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In the 1930s US radio stations refused to play songs with what word in the lyrics because it was considered too suggestive?

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2013-06-24 04:54:49
2013-06-24 04:54:49

While some of the answers to this question have focused on the rock music era (beginning in the 1950s), the questioner is asking specifically about the 1930s. That was a very conservative era, and there was not just one word you could not say on the radio. In fact, there were actually lists of banned words back then. Your library may have an old book called "Not To Be Broadcast" by Ruth Brindze, which discusses some of the banned words, not all of which were "dirty"-- some were related to topics that were considered controversial. A good example is the topic of racism: the word "lynching" was frowned upon by the networks, which did not discuss segregation or race riots for fear of upsetting southern affiliates. Use of birth control was also considered controversial, and speakers who wanted to discuss it found themselves banned. Networks especially were hesitant to broadcast anything that might get them in trouble with the Federal Radio Commission or with audiences, who tended to be far more religiously conservative back then.

Thus, words like "hell" and "damn" were never allowed. Also banned were slang expressions with sexual or drug connotations, such as "nuts," and "joint," as well as anything considered a euphemism for intercourse or for certain body parts. Even the phrase "making love" was considered too suggestive, hence one song which referred to "making whoopee." Laxative companies were not allowed to discuss "constipation"-- it had to be called "irregularity." And when the federal government wanted to do a public service campaign to prevent venereal disease, radio refused to air any ads with the word "syphilis" in it.

And now, back to the discussion of rock and roll, which was not banned in the 1930s, since it was not in common use. Further, there are many myths about the origins of the term "rock and roll." It is often attributed to Alan Freed, but as you will see, others used it before him-- it was a euphemism for sexual intercourse, and it occurred in blues songs. Mr. Freed, however, was a popular disc jockey in the early rock era, and he popularized the word.

answers about the rock era:

Origins of the phrase:

The phrase "Rock and Roll" can be heard referenced in the Hal Roach film "Asleep in the Feet" (1932), starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd. In 1935, Henry "Red" Allen recorded "Get Rhythm in Your Feet and Music in Your Soul" which included the lyric, "If Satan starts to hound you, commence to rock and roll. Get rhythm in your feet..." etc. This lyric was written by the prolific Tin Pan Alley composer J. Russel Robinson with Bill Livingston. It is unlikely that they created the phrase for this application. It was presumably current with its musical meaning in popular culture at the time, at least in New York City. Allen's recording was a "race" record on the Vocalion label, but the catchy tune was quickly covered by white musicians, notably Benny Goodman, no doubt giving the term currency throughout the US by the end of 1935.

The word "rock" had a long history in many languages as a metaphor for "to shake up, to disturb or to incite". "Rocking" was a term used by black gospel singers in the American South to mean something akin to spiritual rapture. In 1916, the term "rocking and rolling" was used with a religious connotation, on the phonograph record "The Camp Meeting Jubilee" by an unnamed male "quartette".The verb "roll" was a medieval metaphor which meant "having sex". Writers for hundreds of years have used the phrases "They had a roll in the hay" or "I rolled her in the clover". The phrase "rocking and rolling" was secular black slang for dancing or sex by the early twentieth century, appearing on record for the first time in 1922 on Trixie Smith's "My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll", and as a double entendre, ostensibly referring to dancing, but with the subtextual meaning of sex, as in Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight" (1948).

The terms were often used together ("rocking and rolling") to describe the motion of a ship at sea, for example as used in 1934 by the Boswell Sisters in their song "Rock and Roll", which was featured in the 1934 film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, and in Buddy Jones' "Rockin' Rollin' Mama" (1939). Country singer Tommy Scott was referring to the motion of a railroad train in the 1951 "Rockin and Rollin'". An alternative claim is that the origins of "rocking and rolling" can be traced back to steel driving men working on the railroads in the Reconstruction South. These men would sing hammer songs to keep the pace of their hammer swings. At the end of each line in a song, the men would swing their hammers down to drill a hole into the rock. The shakers - the men who held the steel spikes that the hammer men drilled - would "rock" the spike back and forth to clear rock or "roll", twisting the spike to improve the "bite" of the drill.

The phrase had been used with sexual implications in the lyrics of rhythm and blues records since at least the early 1930s, such as in Bob Robinson's "Rock and Rolling" (1939), Buddy Jones's "Rock and Rolling Mamma" (1939) and Joe Turner's "Cherry Red" (1939). Three different songs with the title "Rock and Roll" were recorded in the late 1940s; by Paul Bascomb in 1947, Wild Bill Moore in 1948, and by Doles Dickens in 1949. One such record where the phrase was repeated throughout the song was "Rock and Roll Blues", recorded in 1949 by Erline "Rock and Roll" Harris.

In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began broadcasting rhythm, blues, and country music for a multi-racial audience. Freed, familiar with the music of earlier decades, used the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the music he aired over station WJW (850 AM); its use is also credited to Freed's sponsor, record store owner Leo Mintz, who encouraged Freed to play the music on the radio. Based on his success in Cleveland, Freed was soon hired by New York station WINS; upon arrival in 1954, his show was either simulcast or rebroadcast in more than forty markets. While the phrase "rock and roll" was in use years before, it was Freed who popularized the term with mainstream audiences.

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