Songs You Weren’t Supposed to Hear After 9/11

On the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, we find ourselves coming to terms all over again about what happened that day and why, how we were affected, and how our lives are different now.

The 21st century was supposed to kick off with the promise of a new gilded age. The Cold War was over, America ruled supreme, technology was transforming our lives and bringing us unimagined new conveniences. We began planning to send people to Mars. We had visions of Star Trek dancing in our heads.

Instead the 21st century began with a savage and brutal reminder that that history did not come to an end as Francis Fukuyama would have had us believe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We were seized in the grip of fear. We battened down the hatches, ramped up homeland security, prepared for war, and even banned songs from the radio.

Wait. How does banning songs from the radio prepare us for a long war against radical Islamic fundamentalism? Well, it doesn’t really, which is why many people probably don’t remember the controversy over Clear Channel’s supposed list of banned songs shortly after 9/11.

To be fair, Clear Channel Communications (now iHeartMedia), owner at the time of some 1,200 radio stations, did not issue a directive banning certain songs from the post-9/11 listening public. What it did do, and actually denied despite evidence to the contrary, was issue a list of 162 songs to its affiliated stations that it suggested were “lyrically questionable” in the wake of the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people. It was suggested that disc jockeys not play these tunes, but no one is really sure just how many people adhered to the list.

So many Rage Against the Machine tunes made the list, it was easier to just list the whole band. Image: Rage Against the Machine

So many Rage Against the Machine tunes made the list, it was easier to just list the whole band.
Image: Rage Against the Machine

You can almost get a sense of how well-meaning this attempt was to keep emotions from being stirred at such a perilous time, but censorship is still censorship, no matter what excuse drives the action. And it wasn’t even well thought out, which makes the final list more ridiculous than dangerous.

Who made the final cut, so to speak?

  • Every Rage Against the Machine song
  • 7 AC/DC tunes, including “Safe in New York City,” “Hells Bells,” and “Shot Down in Flames”
  • Beastie Boys, “Sabotage”
  • Black Sabbath, “War Pigs”
  • Lynard Skynard, “Tuesday’s Gone” (September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday)
  • Smashing Pumpkins, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
  • Elton John, “Bennie and the Jets”
  • 4 Metallica songs, including “Seek & Destroy”

Do some of the above songs seem like they might have a negative connection to 9/11? Maybe, maybe not.

How about these?

  • Rolling Stones, “Ruby Tuesday”
  • Lenny Kravitz, “Fly Away”
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge”
  • U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
  • Pink Floyd, “Mother”
  • Nena, “99 Luftballoons”
If John Lennon could make this list, then basically any musician can.

If John Lennon could make this list, then basically any musician could.

You need to see the whole list with your own eyes to get a sense of the panicked and anxious thinking that was behind it. Even Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” was considered questionable!

The net was cast so wide that songs that actually might have inspired people to rally and feel better were tossed into the bucket. Thankfully not much ever came from this foolishness, but we must always guard against extreme actions in times of crisis. What might seem like a good idea on paper doesn’t always translate to the real world.