From lyrics about whipping slaves to potential homophobia, these 3 songs will help you remember that there were times in history when our sensibilities were a lot less sensitive. Artists either intentionally took big risks, or the time period of writing saw no real reason to censor or change potentially offensive topics.
Whatever your opinion on these subjects, they certainly would not be allowed into mainstream media and thought today. Some of these songs were hits during their time and with the exception of one, they can hardly be found on the airwaves these days. Let’s take a drive down memory lane and examine some songs and lyrics with questionable modern-day integrity.
“Killing An Arab” – The Cure
Recorded in 1978, this song was actually included on the band’s first US release in 1980. The music is most certainly the most attractive part, being pretty much a 2:27 long middle-eastern themed earworm. The lyrics, however, trend in a decidedly dark direction. The 70’s and 80’s were no stranger to middle-east conflict, but the difference in today’s cultural mindset and the mindset of the late 70’s made it acceptable to literally talk about killing an Arab, whether it was literal, figurative or analogous.
The song was said to be a condensed version of an Albert Camus story called “The Stranger”. The story of “The Stranger” is essentially the story of the lyrics in the song and deals with many deep topics and possibly a deep human virtue. However, that part didn’t really make it to the song and thus, the piece has been criticized as a means for inciting violence against “Arabs” or middle easterners.
In any case, listening to the song will be surprisingly hypnotic while simultaneously eyebrow raising. It’s definitely a cognitive experience.
“One In A Million” – Guns N Roses
Guns N Roses exploded on to the music scene in 1987 with Appetite for Destruction, featuring a host of future hit songs like “Welcome To The Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. However, it would be the band’s 1988 album, G N R Lies, that would include this piece of rock history. “One In A Million” even included a liner that apologized “to those who may take offense” to the lyrics.
The lyrics in question spoke about “police”, “niggers”, “immigrants”, and “faggots”, and not in a positive way. Upon reflection, the sentence immediately preceding this is likely to land any writer in hot water, even if they’re providing research and knowledge, like myself.
Unlike some of the songs on this list, the writers and performers anticipated that their lyrics would be offensive but left them in anyway. When questioned, Axl Rose (who is the sole writer of the song) would respond by saying that he didn’t like anyone telling him what he could and couldn’t say. Some might not appreciate his flare for the sovereign individual in this particular circumstance.
Writing is about your experiences and Axl has gone on record saying “One In A Million” was about an experience he had after first arriving in L.A. However, there are many who wish he was a little less candid in his choice of words.
“Brown Sugar” – The Rolling Stones
On a decidedly racial note, we have this next installment. “Brown Sugar” is hardly mistakable for anything but the ethnic love letter that it is. However, it also contains word imagery that is discomforting. For example, the lyrics “hear him whip the women just around midnight” make a lot of people’s skin crawl. Especially considering the first line of lyrics speaks of “slave ships”.
“Brown Sugar” was released on the album Sticky Fingers in 1971 and has consistently ranked among the greatest songs and greatest guitar songs of all time. Trust me, this contradiction between popularity and politically correct sensitivity is not lost on this writer. The music is just about as catchy as any tune you’ll hear from bubble gum pop today and the guitar riffs are slung with such confidence and prowess that you can’t help but admire the song’s staying power.
Still, there are plenty of folks who feel this song needs to be purged from today’s radio and possibly all of music history. Regardless, it’s worth a listen if you can handle The Rolling Stones’ more racy fare.
What did we learn today? We learned that some people push the envelope, others don’t care, and still more were simply oblivious to how potentially offensive their lyrics were. I’m sure there are many fingers to point when placing blame for these recordings, but one thing is for sure: if they were floated for release tomorrow, these songs wouldn’t see the light of day.
I hope you enjoyed the article and don’t forget to share it if you liked it! As always, my goal is to inform, illuminate and inspire. Have a great day!