In some ways, the 1980s were a more relaxed and permissive era than today. But when it came to pop music, conservative forces were always on the lookout for songs that pushed the envelope “too far.” Forces like America’s Parents Music Resource Center, who, in 1985, created the Filthy Fifteen, a list of what they considered to be the most objectionable songs. Over in the UK, the BBC wasn’t backwards in banning songs, while in Australia, the Catholic Church-owned 2SM in Sydney also deemed certain songs inappropriate for airplay. Of course, banning a risqué song often results in it becoming an even bigger deal, as was the case with some of the decade’s most provocative tracks.
“Gimme Head” by The Radiators | Released: 1980
It might have lacked subtlety, but this notorious track by Sydney pub rockers The Radiators certainly confirmed their reputation as one of the most exciting new bands on the scene. Tucked away as a B-side on second single, “Fess’ Song”, the song about blowjobs was a fan favourite at The Rads’ shows and blue light discos.
“Too Drunk To Fuck” by Dead Kennedys | Released: 1981
The first song with the F-bomb in its title to reach the UK top 40 did so despite (or due to) being banned by the BBC. Many record stores chose not to sell the single, a stand-alone track by the American punk band released between their first two albums, while others only carried it with a sticker obscuring the title.
“Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood | Released: 1983
Another song that may not have been as big had the BBC not made such a fuss about it, “Relax” spent a couple of months festering in the bottom half of the UK top 100 before bounding into life in January 1984 once the band had appeared on Top Of The Pops. Further TV and radio play was prohibited by the national broadcaster, who objected to the line: “Relax, don't do it/ When you want to come.” The single’s sexually charged promotional campaign certainly didn’t suggest those words were meant innocently.
“She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper | Released: 1984
The true meaning of this catchy pop smash – it’s an ode to female masturbation – may have continued to pass many listeners by if the She’s So Unusual track hadn’t wound up on the Filthy Fifteen, a list otherwise dominated by metal bands and a bit of Prince and Madonna (“Dress You Up”, rather than “Like A Virgin”).
“Erotic City” by Prince | Released: 1984
Speaking of Prince, he featured on the Filthy Fifteen thanks to Purple Rain’s “Darling Nikki”, but could equally have landed on the list thanks to this B-side to “Let’s Go Crazy”, which contained a fairly frank description of what he wanted to do to the object of his lust. A few years later, Prince would score major hits with songs like “Gett Off” and “Sexy MF” that made “Erotic City” look positively quaint.
“Sugar Walls” by Sheena Easton | Released: 1984
Another Prince composition and another song that found its way onto the Filthy Fifteen, thanks to its title being a euphemism for the lining of the vagina. The follow-up to “Strut”, “Sugar Walls” continued the sexual makeover Scottish songbird Sheena Easton underwent in the middle of the decade, having made her name at the start of the ’80s with the much more innocent “Morning Train (9 To 5).”
“I Want Your Sex” by George Michael | Released: 1987
The former Wham! singer also left behind his poppier persona with the lead single from his debut solo album, Faith. Actually a fairly tame song, “I Want Your Sex” raised red flags with conservative programmers due to its use of the word “sex” in its title (shocking!) and George’s semi-naked cavorting with then-girlfriend Kathy Jeung in the music video, which actually promoted monogamy rather than promiscuity.
“Strokin’” by Clarence Carter | Released: 1988 (in Australia)
A few years old by the time it took off in Australia, this track from the blind soul musician’s 1986 album, Dr C.C., had to rely on word of mouth since radio and TV play was non-existent. That was fairly understandable since the lyrics described the various ways Clarence would “stroke” – in the back seat of a car, in the afternoon and if her stuff ain’t tight enough… well, you can google the lyrics yourself.
“French Kiss” by Lil Louis | Released: 1989
Just as “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” had been banned for its erotic moaning two decades earlier, so too did this dance track by American DJ and producer Marvin Burns, which slowed right down to a climactic orgasm in the middle before speeding up again, fall foul of the censors.
“Me So Horny” by 2 Live Crew | Released: 1989
A song so controversial it led to a court case and arrests. The rap group had established their MO with earlier singles “Trow The Dick” and “We Want Some Pussy!” but it was when this lead single from As Nasty As They Wanna Be became a chart hit in the US that the shit really hit the fan. 2 Live Crew were charged with obscenity and the album was, for a period of time, prohibited in Florida – all things that were later overturned.
Listen to our Hits of the 80s playlist on Spotify: