FOLLOW US ON: follow us in feedly
GET THE NEWSLETTER
CONTACT US
‘Undercover of the Night’: That time the Rolling Stones got banned for ‘glamorizing violence’

01undcov.jpg
 
How to stay relevant. It’s a question we all face at some point in life. Mick Jagger was thinking about staying relevant. It was 1983. Punk had come and gone. New Wave was still a thing. Electronica and the New Romantics were still fashionable. Where did a rock ‘n’ roll band like the Stones fit into the mix? Jagger was going through what Keith Richards calls “Lead Vocalist Syndrome.” The point where a band’s singer thinks he/she is bigger, better, and more important than the rest of the group.

Richards had quit heroin. He was clean. After years of fucking around, Richards was back and wanted to take up his fair share of the burden Jagger had been carrying. But Jagger had control of the Rolling Stones and wasn’t going to give Keith an inch.

“Shut up, Keith, that’s an idiotic idea,” was how Jagger dismissed Richards.

To keep relevant, Jagger was checking out the competition. He wanted to know what Bowie was doing, what Rod Stewart was doing, what was the latest tune played on the dancefloor at Studio 54, and which bands were snapping at their heels. He was chasing his own tail.

The best way to stay relevant is to be and do.

Jagger and Richards wrote their first song on a kitchen table. They didn’t care what other people thought or who they sounded like, it was their song—that was all that mattered. Now, the relationship between Jagger and Richards was fractious. It was falling apart. Jagger had control and he was taking the Stones where he wanted.

Yet, checking out the opposition, chasing the trends meant sometimes Jagger got it right. He was and still is a shrewd businessman—let’s not forget, he had been a student at the London School of Economics. He had also been very successful in taking the Stones in unlikely directions, like that time he pulled them into disco music with “Miss You.” But sometimes his ideas were as popular as that time Family Guy replaced Brian with the ghastly mutt, Vinny. Still, Jagger was always open to suggestions, always looking for something new, always wanting to be at the front of the crowd.

Jagger had read William Burroughs’ book Cities of the Red Night. It was the book everyone was supposed to be reading. It had received, at that point, the best reviews of Burroughs’ career. Which shows weird only lasts as long as it’s something new. Now Burroughs was an eminent grise living in a bunker in NYC hanging his used condoms out to dry on the washing-line.

Burroughs was the starting point for Jagger writing the song “Undercover of the Night” in Paris around late 1982. As he later explained in the liner notes for The Stones’ compilation Jump Back, “Undercover of the Night” was “heavily influenced by William Burroughs’ Cities Of The Red Night, a free-wheeling novel about political and sexual repression. It combines a number of different references to what was going down in Argentina and Chile.” Though he did deny he had “nicked it.”

The Burroughs’ influence is evident in Jagger’s lyrics:

Hear the screams from Center 42
Loud enough to bust your brains out
The opposition’s tongue is cut in two
Keep off the streets ‘cause you’re in danger
One hundred thousand disparu
Lost in the jails in South America

Curl up baby
Curl up tight
Curl up baby
Keep it all out of sight
Undercover
Keep it all out of sight
Undercover of the night

The sex police are out there on the streets
Make sure the pass laws are not broken
The race militia has got itchy fingers
All the way from New York back to Africa

“Undercover of the Night” is a classic Stones’ track. A brilliant vocal, a great guitar riff, and a memorable hook. It was Jagger’s song, as Richards later recalled:

“Mick had this one all mapped out, I just played on it. There were a lot more overlays on the track because there was a lot more separation in the way we were recording at the time.”

When it came to making the promo for the song, the Stones approached Julien Temple who was the hip, young director with a fine resume of work with the Sex Pistols, the UK Subs (Punk Can Take It) and the promo for “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. He had also famously directed the Pistols big screen adventure The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.

Temple soon discovered how difficult the relationship between Jagger and Richards had become:

“I wrote an extreme treatment about being in the middle of an urban revolution and dramatized the notion of Keith and Mick really not liking each other by having Keith kill Mick in the video. I never thought they would do it. Of course, they loved it. I went to Paris to meet with the band. Keith was looking particularly unhappy. He was glowering with menace and eventually said, ‘Come downstairs with me.’ My producer and I went down to the men’s room. Keith had a walking stick and suddenly he pulled it apart. The next thing I know he’s holding a swordstick to my throat. He said, ‘I want to be in the video more than I am.’ So we wrote up his part a bit more. That was Keith’s idea of collaboration!”

