That doesn’t mean things didn’t get said, and the group had a history for getting in trouble for their words. John Lennon’s quip about the Queen “rattling her jewelry” was considered cheeky, but his 1966 observation that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus set off a string of record burnings and protests, leaving the band in fear of their lives. Some countries banned The Beatles’ entire catalogue for that. “If I’d said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it,” Lennon later explained.
It wasn’t just what they said, but what they sang. The BBC banned the song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” because one of the acts at the circus was called “Henry the Horse,” which they took as a reference to heroin. They banned “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” because it sounded like an acid trip. They were also quite cross when Lennon and Paul McCartney sang “I’d love to turn you on,” in “A Day in the Life,” all off their 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“I Am the Walrus,” from Magical Mystery Tour, was banned because John sang “let your knickers down” and hailed a “pornographic priestess.” “Come Together” was banned just because it mentions Coca-Cola. “Christ, you know it ain’t easy,” Lennon sang on “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” and that got him banned as well.
While there are still fans who believe the final count before “I Saw Her Standing There,” was Paul dropping an F-bomb, Lennon did it twice in one song without any ambiguity. “Working Class Hero,” off Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album, includes the lines “’til you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules,” and “but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.” The song, recorded at EMI Studios on Sept. 27, 1970, is truly a solo outing. Lennon sings, while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. It is as scathing as Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” but Lennon’s enunciation is quite refined.
Most radio stations wouldn’t play it. WGTB, a college radio station at Georgetown University did, and in 1973 US Representative Harley Orrin Staggers lodged a complaint with the FCC against the station. Looking at a year in prison and a $10,000 fine, station manager, Ken Sleeman, responded “The People of Washington D.C. are sophisticated enough to accept the occasional four-letter word in context, and not become sexually aroused, offended, or upset.” The charges were dropped, but the song was still banned by most U.S. radio stations.
Jackson’s victory in The Beatles: Get Back isn’t merely personal, it is one for history. He is documenting a momentous moment in a sprawling way, and his dream director’s cut would still be 18 hours. He is allowed to use footage Lindsay-Hogg was told to leave out of Let It Be. He is even including the moment George Harrison quit the band. The Beatles didn’t mince words, except artistically.
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