It’s a Bleep, Girl

(This post contains language that’s not safe for work. I recommend you quit your job.)

Explicit lyrics are more explicit than they used to be. One of the top songs on adult-contemporary radio last year was a song by Pink whose title was elided to “F**kin’ Perfect,” or just “Perfect” to remove the most forbidden of all forbidden words from its official title. In the radio version of the song, the word was blanked out, which is a common practice today. (Sometimes it gets way out of hand, however: the radio edit of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” also a hit on AC radio, is rendered nearly unintelligible as a result of the blanks.) The old fashioned bleep is still used now and then, too.

Such bowdlerizing happened back in the day, but the bleeped words tended to be a lot less offensive than the big one. In 1969, the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue” contained a famous edit: “Cuz I’m the bleep that named you Sue.” The offending content was “son of a bitch”; a stray “damn” was also removed from the song’s last line. It wasn’t until a CD reissue of At Folsom Prison years later that the unedited version was finally heard. In 1973, Pink Floyd’s “Money” contained the line “don’t give me that do-goody-good bullshit.” Edited versions were released that blanked out “bullshit” and just “shit,” your choice. That same year, the Charlie Daniels hit “Uneasy Rider” bleeped the potentially offensive word in the line “like their heads were on fire and their asses was catching.”

Daniels would alter one of his most famous songs six years later, changing the last line of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on the 45 from “I done told you once, you son of a bitch, that I’m the best that’s ever been” to “I done told you once, you son of a gun,” which completely eviscerates the song’s emotional payoff. In 1977, Steve Miller had performed a similar alteration on “Jet Airliner,” changing “I don’t want to get caught up in any of that funky shit goin’ down in the city” to “funky kicks goin’ down in the city.” In that case, however, “funky kicks” is arguably a better, more poetic phrase—and way Miller sings it, with a double-tracked harmony line, is better than the original, too.

While “son of a bitch” remained beyond the pale in 1979, “bitch” had been accepted years before, conditionally. “Bitch,” the B-side of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” got a great deal of airplay in 1971. Elton John scored a top-10 hit with “The Bitch Is Back” in 1974, even as some radio stations refused to announce the title. A year later, Neil Sedaka sang “the bitch is in the smile” on “Bad Blood,” part of a song that has as unremittingly nasty a lyric as you could find on the radio in the 1970s.

But “bitch” was not acceptable every time. Thirty-five years ago this spring, “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates generated a bit of controversy because of the line “it’s a bitch girl.” Why “bitch” in the form of a tossed-off adjective should be less acceptable than “bitch” as an epithet, as in “Bad Blood” or “The Bitch Is Back,” I don’t know, but to some radio stations, it was. A few got around the problem with a homemade edit, splicing in a repetition of the line “you’re a rich girl.” When Hall and Oates sang the song on The Midnight Special, something similar happened. But what I can’t tell is whether Daryl Hall sang it that way live, or if it was spliced in later.

I’m sure I’ve missed some other excellent examples of edited naughty language that you will provide in the comments.

30 thoughts on “It’s a Bleep, Girl

  1. Can’t remember whether “Rich Girl” preceded or postdated Rod Stewart’s “Ain’t Love A Bitch.”
    I remember hearing at least one AT40 countdown on which Casey referred to the song simply as “Ain’t Love,” but (as best I remember) did not bleep it as it played.

    1. J.A. Bartlett

      “Ain’t Love a Bitch” was about a year-and-a-half after “Rich Girl.” I was in college by then, and I knew at least one of our jocks refused to play it because of the title. I don’t recall hearing it anywhere else, though–so maybe it didn’t get much play in either Dubuque or Madison. Can’t remember that.

  2. Your observation about the censored Steve Miller line being an improvement made me think of “Something Good”, a ’92 hit for Houston rap outfit UGK (Underground Kingz) that sampled Rufus’ “Tell Me…” The opening lines of the re-record for radio and major-label (Jive) release went as follows:

    One with a trigger, two with a bat
    Three big brothers, four…

    The version on their self-released EP was not quite as poetic:

    One motherf*****, two motherf*****s
    Three motherf*****s, four…

    Sometimes it takes a little outside interference to force you to be creative.

    I’m also reminded of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath”: “And the all-time winner has got him by the balls” was modified with a splice from an earlier verse to scan “…has got him by the fun”. Yet AC/DC’s “Big Balls” was allowed to roam the airwaves freely about a decade later.