 
02undconi.jpg
Mick Jagger getting lippy.
 
The promo opens on a hotel complex. American tourists are having a good time grooving to the Stones’ music while militiamen patrol the rooftops and streets. Jagger as the journalist (white knight in a Panama hat and very bad stick-on mustache) watches as Keith and his gang of masked vigilantes or maybe revolutionaries or maybe death squad or maybe just a rock ‘n’ roll group on the spur of some internal wranglings (take your pick) sneak into the hotel and kidnap one of the hotel guests or rather kidnap Mick Jagger watching Mick Jagger on TV. Journo Mick watches kidnapped Mick being spirited away by Keith and co. who all drive off in what looks like a military vehicle straight past a bunch of soldiers kicking the shit out of people down on their luck.

Journo Mick makes his way to kidnapped Mick’s hotel room where he finds a woman hiding under the bed covers (ya see what they did there?). Anyway, one thing leads to another, and journo Mick and his girl under the covers watch an execution and then go off (via the police department) to rescue kidnapped Mick. A shoot-out ensues in a candle-lit church—nothing worse than what any five-year-old could see on The A-Team—and kidnapped Mick is saved. Poor old journo Mick dies from a bullet wound.

What it’s saying, what it’s actually about, is none too clear. It’s a dilettante’s take on Burroughs and the criminal activities of government’s and hoodlums in South America. At worst, it might make a viewer go, “Wow, South America looks a fun place to have a party.” At best, it would get the kids talking about politics and shit.

Jagger has sometimes been accused of being a dilettante. Maybe. To be fair, he’s more, as Richards said in his autobiography, “a sponge” who soaks up whatever’s going on and filters it through his music. Just what every good artist does.

The subject matter of the song and its accompanying promo was a rare outing into politics for the Stones. It was over fifteen years since “Street Fighting Man” but “Undercover of the Night” chimed neatly with the edgy political songs released by bands like The Jam or specifically the Clash and their album Sandinista! from 1980, which similarly dealt with the political turmoil in Chile and Nicaragua. The promo was banned by the BBC or rather the Corporation said they weren’t going to screen it, while the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) were nervous over its perceived violence. MTV was also angsty. It’s difficult to see why the sequences of so-called “violence” caused such concern, as both the BBC and the Independent Television Channels in the UK screened far worse with war films and westerns and TV detective series at peak times. It was more likely the political content—the suggestion that America was in some way sponsoring murderous dictatorships in South America—rather than any bang-bang, shoot-shoot, made “Undercover of the Night” unpalatable. But getting “banned” kept the Stones relevant in a wholly different way.

In 1983 Mick Jagger and director Julien Temple appeared via TV link-up on The Tube to promote the single and defend the video’s politics and violence. They were interviewed by a young presenter called Muriel Gray.

The Tube was the best music show on British television during the eighties. It was launching pad for a variety of young, sometimes unknown artists like the Fine Young Cannibals, Paul Young, and even Twisted Sister who earned a record deal after their appearance. Gray was one of the show’s three presenters, alongside main hosts Jools Holland and Paula Yates. Gray had been selected out of literally dozens, nay hundreds of young hopefuls who attended auditions to be one of the presenters on the show. Gray won out because she had the right kind of attitude, which probably stemmed from the fact her favorite hobby was “arguing—not even discussing” as Gray believed arguing was the best way to find out what a person is really thinking.

It was an awkward interview between Gray, Jagger and Temple. It was almost like a gobby maiden Aunt versus the naughty drunken Uncles. Gray later explained in The Official Book of The Tube, she “wanted Mick Jagger… to justify why he thought the violence in the ‘Undercover of the Night’ video was necessary, what his personal reasons were.” Unfortunately, it didn’t quite end up like that. Television interviewers have a difficult role. They are told by the producer what they have to extract from the interviewee. Their job is a one part sycophant, one part grand inquisitor.

