Clear Channel Communications, the country's largest radio network, is raising eyebrows after one of its station's program directors created a list of potentially inappropriate songs in the wake of last week's devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Led Zeppelin, John Lennon's "Imagine," Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner," AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" and Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" were among more than 150 songs deemed "lyrically inappropriate" following last Tuesday's tragedy. The list also includes everything from the classics (Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World") to recent releases (System of a Down's "Chop Suey!").
Then there's the downright goofy, as the list suggests such un-American songs like the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" and Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife."
While rumors initially floated that the list was a corporate mandate, or a cruel hoax, the radio conglomerate insists that a program director created and distributed the list to its 1,100 stations, including KIIS-FM in Los Angeles and Z100-FM in New York.
"Given the environment, a Clear Channel program director took it upon himself to identify a number of songs that certain markets or individuals may find insensitive today," the company said in a statement. "This was not a mandate, nor was the list generated out of the corporate radio offices. It was a grassroots effort that was apparently circulated among program directors."
Not all Clear Channel stations are paying attention to the list. For instance, New York's Z100 has been playing many of the tunes, while Q104 has noted that "inappropriate" songs like "New York, New York" and "Imagine" were some of the most requested of the week.
Some songs, however, do evoke difficult images from last week's tragedy. It's not hard to see a connection to songs like Peter, Paul and Mary's "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" or AC/DC's "Safe in New York City."
As expected, free-speech activists are expressing concern that the list was even passed around. While Clear Channel insists it did not "endorse or squash" the list's distribution, First Amendment watchdogs say it's problematic--especially if you consider that Clear Channel owns one out of every 10 stations in the U.S.
"It's very dangerous," says Nina Crowley, director of MassMic, a music free-speech organization. "I understand they're pulling certain violent songs. But you put out a list of songs like this, and the next thing you know someone's pulling the albums off the shelves in Wal-Mart.
"There are some very absurd connections," she adds. "'Walk Like an Egyptian'? You really gotta stretch it to get that."
Most upsetting, Crowley says, is the inclusion of "all songs by Rage Against the Machine" on the list. "That's political stand against what Rage Against the Machine has to say," she warns.
Meanwhile, at least one record label has responded to the "objectionable" list. Wind-up Records is disputing that its single "Bodies," by the band Drowning Pool, was deemed potentially objectionable. (The song made the list presumably for its chanting chorus, "Let the bodies hit the floor.")
"From the very beginning, 'Bodies' was never about anything more than the kids moshing," says Wind-up spokesman Steve Karas in a statement. "We can obviously understand people's concerns, and we're very sympathetic, but the meaning of the song still is as it was in the beginning, which is really a cry for togetherness."
Complete list of songs