    I’m bound to have more before the week’s up.

  3. Yah Shure

    KDWB’s edit of Roger Miller’s “Chug-A-Lug” contained the line “grape (whoop!) in a Mason jar,” with the Masonite-like sound from the intro pinch-hitting for “wine.” Yet the full-bodied line remained on the commercial copy of the 45 I won from the same station. Ruined me for life, obviously.

    KD also wiped the “crap” from “Kodachrome” for a time, rendering it unlistenable. Kudos to Columbia for leaving the promo 45 intact.

    The original 1971 Atlantic 45 issue of Magic Lanterns’ “One Night Stand” didn’t touch the “she’ll be easy as hell” line. Radio wouldn’t touch the record, either. When Big Tree reissued the single, the H-word was bleeped with one majorly-obnoxious buzz. Sounded like a supreme fart, but hey, it charted! Must’ve been like catnip to the seven-year-olds.

    Johnny Cash sometimes sang the bleep during live performances of “A Boy Named Sue.” Sometimes less *is* more.

    We got a big laugh at my college station when the laundered version of “Money” arrived, complete with the blurb telling us to disregard the previous promo 45. It seems that Capitol forgot to use the heavy duty Tide to remove the stain from the actual record contained in the sleeve. Third time proved the charm as the label removed both the offending stain and the egg on its face.

  4. I remember the Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power” created a ruckus for AT40 the first few weeks because they forgot to edit out “bullshit” in the chorus. Later weeks they either used a bleep or an “ow!” from an Isley in that spot…

    AT40 also had at least one week where “Life in the Fast Lane” had the full “goddamn” in the final verse … later weeks just had “damn.”

    In our market, the oldies station plays “Life in the Fast Lane” without “god” (I’m thinking that’s the CD single edit these days??) It will play Jimmy Buffett’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” with “son of a bitches” in the last verse, though.

    Contemporary songs that have challenged our AC stations include OneRepublic’s “Good Life” (one station takes out not only the latter syllable but also the “bull”) and several Maroon 5 songs, most notably “Makes Me Wonder.”

    And regarding “Bitch” songs: Though Elton John’s hit is a standard on oldies and AC radio here, Meredith Brooks’ No. 2 hit is curiously missing from the ’90s rotation on our AC station (one that plays a lot of Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be,” Matchbox 20’s “3 A.M.,” and other songs in the same vein). I have a feeling it just didn’t test well with listeners.

    1. There was an alternate sleeve for the “Bitch” cassette single that omitted the song title altogether (with a sticker on the front reading “The Hit Single From Meredith Brooks” or something along those lines). I used to see it at Walgreens.

  5. porky

    Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed” became “Only Women” on the label; audio wasn’t altered.

    Station I worked at edited out “crap” in “Kodachrome,” awkward indeed.

    Local Jack FM station suddenly one day edited out “goddamn it” on Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” (now I’m an amputee,_________________.”)

    In Dave Marsh’s Book of Rock Lists he lists a few famously edited songs and says this about “Locomotive Breath:” Maybe someday the radio stations and record companies will find the fun to play records like these.

    1. Yah Shure

      Although not edited for lyrical content, Alice’s “Only Women” 45 was trimmed down by two-and-a-quarter minutes from the LP track. Its audio *was* altered on the stereo side of the DJ 45 and on the stereo commercial 45, by narrowing the right-left channel separation to the point where barely any remained. I did an A/B comparison between the 45 and LP tracks last fall over on the Pat Downey board and found no significant differences, save for a 1.5-second guitar bit near the end that was brought more forward on the 45 mix.

      Why Atlantic even bothered to futz with the stereo mix for the 45 is beyond me. There isn’t anything on the stereo LP track that sounds significantly buried in the mix when it’s summed to mono. The follow-up 45 edit for “Department Of Youth” was spared from any similar Squash-O-Matic mauling.

  6. J.A. Bartlett

    Seems to me the standard edit of “Life in the Fast Lane” entirely removed the lines “we been rushin’ down this highway/Haven’t seen a goddamn thing”, although I have also heard an edit that blanks out the “god” part.

    The Tull edit from “balls” to “fun” reminds me of the laundered-for-commercial-TV version of “Caddyshack,” in which the last line—Rodney Dangerfield: “Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid”—is changed to “let’s all take a shower.” It’s the nonniest of non-sequiturs.