Read more of Jagger and the ‘Under Cover of the Night’ interview, after the jump…
 

READ ON
Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
11.09.2017
08:33 am
|
Frankie goes to a bacchanalian gay fetish bar: The original, hilarious banned video for ‘Relax’


 
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1983 single “Relax” is so gay. Specifically gay sex. It’s amazing that when the song first came out, the band actually tried to deny its obvious prurience. Two years later though, co-songwriter and bassist Mark O’Toole wrote in the liner notes of their follow-up album, “when people ask you what ‘Relax’ was about, when it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging.” It wasn’t the most forgiving time for explicit homoerotic sexuality, but the band was never apologetic, and really pushed the boundaries.

During an infamous Top of the Pops performance, frontman Holly Johnson actually tore up a copy of The Sun, the tawdry rag that had been harassing his parents at home for quotes about their gay son. “Relax” also had a 16-minute-long “Sex Mix” that was just a bunch of samples of water noises—apparently even gay bars refused to play it. Then there is the original music video for “Relax,” an unintentionally hilarious ode to gay hedonism, which was almost immediately banned.
 

 
Johnson says the video got pulled when “a big wig in the ‘Big Brother Broadcasting Company’” found his kids watching it. Later the record company asked them to make a second video, the one everyone now knows as the “Relax” video. The second video is dated, naturally, and Johnson describes it as “almost like a satire of a regulation pop video—you know, guys in makeup and laser beams, lots of looking at the camera.” To be fair, the song does contain the line “hit me with your laser beams,” but I think that might be referencing something a little less… literal.

The video is utterly ridiculous of course, but what strikes me is the relative tameness of the queer debauchery. Drag queens and leather daddies, some people in cages and on leashes, a lot of mesh tank tops and gratuitous contouring blush, an actual tiger, and a hedonistic old queen overseeing the entire spectacle while being shaved. Completely insane? Yes. Is there innuendo? Definitely (especially the rather obvious reference to water sports). But there’s nothing hardcore, and it’s hard to believe that a video featuring this kind of hetero sybaritism would have gotten banned.
 

Posted by Amber Frost
|
07.09.2015
09:39 am
|
Shakespeare & Russell Brand: Guantánamo Bay’s banned books are pretty random…


“Alas, poor Yorick!”

While right-wingers clamor on about the insidiousness of Sharia Law and the threat of imminent Islamofascism, our own government is pretty set on keeping certain books away from certain people. Last week, The Guardian published a seemingly random list of books that have been banned from Guantánamo Bay. The incomplete list was supplied by Clive Stafford Smith, who directs Reprieve, a legal charity the provides free legal support to particularly disenfranchised prisoners.

Now actual journalists have done an amazing job exposing Guantánamo, so I won’t go into the multitude of illegal procedures they regularly execute, much less point out the countless absurd incarcerations (okay, maybe that 15 year old Canadian kid). I would, however, like to go over this list and attempt to divine exactly what is so objectionable about each book, leaving out the explicitly anti-Guantánamo non-fiction.

Let’s take a crack at it, shall we?

Martin Amis, Money: Actually, the complete title of this 1984 novel, with the post-script, is Money: A Suicide Note. The protagonist is a vulgar British hedonist who comes to America and embraces it fully. He eventually has a psychotic break and loses everything, and thought the “suicide” in the book is metaphorical, the book pretty clearly condemns Western decadence and warns of its pitfalls. Not too much of a a stretch to imagine why they’d ban this one.

R. Beckett, The New Dinkum Aussie Dictionary: This is a humor book on Australian colloquialisms. No fuckin’ clue. Anybody know? Does it have a “Death to America” entry? 
 
Russell Brand, Booky Wook Two: I know Brand’s a leftist, but seriously?

Professor Alan Dershowitz, Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence: A weird choice, since Dershowitz is speaking out against religious extremism, and he’s probably now most famous as an Israeli apologist and Islamophobe. Isn’t that what the US government wants prisoners to internalize? Perhaps it’s the denouncement of Christian extremism they wish to censor?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime & Punishment: On the surface, it’s about a man who kills people, but it’s not really a pro-murder book. My only guess is that they read the title and panicked. 

