Since it started broadcasting in 1981, MTV has been banning videos from airing on their network for a remarkably diverse range of reasons. In the 80s and 90s, a few of the greatest metal bands fell victim to MTV's practice of policing videos. It's been noted previously that Queen's video for "Body Language" (1982) was the first video the network banned due to its content. In this case, MTV considered the exposed skin and sweaty scenes in "Body Language" too suggestive and banned it. However, the actual first video banned by MTV was Blue Öyster Cult's "Joan Crawford" due to a scene involving a young girl dressed in a schoolgirl uniform walking in on her horny parents fooling around. THE HORROR! So now that you have a little background let's take a look at some of the heavy metal videos MTV pulled the plug on starting with Motörhead and their 1984 video for "Killed by Death."
Wait? What? Motörhead made a video for "Killed by Death?" Yeah, they did, and it's an overload of outlaw biker awesomeness starring Lemmy being very Lemmy speeding away from the cops with his scantly clad heavy metal girlfriend. While the video itself looks like it cost about a quarter to make, it is a wild early 80s snapshot into the wild world of Motörhead. I won't spoil any more of the video, which MTV banned for its use of "excessive and senseless violence" as the "surprise" ending is straight out of one of Lemmy's fever dreams. Check it out:
Enter the year 1985 when Twisted Sister got the news MTV wasn't going to play their video for "Be Chrool to Your School" from their 1985 album Come Out And Play. If you're a high-level horror geek like myself, you probably know horror FX master Tom Savini created the bloody special effects for the video and played the part of a teacher for the zombie-themed video. It also featured cameos from comedian and actor Bobcat Goldthwait, Alice Cooper (who also helps out on the vocals), and tennis player John McEnroe. The reason MTV banned "Be Chrool to your School?" They didn't appreciate the zombies in the video acting luridly on screen. Or the masterful practical FX by Savini that included some great gore.
Two years later, in 1987, Megadeth would feel the wrath of the MTV video banning squad when they got a look at the video for "In My Darkest Hour" directed by one of the most famous women in the genre of metal, filmmaker Penelope Spheeris. The reason the network banned the video would come back to haunt Megadeth later in 1995 for its perceived lyrical theme of suicide. Honestly, the most dangerous feature in Spheeris' video is probably the mosh pit in front of the stage and the ferocity of the song itself. The topic of suicide was very much a part of metal during the mid-80s, as two years earlier, two teenage boys shot themselves after listening to Stained Class by Judas Priest, believing there to be subliminal messages on the record encouraging them to kill themselves. So any possible inference to suicide was absolutely on MTV's hit list of things they did not want a part of. According to Dave, the song is based both on the death of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton and his own breakup with then his girlfriend, Diana Aragon. Bottom line–for many Megadeth fans, "In My Darkest Hour" is a favorite and footage from the video is featured in Spheeris film, Decline of the Western Civilization Part II.
The same year, 80's hair metal staple, the seemingly unstoppable Mötley Crüe and their video of "You're All I Need" got a hard pass from MTV. Directed by the great Wayne Isham, whose many music video credits include Metallica, Scorpions, Ozzy, Judas Priest, Dokken, and more, the video was kind of a short film about domestic violence. The storyline surrounds the horrific, and sadly all-to-real scenario of domestic violence resulting in the death of a woman at the hands of a man with a knife. The black and white video that included footage of a body bag being removed from a home, along with other imagery convinced the network to ban it. There was also a sentiment from MTV and the public that the video seemed to condone similar violence. Bassist Nikki Sixx was quick to respond to the observations with the following statement:
"' You're All I Need' doesn't condone or exploit this tragedy. It clearly shows how one life is destroyed and another ruined forever. And it's probably a lot less graphic than much of what we see on the 6 o'clock news every night."
In his book The Heroin Diaries, Sixx attempted to demystify the track by detailing the real inspiration that was very personal. Sixx wrote the song as a response to his fears that his girlfriend at the time was stepping out on him. Sixx has never revealed who his ex was or if she was actually cheating on him with actor Jack Wagner (as he suspected), but, according to Nikki, he played the song about a man killing his ex, for his soon-to-be-ex, leaving her in a puddle of tears.
Four years later, Brazilian thrash metal gods Sepultura would be the next metal band to have their video dreams purged from the MTV airwaves. Considered one of the band's most celebrated albums, Arise was released in 1991. The subsequent apocalyptic video for the record's title track, "Arise" was shot in Death Valley Road Warrior style, with the band performing the song in a clearing in the desert. The band's Death Valley "set" was decorated with numerous crucifixes, some of which have real people dressed in the traditional image of Christ nailed to the cross, wearing gas masks. Some are depicted as bloody and, at times, burning. MTV cited the reason for banning "Arise" was due to the use of "apocalyptic religious imagery." Watch it in all it's blasphemous glory now!
