As Paper Lace discovered, 'there was no going against the power of the Beeb'
IT was one of those cruel tricks of fate.
Paper Lace, Nottingham's most successful pop group, were planning a recording comeback ... until Saddam Hussein scuppered their dreams.
Back in the early 1970s Paper Lace had registered a worldwide smash with Billy Don't Be A Hero, a song about a young American Civil War soldier.
It launched the group's relatively brief but mega-successful career which saw them sell 17 million records worldwide and hit number one in both the UK and US.
Take advantage of this offer to improve the look and security of your home
Our doors come in a great range of colours, and all come with a POLICE approved 10 point locking system
*terms and conditions apply
Must be bought from and fitted by Vision Home Improvements
Contact: 0800 781 2015
Valid until: Saturday, June 08 2013
Then, in a tangle of disputes and legal argument, the group broke up. But, in 1990, three original members — Philip Wright, Mick Vaughan and Chris Morris — were given the financial backing to re-record Billy with an up-to-date sound.
All they had to do was find a label willing to put the song out.
But then Saddam invaded Kuwait, the Gulf War began... and the BBC produced a whole list of songs it deemed inappropriate for the public airwaves... including Billy Don't Be A Hero.
Philip Wright, who was vocalist on the original 1970s hit, said: "Mick, Chris and myself re-recorded Billy in a 1990s fashion, with financial help from a property developer Mick had befriended, who had an interest in pop music.
"We completed the recording, made a video at the American Adventure Park using most of the staff, with a view to Mick getting a distribution deal.
"A lot of hard work, not to mention cash, went into the project, but it proved impossible to secure any deal with anyone." And the reason given by most of the prospective companies? A ban on radio because of the war.
"I still have a copy of the video and the recording, but there was no going against the power of the Beeb.
"I know that in the past bans have actually put records on the map and huge hits have resulted involving pretty crummy products, but when you are desperately looking for a deal involving a revamp of a past hit, the circumstances obviously have to be perfect."
But if the banning of Billy came as a surprise, the BBC's list of more than 60 songs it decided could cause offence in the wake of Saddam's invasion challenged credibility.
Waterloo by Abba was another on the blacklist, along with In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins and even Rick Nelson's Fools Rush In.
Similarly, following the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, radio stations across America removed a wide selection of titles from their playlists.
Any reference to flying, heaven and even Tuesday was likely to get a song silenced. But it required some lateral thinking to find the downside of numbers like Travellin' Man, another recording by the late Rick Nelson.
The banning of songs is nothing new, as Monday's Bygones article on Douglas Byng illustrated.
Byng, who spent his childhood in Nottingham, was regarded as the entertainer who turned drag into an art form, becoming one of our best-known pantomime dames.
He was billed as "Bawdy but British" and penned a collection of innuendo-laden songs, such as Doris the Goddess of Wind, many of which were banned by BBC radio in its early days.
In the 1960s, Barry Maguire's Eve Of Destruction was chopped because it challenged traditional beliefs. The Irish troubles during the 1970s earned Paul McCartney a dubious distinction with his Wings release Give Ireland Back To The Irish and The Police hit Invisible Sun, which contained lyrics referring to the Armalite rifle, was another offering to be stamped on.
It was around this time that the Sex Pistols proved there is no such thing as bad publicity when God Save The Queen caused a money-spinning uproar and the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber anthem Don't Cry For Me Argentina was too hot to handle during the Falklands conflict.
Any number of songs have been kicked off the airwaves for obvious or perceived references to drugs. It could be argued that Peter, Paul and Mary's Puff The Magic Dragon, Day In The Life and Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds by The Beatles, and Stoned by the Rolling Stones trod a thin line, but maybe they were looking a bit too hard when they singled out John Denver's country hit Rocky Mountain High.
Banned songs can be found in the most unlikely places.
Can you imagine that old smoothy Dean Martin upsetting the establishment?
Well, in 1951 he did just that with a song called Wham Bam, Thankyou Mam, which was deemed too suggestive for delicate ears.
The BBC has long been sensitive. The list of songs banned, for a variety of reasons, is almost endless but, as Philip Wright pointed out, it could also guarantee a hit.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax, the Stones' Let's Spend the Night Together — changed to Let's Spend Some Time Together for an American TV appearance — fared pretty well at the tills after the BBC decided to single them out for exclusion.
Most famously, it helped Je t'Aime, a nondescript little ditty about love which was unintelligible to the vast majority of the record-buying public, become a worldwide hit.
It also turned unknown heavy-breather Jane Birkin into a household name.
For its time, it was a little racy but who, for instance, ruled that Mike Berry's 1961 Tribute To Buddy Holly was too morbid for public consumption?
How do you explain the ban on Napoleon XIV's comedy song They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Ha? Or American radio stations refusing to play Loretta Lynn's The Pill because of its references to birth control?
Who could forget that all-time classic standard These Foolish Things which originally contained the line "gardenia perfume lingers on a pillow"? Too risque. It was altered to "a seaplane rising from an ocean billow".
Ah, they don't write them like that any more.