MOJO Time Machine: The Pogues Threatened With Censorship!

10 August, 1985 The Pogues’ Second LP, Rum, Sodomy And The Lash, upset the doyens of decency.


by Fred Dellar |
Published on

10 August, 1985

Some believe it was Sir Winston Churchill who was responsible for all the furore. According to Sir Peter Gretton, a former vice-admiral, Winnie once ordered that the British fleet should be converted from coal to oil and was in favour of mothballing some old ships in favour of smaller but faster ones. When one disgruntled Admiral informed Churchill that he was scuttling the tradition of the Royal Navy, he supposedly replied “Don’t talk to me about naval tradition, it’s nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash.” A good story and one that had Churchill denying authorship, mildly protesting “I never said it - though I wish I had.”

“Don’t talk to me about naval tradition, it’s nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash.” 

Winston churchill

Fast-forward to August, 1985 and the release of The Pogues’ second album, which had duly been named Rum, Sodomy And The Lash following a suggestion by the band’s drummer Andrew Ranken. Full page ads were placed in various media newspapers and magazines in the week ending August 10, only for those self-same publications to announce, just one week later that The Pogues’ Rum Sodomy And The Lash album had upset the doyens of decency at Woolworth’s causing the chain store to insist that all copies of display should bear a sticker claiming that the record “contains language that might be considered offensive”. The move came in the wake of a US backlash that had begun after future US Second Lady Tipper Gore heard Prince’s 1984 Purple Rain soundtrack and in particular, the risqué Darling Nikki.

Others held back a little, the BPI, the ruling body of the British Records industry, nixing any suggestion that, “such records should be given ratings to those now being applied in America” Even so, one media paper reported that, “RCA, Warners and CBS in the UK have announced that they will continue to sticker albums that contain explicit language.” Additionally, both the HMV and Virgin chains instructed staff that the record was not to be played in store.

Not that The Pogues worried. Bans were something they thrived on. Even when they first arrived in the guise of Pogue Mahone (Gaelic for ‘Kiss My Arse’) and released Dark Streets of London, their debut single, they incurred the wrath of the Beeb, NME’s David Quantick reporting: “The band had just had their debut 45 banned by the BBC – except between the hours of eight and twelve pm when is apparently permissible to say “kiss my arse” in a language nobody understands.” This, despite the fact that Radio One had played Blondie’s Heart Of Glass, with it’s “pain in the ass” lyric, to death.

"Arse", "Faggot" and "Slut"

Then, The Pogues were born to be banned. When they later released their classic Christmas duet with Kirsty McColl Fairytale Of New York, they again ran into trouble for using the word “arse”. By December 2007, the song would be held up to scrutiny once more as the BBC and MTV opted to bleep out the words “faggot” and “slut” should listeners be offended. The BBC reversed their decision hours later after the nation rose up and bombarded Broadcasting House with complaints, one of which came from Kirsty MacColl’s mother. MacGowan rose above the melee, explain, "I haven't got anything in common with the actual part that I'm singing. Yul Brynner isn't really the King Of Siam.”

But that was all to come. Back in August 1985, Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center had succeeded in making a number of US labels agree to place warning stickers on record and CD sleeves should the albums in question refer to sex, violence, drug use or the occult. A month later there followed a Senate hearing attended by Frank Zappa, John Denver and Twisted Sister, all speaking against what they saw as censorship. By November, however, the RIAA agreed to place stickers reading ‘Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics’ on any albums deigned to have gone too far.

As August 1985 filtered to its end, meanwhile, The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy And The Lash moved to the top of Britain’s Indie Chart. Even then, controversy reigned. For the album was released on Stiff, which had only just returned to indie status after terminating a marketing and sales force deal with Island. However, the label still utilised EMI’s manufacturing and distribution services causing Rough Trade’s The Catalogue to complain, “They were one of the first independents of course but they hadn’t been for years before they joined Island and they still aren’t now that they’ve left. The whole thing is a joke”.

In response, words in excess of “arse” were reportedly used by those promoting Rum, Sodomy And The Lash.

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