5 Classic Rock Songs That Were Hits Despite Getting Banned

Some classic rock songs were considered very provocative when they came out. For example, The Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was considered blasphemous. In addition, a song about a buffalo was considered offensive because listeners misheard its lyrics.

The Beatles wearing suits

5. The Beatles’ ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’

The Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko” features the refrain “Christ, they’re gonna crucify me.” While that line might not get much attention today, it would’ve been more provocative in the 1960s because the United Kingdom and the United States were more religious societies back then. According to the book The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four, this line was very controversial. It caused the BBC and most American radio stations to ban the song.

Despite this, the tune reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. While it wasn’t as huge as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “Hey Jude,” it managed to do well.

4. Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ ‘Wooly Bully’

Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh’s “Wooly Bully” is a cutesy novelty song about a dancing bull. It’s about as innocuous as classic rock songs get. “Wooly Bully” managed to court controversy anyway. According to American Songwriter, many people found the song’s lyrics difficult to discern, so it was banned from many radio stations.

According to The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, the tune reached No. 2 behind The Supremes’ “Back in My Arms Again.” Notably, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs had one other big hit: “Lil Red Riding Hood.” That song also reached No. 2 and it’s also about an animal — in that case, a wolf.

3. Melanie’s ‘Brand New Key’

Melanie’s “Brand New Key” is the most famous of her classic rock songs by far. During a 2021 interview with The Tennessean, she said it was banned because listeners felt the line about a “lock and key” was a sexual innuendo.

She was asked if the line was suggestive. “It had all kinds of meanings,” she said. “I’m gonna say, subconsciously, there could have been some sort of Freudian thing.” The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits reports the song hit No. 1 anyway.

2. The Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’

The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in the United States. However, its republican sentiment was far more provocative in the United Kingdom. According to History.com, the BBC banned the record for being in “bad taste.” Regardless, The Official Charts Company reports the tune peaked at No. 2 in the U.K.

1. Starland Vocal Band’s ‘Afternoon Delight’

Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” is about sex. It’s really not that raunchy.

According to The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, a few radio stations refused to play the song because they considered it risque. The song still managed to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. Starland Vocal Band member Bill Danoff told the Los Angeles Times the song wouldn’t be considered obscene today. Notably, the tune was the subject of mockery in the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.