    1. Yah Shure

      Any edits of “Life In The Fast Lane” are in-house or custom jobs. The original mono/stereo DJ and stereo stock 45s were identical to the LP version.

      1. J.A. Bartlett

        Surprised to hear that, because I recall hearing the version that excised two lines *everywhere* in the summer of 1977 and almost never heard the album version. But I defer to your frightening level of expertise, and note that I do not remember ever playing an edited version on the radio myself.

  7. I remember listening to the Digital Underground’s Humpty Dance on AT40 and it was a bleepfest. Hardly any of the lyrics got through, but there’s not one curse word in that song. The worst thing that’s said is I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom, which came out I once got HONK in a BEEP BEEP bathroom. This was 1990!!! We were definitely entering a very sensitive phase on our society.

    Someone brought up Who Are You by the Who. I was listening to it days ago on XM and stopped singing towards the end waiting to see if they play the album version, which they did. And then I remembered why I listened to satellite radio in the first place. They don’t censor music.

  8. Not entirely true…whenever I hear the Bollock Brothers’ “Harley David Son of a Bitch” on 1st Wave, “shit” and “tits” are always reverse-censored. Doesn’t do much to obscure the latter. “Bitch” is left intact.

    MTV always bleeped the Burger King reference in “The Humpty Dance”, presumably not to suggest a commercial endorsement. They did something similar to the “1-900-Mix-a-Lot” line in “Baby Got Back”, thought I’m not sure such a number ever existed.

  9. One song that I’ve never heard censored is Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”: “You stand in the front just shaking your ass.” I can’t think of a single other Top Forty hit from the 1970s that uses “ass” like that.

    1. I can’t remember another ’70s hit with that word, but Pink’s “Get This Party Started” comes to mind as a more recent example. I think I’ve heard stations play the original as well as an edit that garbles the word. (And didn’t this whole thing start with Pink?)

    1. J.A. Bartlett

      Seems to me we played the “puts you in your place” version of “Good Girls Don’t” on the top 40 station in Dubuque, while the “sitting on your face” version aired on our college station.

      Figures MTV would be more worried about a stray commercial endorsement than inflicting strong language on impressionable ears.

  10. porky

    To the best of my knowledge the Stones’ “She’s So Cold” didn’t suffer the fate of “Life in the Fast Lane” or “Flagpole Sitta.”

    And let’s not forget Dire Straits’ “little faggot” version of “Money For Nothing.”

    1. Yah Shure

      There were multiple DJ 45 pressings of “She’s So Cold,” some of which were censored by repeating the earlier “she’s so cold, she’s so cold, cold” section.

  11. Steve E.

    I remember hearing “Kodachrome” on the radio in 1973 with a siren inserted for the “crap,” which just sounded silly. I heard it that way only once, though. That same year I usually heard “Money” by Pink Floyd with the “shit” edited out from “bullshit.”

  12. Detroit Pete

    As I get older I find that a bleep or a “da da du da” ala Joe South in Games People Play more appealing than the 4 letter words I use myself every day. Anyone living close enough to the border to pick up a Canadian station may recall Brainwashed by David Clayton-Thomas and the Bossmen. A very effective bleep, that.

  13. The Dreaded Rear Admiral

    That clip of “Rich Girl” has definitely been edited. Listen with headphones and it’s easy to hear the slight glitch where “bitch” has been replaced, so that the line comes out “it’s a rich girl” each time. Also notice that they never show his face while he’s singing that line, so you can’t tell that the words you hear don’t quite sync with his lips.

  14. I’ve lived and worked in 3 countries: New Zealand (where “All day and all of the night” by the Kinks didn’t quite get banned – too obtuse – but “Spotty Muldoon” by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore was – the Prime Minister of the day was a certain Robert Muldoon), the UK (“A day in the life” is officially still banned…) and Germany, where “Bobby Brown” is played with gay abandon.
    That pun was unintentional. Honest.

  15. Oh. And my wife is convinced that Steve Miller wrote:

    They headed down to, ooh, old El Paso
    That’s where they ran into a great big asshole

  16. The “I done told you once, you son of a bitch” line is legendary to football fans of the University of Tennessee, where CD performed the song at halftime of a televised game and the booth crew sent it down live to the field with perfect timing. A quick cut to commercial immediately followed.

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