Popular music is usually a decidedly mainstream affair. There have been some anomalies, however. Even the Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones had controversial singles. However, I’ve picked a few that you may not know about. Here are my top picks:
Sex Pistols, “God Save The Queen”
By the time God Save The Queen was released in 1977, the Sex Pistols were already infamous throughout England, and were banned from most clubs and radio airplay. How could they piss off the British monarchy even more? Why, by releasing a song called God Save The Queen, of course. And by attempting a publicity stunt where they would play the song on a boat named The Queen Elizabeth. Needless to say, the queen was pissed, especially when the song inspired by her made it to the British NME charts at #1 (but only #2 at the British singles chart, where it is claimed it was kept from #1 purposely).
To this day, it is still one of the Sex Pistols’ most remembered songs (especially since they only wrote around 20 songs total!), and it is one of punk music’s most defining anthems.
Rammstein, “Mein Teil”
Picture this: In Germany, a man lets another man cut his penis off, where they both attempted to eat it…which was all on videotape. The man with his penis left killed the penis-less man, and eventually ate over 40 pounds of flesh from his body.
Now, picture this: A couple of years later, in Germany, a band writes a song about that cannibalistic killing, where it became the hit first single on their album, and a Grammy nominated song in the United States. In fact, “Mein Teil” charted in a few countries, and was #2 in Germany on its first week release.
“Mein Teil” is a brilliant song that manages to be catchy and creepy at the same time. Even though it is a fairly well known song, it remains highly controversial in Germany.
Pantera, “Far Beyond Driven”
The mid 1990’s were a peak time for physical music album releases, and not a peak time for conventional metal bands to be popular. Therefore, the #1 Billboard debut of Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven in 1994 is definitely an anomaly. It sold almost 200,000 copies the first week, one of which I personally bought myself when I was a teenager.
It is now considered one of Pantera’s best albums. I would consider it THE best, no matter how much I like Vulgar Display Of Power (and the rest of their albums). RIP Dime.
Rage Against The Machine, “Killing In The Name”
A 1992 metal song that is anti-establishment, and that contains 17 F-bombs (don’t worry, I counted!), actually manages to become a #1 holiday hit in England 17 years later.
How, you may ask? The Christmas music chart in England has been irreverent for some time, and thanks to a Facebook campaign, Killing In The Name became the Christmas #1 song in 2009. Reportedly, former RATM vocalist Zach de la Rocha was “ecstatic” upon hearing the news. Now, that’s sticking it to the machine! I’m sure families all across England were singing “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” during Christmas carols that year.