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Ask Billboard: You Can’t Say That On Radio

When it comes to public airwaves, there's often more than seven dirty words that artists can't - or at least maybe, shouldn't - say.

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, sales and airplay, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


Hi Gary,

Interesting item in “Ask Billboard” last week about charted songs with profane titles.

One of those you listed, “Short Dick Man” by 20 Fingers featuring Gillette, also has a radio edit entitled “Short Short Man.”


Other such songs over the years include “Ain’t Love a Bitch” by Rod Stewart, which peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, and “Irresistible Bitch” by Prince in 1983, which was the B-side to his 1984 No. 52 hit “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” (Such a title gives new meaning to the term “B-side” …)

There have also been titles that came oh-so-close to swearing, like “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” by the Black Eyed Peas (alternately titled “Don’t Mess With My Heart”).

And, we’ve seen (and heard) songs in which there is no actual swearing but the point still very clearly gets across. The 1971 No. 1 “Theme From Shaft” by Isaac Hayes contains the line: “They say that Shaft is a bad mother,” which is immediately followed by the lyric, “shut your mouth.”

More comically, a novelty song dating as far back as 1946, “Shaving Cream” by Benny Bell, became a modest top 40 hit (No. 30) when it was re-released 29 years later in 1975. While it contained no profanity, it still was considered controversial and offensive, which limited its airplay.

Best always,

Larry Cohen
Trumbull, Connecticut

Hi Gary,

Regarding slipping in curse words on Hot 100 hits, a very recent example is “H*A*M” by Kanye West and Jay-Z, which debuted at its peak so far of No. 23 two weeks ago. I won’t spell out that easily Google-able acronym.

It also reminds me of how EMF managed to top the Hot 100 in 1991 with “Unbelievable,” hiding its full name, Ecstacy… oops, I had better stop.

Light-hearted and charted,

Pablo Nelson,
Berkeley, California

Hi Gary,

Shadoe Stevens wasn’t the only host of “American Top 40” who refused to say the title of a song on his show (per your mention of his avoidance of the name of 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny”).

Casey Kasem, in fact, took it one step further: he wouldn’t even play George Michael‘s “I Want Your Sex” in 1987. He’d just say, “And, at No. (whatever position the song was that week) is George Michael,” and then skip to the next song on the chart.

The track peaked at No. 2, but wouldn’t it have been interesting if it had gone all the way to No. 1? The first “AT40” chart-topper not to be played on the show the week it hit the apex …

“And, the No. 1 song in the land this week is by George Michael …

(No bass drum drumroll, no song, no nothing …)

… And, that’s this week’s show! I’m Casey Kasem. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!”

What a trip that would’ve been!

David Fritz
Reseda, California

Hi Larry, Pablo and David,

Thanks for the insightful – and amusing – additions.

When I worked in radio, we often received safe edits for songs from labels. Even adult contemporary acts like Sarah McLachlan sometimes required the exclusive airing of a clean version of a single. A memorable line from her 1997 No. 13 Hot 100 hit “Building a Mystery” became “you’re a beautiful, beautiful (silence)-ed up man” when heard on pop radio.

It’s not even just inappropriate words that can be barred from airplay. Questionable content also prompts creative makeovers.

Mariah Carey‘s most recent Hot 100 top 10, “Obsessed” (No. 7, 2009), contains the line, “it must be the weed, it must be the E.” The song climbed to No. 8 on the Pop Songs radio airplay chart, but when you heard it on your local top 40 station, you likely heard garbled sound effects in place of the two suggested mood enhancers.

Adult radio has especially been careful with potentially risqué content. As music director at WSNE Providence, I was instructed to disguise the following lines in Avril Lavigne‘s No. 22 Hot 100 hit from 2004, “Don’t Tell Me”:

“Will get you in my pants? I’ll have to kick your ass and make you never forget / Get out of my head, get off of my bed, yeah, that’s what I said.”

Upon leaving the production studio, I had simply deleted the entire second verse, leaving us with a safer (and barely two-and-a-half-minute-long) radio-ready version that we referred to as the “no pants, no ass, no bed” edit.


“American Idol” continues to offer a looser, more fun feel than before in its third week back on the air.

A certain level of final judgment from Simon Cowell still seems missing – ESPN’s “Sports Guy” Bill Simmons described the new season as “like playing NBA games that end in the third quarter; you keep waiting for crunch-time and it never comes” – but the show’s relaxed atmosphere is making for more enjoyable TV than in recent years.

Highlights of this week’s goofy banter?

After a contestant Wednesday (Feb. 2) revealed that he performs clinical trials for a pharmaceutical company, new judge Steven Tyler responded, “We have something in common … that was pretty much the whole ’70s for me!”

Last night, 59-year-old (he thinks) Cooper Robinson explained the location of his Arkansas home: “From on the plantation, you gotta ride into the woods. There’s a dirt road. Once you leave Humphrey, you ride, like, 10 miles. You gotta look for the exit that says Cranton. You ride deep off into the woods. Very dangerous.”

“You got those directions?” Jennifer Lopez deadpanned to Randy Jackson.

Per my goal of hoping to identify the eventual 2011 “American Idol” champion by the end of the audition phase, here are my favorites from this week’s episodes:

Corey Levoy; rich-voiced singing cowboy John Wayne (his real first two names) Schulz; Jacqueline Dunford; extremely promising country singer Janelle Arthur; rockers Caleb Johnson, who brought a southern spice to Soundgarden‘s “Rusty Cage,” and Casey Abrams; Karen Rodriguez, the first featured singer who auditioned through MySpace; and, brothers Mark and Aaron Gutierrez.

Who’s impressed you among this year’s “Idol” hopefuls?

Follow Billboard.com’s complete coverage of the 10th season of “American Idol” here and, as always, please feel free to share your opinions in the comments section below or by e-mailing askbb@billboard.com.