Sunday, May 11, 2008

Freedom Sings

Musical innovation is full of danger
to the whole state and ought
to be prohibited.
- Plato

Yesterday we attended Freedom Sings at the First Amendment Center in Nashville. Freedom Sings highlights songs that have been banned for one reason or another over the years. Seven artists performed yesterday, and there are 13 others that perform with the troupe at other times.  Freedom Sings began in 1999 with annual performances at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.  In 2001, they took the show on the road, and  last year, Freedom Sings performed 22 times across the country, usually on college or school campuses.

The five artists in the photo above are (left to right):  Bill Lloyd, Don Henry, Jonell Mosser, Jackie Patterson, and Jason White.  On keyboards and drums respectively (and not shown) were Michael Webb and Craig Kramper.

The First Amendment has guaranteed US citizens the right of free speech (and four other freedoms).  Music has long had a role in free speech, attempting to serve as a means of protest or enlightenment.  Not everyone has always agreed with the use of music for these means, and at times, different groups have attempted to control what we hear.

If Freedom Sings is in your area, I highly recommend attending if at all possible.  For more information on Freedom Sings and their appearance schedule, click here.

A couple of interesting banned songs (and interesting tidbits):

*  During the Civil War, Auld Lang Syne and Home Sweet Home were banned because they made soldiers homesick.  One banned song (and I don't remember the name) was so popular that the composer sold 54,000 copies of its sheet music.

*  Wake Up, Little Suzie was banned in Boston in 1957 for being too suggestive.

*  The FBI spent countless man-hours trying to decipher the words (and meaning) of Louie Louie, and they played the song at different speeds to do so.  They eventually sent out a memorandum that stated the lyrics were undecipherable at any speed.  It's interesting to note that the lead singer on the original record had just had braces put on, and his mouth and gums were pretty swollen, thus impeding his speech.

*  Elvis Presley appeared on Ed Sullivan two times before Ed noticed Elvis's "moves" while performing and ordered that cameras shoot Elvis from the waist up during his 3rd appearance.

*  You're a Grand Old Flag was originally titled You're a Grand Old Rag, but George M. Cohen was forced to change "rag" to "flag" because of public outcry.

*  In 1954, Houston formed the Juvenile Delinquent Commission which, in turn, had several rock songs banned from airwaves for their bad influence on kids, including Elvis's Everybody's Rocking Tonight.

*  In 1978, the Maryland State Legislature tried to pass legislation banning Randy Newman's Short People as a hate song.  They failed.  

*  Spiro Agnew gave a speech in California in the late 60s saying rock songs were relaying subliminal messages to kids.  One song he mentioned?  The Beatles' I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends.

Other songs that have created controversy or have been banned include:
Puff, the Magic Dragon
Yellow Submarine
This Little Light of Mine
The Times They Are A-Changing
Annie Had A Baby
Red Rag Top

And who, these days, can forget the Dixie Chicks controversy of a few years ago?

Do you know the five freedoms awarded by the First Amendment?  

Tomorrow, I'll introduce you to the First Amendment Center and Freedom Forum, both headquartered here,  and tell you a bit about them.


quintarantino said...

Plato had some great ideas, but others were quite weird.

This is a very nice post about problems sometimes musicians face with some of the lyrics or behaviours they have.
Some of the facts you have here I didn´t know about them; other are well known but both show sometimes art suffers!

Jim Morrison (Doors) also had some problems with some shows on TV and also on stage (the worst being in Florida); Sex Pistols too, specially with their "God save the Queen" ...

babooshka said...

Actually saw the documnatry regarding the Dixie Chicks. They are still really popular in the UK. Musicians will always court contoversary, but i'd rather it me for freedom of speech they anything else. Reaelly interesting post today.

Ming the Merciless said...

Love your list of 1st Amendment events. Here is a YouTube video with the lyrics to Louie, Louie:

The FBI was right. It was undecipherable.