Frederick Douglass, The African American Slave: Books about liberation probably raise a red flag. But seriously, if anti-slavery politics are too potentially subversive, you might not be running a wholesome operation.

Frederick Forsyth, The Kill List : This is a shitty suspense novel about top secret agents killing Muslim terrorists. It’s by a guy whose books are advertised on the subway. Again, don’t see why they don’ want to give them right-wing, Islamophobic propaganda.

John Grisham,The Innocent Man:Grisham’s first non-fiction book, about a man on death row for rape and murder, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after 11 years in prison. Grisham actually wrote an article in the New York Times and got this unbanned. I rarely have a chance to say this, but… hey, good job, John Grisham.

EM Naguib, Puss in Boots,  Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast: Can’t even find this, but Naguid is an Arabic name. Maybe they’re Arab interpretations of fairy tales?

Wilfred Owen, Futility: This is a 1918 poem about the death of a British soldier, and his fellow soldiers’ futile attempts to revive him. No idea on this one. If anything, this is a very “don’t get yourself killed for war” kind of poem. Is “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” banned on Guantánamo Bay’s in-house AM radio station?

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice: Maybe because of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender? Not sure exactly where they’re going with this one.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago : A book about a Soviet forced labor camp, by a guy who was interned in a forced labor camp. Decidedly anti-forced labor camp. Maybe that’s it.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Again, the abolition of slavery was apparently too risky a political concept for the prisoners.

Scott Turow, Presumed Innocent: A novel about a man accused of killing his lover. It’s a crime thriller/courtroom drama. It was made into a movie with Harrison Ford. I have no damned idea why it would be banned.


So there you have it. What counts as potentially incendiary literature in Guantánamo Bay? Apparently absolutely fucking anything.

Posted by Amber Frost
|
12.17.2013
10:08 am
|
Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape

image
 
In 1984 the British government drew up a list of 72 films which it deemed so reprehensible that they should be banned. Anyone found in possession of a copy, or actively distributing one of the films, could face a prison sentence. This was in the very early days of video, when distribution of movies on VHS was unregulated, and the new medium could be found in almost every small local corner shop. This is the story covered by the fantastic documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape by British horror director Jake West, which was released late last year in the UK.

More than just a look at the films that were banned by the UK Government in 1984, it’s an examination of the political climate of the era, and the moral panic whipped up by national newspapers, busy looking for an easy scapegoat for society’s problems (and probably a bit worried that their own medium was under threat). The most fascinating part, for me, are the interviews with the dubious, so-called “moral leaders” that decided the public couldn’t handle this type of thing in the first place. A quarter of a century later and society has relegated them to a status of mockery, yet they still cling dearly to the notion that they were doing something right and protecting stupid people from themselves, not just furthering their own mealy-mouthed careers. Sociopathic politicians aren’t just a new phenomena, you know.
 

image

 
Interestingly, one of the prime movers in the the banning of these films was a man called Peter Kruger, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Unit. It may be just one huge coincidence, but almost a year later saw the release of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street, and the unleashing of one of the greatest horror characters of all time, Freddy Krueger. Was this Craven’s own F.U. to the British board of censors? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t take a wild leap of the imagination to draw this conclusion - Craven is a smart, politically aware man whose own Last House On The Left ended up on the list of 72 banned films.

The three-disc DVD set, called Video Nasties - the Definitive Guide, comes with the documentary itself, and split over a further two discs a guide to all 72 films on the list (almost half of which were unbanned at the time) with commentary from British horror critics like Kim Newman, Alan Jones and Stephen Thrower. It also comes lovingly packaged in a fake video cassette box with artwork by Graham Humphreys, who created the now iconic British sleeve for The Evil Dead (another banned film on the list). So far only available in the UK, for anyone with a multi-region DVD player the film can be found on Amazon.co.uk and comes highly recommended. This documentary is not just for horror buffs, it is for anyone with an interest in politics, culture, and how liberal ideals can be thwarted by a select, self-interested few.
 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
|
02.09.2011
08:36 am
|