 1983
Midnight at the Oasis Maria Muldaur 1974
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down Joan Baez 1971
Oliver’s Army Elvis Costello 1979
Rubber Bullets 10cc 1973
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town Kenny Rogers and The First Edition 1969
Sailing Rod Stewart 1972
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting Elton John 1973
Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) Mike + The Mechanics 1985
Sixty Eight Guns The Alarm 1983
Soldier of Love Donny Osmond 1989
State of Independence Donna Summer 1982
Stop the Cavalry Jona Lewie 1980
Suicide Is Painless M*A*S*H 1970
Two Tribes Frankie Goes to Hollywood 1984
Under Attack ABBA 1982
A View to Kill Duran Duran 1985
Walk Like an Egyptian The Bangles 1986
War Edwin Starr 1970
War Baby Tom Robinson 1982
Warpaint The Brook Brothers 1961
Waterloo ABBA 1974
We Gotta Get out of This Place The Animals 1965
When I’m Dead and Gone McGuinness Flint 1970
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going Billy Ocean 1985

2 comments on “Gulf War One and the BBC’s banned songs

  1. Pingback: Moddi Unsongs, Kodi, and Catherine Rayner – Ronnie Brown

  2. Martin Cloonan
    March 1, 2018

    Er, this is not quite true. See my book Banned (1996) for a more nuanced account.

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