Since we're talking about the problematic nature of religion, another video that got the boot from MTV in 1991 was Soundgarden's "Jesus Christ Pose." The video was also shot in a desert setting with filming beginning at dawn in the lower part of the Mojave desert in Southeastern California. In the official press release for the album Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden's PR attempted to describe the video in order to clear up any preconceptions of its meaning according to its director Eric Zimmerman:
"Strong images including hanging upside down, shattering plate glass with metal spikes and throwing sand at the camera compose a highly conceptual and almost industrial art feel. Chris makes clear that "Jesus Christ Pose," despite the song's title, has no religious meaning, however. "It doesn't have anything to do with religion or my view on it. It just has to do with people exploiting a symbol. I think it's silly for other people to exploit it on the basis that it is sacred. Sometimes songs just beg for ideas like that or certain titles, and then they end up with them – which will probably never be understood because people will just see the title of the song and make a monster out of it."
In the video, which I'm pretty sure is burnt into the collective brains of anyone with working eyeballs in 1991, does its fair share to shock–especially the image of a woman being crucified on a cross. The video drew the ire of Christians who viewed the video as "anti-Christian." Death threats directed at the band would start coming from the UK. What's ironic about "Jesus Christ Pose" is what allegedly got the late Chris Cornell thinking about the controversial title of the song, and it's a doozy. In 1989, photographer Chris Cuffaro shot an enigmatic image of Jane's Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell for Exposure magazine, with Farrell shirtless in bed with his arms extended slightly in a pose Cuffaro described as "just like Jesus." In addition to its publication in Exposure, Cuffaro mailed copies of the photo to everyone he knew, including Soundgarden manager Susan Silver. Silver showed the picture to Cornell, and the phrase "Jesus Christ Pose" was born.
Now let's jump forward to 1993 and what is one of the most notable, mind-bending videos of the last 25 years, the stop-motion masterpiece video for Tool's "Prison Sex," directed by guitarist Adam Jones. The gut-wrenching song, in vocalist Manyard Keenan's words, is about recognizing cycles of abuse in "oneself," thus beginning the "first step" in dealing with the abuse. At one point, Jones remembers their record label Zoo had the genius idea to make up kid-sized t-shirts for the "Prison Sex" single utilizing the group's logo, a phallic symbol disguised as a wrench. According to Jones, not only was the band not consulted about the PR nightmare, it was Keenan who had to set the reps at Zoo right by enlightening them the song was about a little kid getting "f–cked in the ass." Needless to say, the shirts were never circulated. While MTV did run the visionary video for a short period of time, it pulled it due to its "sensitive subject matter" namely the abuse of a child. If it's been a while since you've cringed through the almost five-minute video, let's all get uncomfortable together.
A year later, MTV was still busy banning videos and would now pull another video by Megadeth (THE NERVE!) from the air. This time it was the video for "A Tout Le Monde" from their 1994 album, Youthanasia. MTV yanked the video as they once again believed lyrically, the song was about suicide and similar in composition to a suicide letter. The video itself has lots of grim scenes like Dave singing the lyrics, "These are the last words/I'll ever speak/And they'll set me free" while he stands over a freshly dug grave. To try to clear things up, Mustaine went on the record stating Megadeth simply didn't write music with "any kind of suggestion of taking one's life." Tragically, in 2006, Mustaine had to once again clarify the meaning behind "A Tout Le Monde" which MTV eventually allowed to air after the band added a disclaimer at the end of the video encouraging people contemplating taking their own life to "get help." After reading the blog of mass shooter Kimveer Gill (who killed one person and injured nineteen others at Dawson College in Montreal before taking his own life in 2006), police discovered Gill had mentioned "A Tout Le Monde" and this and his alleged love of Megadeth made the news.
Mustaine would quickly release a statement condemning the incident and extending empathy and support to the victims and their families. During part of his statement, Mustaine would reveal the actual meaning behind the song, and it's a tearjerker. The song was based on a dream Mustaine had of his mother, who had since passed away. In the dream, his mother comes back from heaven to say "I love you" and the song is a reflection of Mustaine's desire to speak to her again.
Lastly, MTV would ban another video for a track from Youthanasia, "Reckoning Day." The video is pretty much a collage of tour footage shot while the band was touring the world in support of Youthanasia. So there's naturally lots of footage of mosh pits, the band and for some reason Dave riding around in a old-timey taxi and operating some sort of industrial earth mover. There's also footage of Mustaine swimming in the Jordan River–one of the holiest locations in the Middle East and, according to the bible, the spot where Jesus was baptized. The reason MTV banned Reckoning Day? Allegedly it came down to an undisclosed dispute between the band's management at Capitol Records, and the music network.
In 2002 for their video for "Low" Foo Fighter Dave Grohl enlisted the funny and musically talented actor/musician, Jack Black, to play opposite him. In the video, Grohl and Black first appear dressed like truck driving rednecks, meeting up in a cheap roadside motel room to hang out. They have cold beer, a boom box, and a video camera. What could go wrong? Tons of shots and beers later, the pair break open their suitcases and take out a collection of wigs and women's clothing. MTV couldn't deal with the sight of Jack Black in a pink bralette and tutu, nor Grohl's blonde wig and bondage gear, and banned it based on its "content." Boo!
Lastly, if you're wondering why Nine Inch Nails – one of MTV's favorite targets when it came to banning music videos – isn't discussed here, we here at Metal Injection think they deserve their own post when it comes to this topic. Stay tuned!