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Immediately following the tragedies of September 11th, a strange confusion lingered over both professional sports and the entertainment industry. Games were cancelled, Broadway was shuttered, the Emmys were postponed, and perhaps most jarring of all, late night talk shows went dark. Performers wondered when it was okay to laugh, ball players wondered when it was okay to hit home runs, and radio stations were at a complete loss over what to play. Out of this funk came the Clear Channel Memorandum, a list of lyrically questionable songs the company cautioned its 1200 radio stations to strongly consider before playing again.
The Clear Channel Memorandum of 2001 wasn’t exactly a ban, but it wasn’t a wild rumor, either. As beloved classics disappeared from the radio, word mistakenly spread that many of the most cherished solo artists and bands in history were barred from the radio. Now we know it was simply an advisory, unenforced but still powerful enough to resonate. Unfortunately, the list was neither completely tactful or in good taste. This week’s Weekend Download Recommendations is a direct shout out to songs that got the shaft. Had they been around, there may have been a few more bright or thoughtful moments on the radio. Sometimes, it’s better to mourn with what’s beloved and familiar, even if a few others deem the content objectionable.
James Taylor “Fire and Rain”
James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” might have some of the saddest lyrics the world has ever heard. Not only is it used as a precursor to Gerry Bertier getting paralyzed in Disney’s Remember the Titans, it also gets credit for having a whole lotta tragedy in its backstory. Taylor himself has a million stories concerning what the song is truly about, but my favorite is the one about a girl he knew who died while he was recording an album overseas. No one told him, and when he came back she was dead, gone, and buried. It’s also about time passing and moving on, and it could have been a ray of sunshine in a world of smoke.
Frank Sinatra “New York, New York”
Probably the most ludicrous song on this list, “New York, New York” is a treasure to the city. Such a treasure, in fact, that when the Mets once again took the field, they played Sinatra’s song. “New York, New York” is about hope and pride for a grand ol’ city. Banning it on the grounds people might associate the song with the attacks was irresponsible, not because people wouldn’t associate “New York, New York” negatively with the tragic events, but because the song should incur innate pride, especially as a response to coming together post-tragedy.
The Rolling Stones “Ruby Tuesday”
Tuesdays suck. People may act like Mondays are the blah day of the week, but at least on Monday you aren’t weighed down by all of the things that need to be accomplished. Mondays are a slightly groggy but fresh start. Tuesdays are marked by grumpy people who didn’t wake up early enough to grab coffee, who have work piled up, and who are stuck in a work week that is not even half over. Because of this, it is logical songs about Tuesdays might get you a little down. Regardless, denying fans Tuesday music on Tuesday is poor form. Especially when the Tuesday ban went down because September 11th occurred on that day of the week. Poor Lynyrd Skynyrd got gypped because of that day of the week, as well.
The Bangles “Walk Like an Egyptian”
If this song had lyrics akin to walking like an Egyptian into fire and brimstone maybe I could understand this banishment. As it stands, the only reason “Walk Like an Egyptian” was banned was because it mentioned the Middle East. Sort of. I would have a hard time hearing the argument that three women singing in shitty Halloween costumes had anything to do with Al Queda. Although Egyptian revolution protestors did use the song to their own favor, but that hardly has any connotation to burning towers and the like.
Alien Ant Farm “Smooth Criminal”
I get the connotations that could be found when listening to Alien Ant Farm’s “Smooth Criminal.” I really do. I just think it’s poor policy to put a cover of a song on a ban list without including the original. Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” was good to go the day after the attacks. So, what was it that caused Clear Channel to cut Alien Ant Farm’s biggest hit from the radio? It must be the fervent, angry overtones, but if so, the company deserves a tenth grade eye roll for its behavior.
Louis Armstrong "What A Wonderful World"
“What A Wonderful World” might very well be the most positive song ever written about everyday life. Putting it on a list about songs that might provoke or sadden people after a tragic event is probably the opposite. It’s about looking at the bright side of life and all of the little things that might make people happy in a world where bad things can happen. It’s perfect, and it should have been played over and over again to remind people that things would be okay.
John Lennon’s “Imagine”
I can’t really imagine a day when Lennon’s “Imagine” didn’t grace a radio station at least once. The singer’s imagination may not make for the most uplifting song ever, but it may be the best song to shove in the face of a nation ridden down by inertia and a completely off-put outlook. There’s a lot of hope in “Imagine,” and Clear Channel should be sorry they deprived the radio of Lennon for a time. Plus, this video has some awesome Yoko Ono head bopping that really shouldn’t be missed. Why deprive people of that?
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