Despite FCC monitoring and various censorship groups forever on the prowl, a handful of popular rock songs containing the “seven dirty words” have always been played on radio without incident (except for when your mom would notice, freak out, maybe backhand you a little, and make you change the station).
Some of these profanity-pumped anthems remain in constant rotation today on classic rock outlets. Others may not be as omnipresent as they once were, but they aired loud and clear upon release via commercial AM/FM airwaves, and often for years after.
So get your favorite brand of mouth-scrubbing soap ready as we tongue-trip through a dirty dozen classic rock hits that, somehow, got away with verboten verbiage on the radio.
“Who Are You?” – The Who (1978)
2:05 – “Ah, who the f–k are you?”
As one of the Who’s signature anthems, “Who Are You?” builds to a fury so that by the second chorus when Roger Daltrey drops the f-bomb it blips by so quickly they’re easy to miss the first time. Of course, what human with working ears has ever listened to this song just once?
“Money” – Pink Floyd (1973)
1:25 –“Money, it’s a hit/Don’t give me that do goody-good bullsh-t”
Ambling in off that cosmic bassline and those percussive cash register cha-chings, David Gilmour’s lead vocal shines through with diamond-bright clarity so it’s utterly unmistakable when he get to the “b.s.”
“Jet Airliner” – Steve Miller
4:10 – “I don’t want to get caught up in any of that/funky sh-t goin’ down in the city”
During live TV performances, Steve Miller swaps out one key word for the near rhyme “kicks,” and there’s a popular radio station edit of the song that does the same. Regardless, most times you’ll hear the full funky business going down over the air. And if you don’t, switch stations immediately.
“Legs” – ZZ Top (1984)
3:10 – “Sh-t, I got to have her”
Billy Gibbons’ s-declaration flows quickly but recognizably in ZZ Top’s “Legs,” chugging along like just another hypnotic component of the song’s synth-fueled boogie. What’s amusing is that other “Legs” lyrics sound so jumbled that listeners have frequently misheard them as dirtier than they are. For example: the line thought to be “She’s got a thin slit, right under her belly,” is actually, “She’s kinda jet set, try to undo her panties” (which is still agreeably dirty).
“Working Class Hero” – John Lennon (1970)
2:20 – “And you think you’re so clever and classless and free/but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see”
John Lennon’s stark, acoustic guitar lambaste of society’s have-nots for accepting their lot against the haves is absolutely scalding in its intensity. The seven-letter descriptor he adds to “peasants” arises from palpably real anger and it lands like a sonic slap across any complacent listener’s face. Dude was heavy.
“Sweet Virginia – Rolling Stones (1972)
2:27; 3:38; 4:15 – “Got to scrape the sh-t right off your shoe”
Exile on Main Street’s shuffling, borderline shambolic slow-country jam “Sweet Virginia” is irresistible as it bumpily rolls along, picking up steam, Ian Stewart on piano, additional voices that include Gram Parsons, and Bobby Keys’ incredible saxophone wailing.
A late-night FM radio staple in the ’70s, and part of the Stones’ live set in ’72, ’94, and 2005, “Sweet Virginia” is also familiar from its use in the 1995 Scorsese classic, Casino. Even if you wanted to (which is insane), there’d be no way to scrape “Sweet Virginia” out of your brain, let alone off your shoe.
In addition, the Stones released “Sweet Virginia” as a single B-side in Japan. Up front was “Rocks Off,” Exile’s electrifying opener, which boasts the saucy couplet: “I’m zipping through the days at lightning speed/Plug in, flush out and fire the f–kin’ feed.”
“Precious” – The Pretenders (1980)
0:40 – “But you know I was sh-ttin’ bricks ’cause I’m precious” 2:53 – “But not me baby, I’m too precious, f–k off!”
Nobody’s cooler than Chrissie Hynde. Just consider how, via the Pretenders, she’s transmitted raw, punk fury through impeccably crafted songs that connect with the commercial rock audience. “Precious” provides a dynamic example. The new-wave FM hit combines bulky, hard-driving instrumentation Hynde addressing her hometown of Cleveland by not so singing as she does snarl and rage. There’s no mistaking her message by the time she gets to that crucial two-word send-off.
“Hurricane” – Bob Dylan (1975)
1:45 – “Number one contender for the middleweight crown/ had no idea what kind of sh-t about to go down”
Bob Dylan’s epic, cinematic recounting of the miscarriage of justice surrounding the murder conviction of Ruben “Hurricane” Carter courted controversy before it was even released. Record label lawyers persuaded Dylan to change some lyrics regarding accusations against two witnesses in the case, and even the song’s mention of Carter as “number one contender” drew heat, as the boxer was, in fact, ranked around number nine. In addition, some who were familiar with the case claimed that Dylan painted too saintly a portrait of his subject. Still, for all the times “Hurricane” got spun on the airwaves, nobody really cared that Dylan says “sh-t.”
“Lawyers, Guns, and Money” – Warren Zevon (1978)
1:57 – “Send lawyers, guns, and money/the sh-t has hit the fan!”
Warren Zevon’s biting, brilliantly evocative lyrics for “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” spin a vivid tale of a young, rich American ne’er-do-well who, while gambling and carousing through southern hemisphere hotspots of cold war tension and international intrigue, lands in a heap of what hits the fan before the song is over. It also boasts one of rock’s most savagely satirical pleas that paints a complete picture of an a-hole abroad: “Dad, get me out of this!”
“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”- R.E.M. (1994)
3:40 – “I never understood, don’t f—k with me”
In 1986, an unknown assailant roughed up CBS News anchor Dan Rather on a New York street, repeatedly asking, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Eight years later, R.E.M. turned the incident into a fierce rocker that the band once even got to perform with Rather himself on Letterman.
During the song’s final fade-out, instead of “frequency” Michael Stipe sings, “don’t f—k with me.” It’s almost impossible to distinguish unless you’re purposefully listening for it, but—much like “stronger than dirt” at the end of the Doors’ “Touch Me”—once you know what’s there, you’ll never not hear it.
“Play Guitar” – John Cougar Mellencamp
2:33 – “Forget all about that macho sh-t and learn how to play guitar!”
Following 1982’s blockbuster breakthrough American Fool, John Cougar added his actual last name to his official moniker and scored two monster mainstream hits, “Pink Houses” and “Crumblin’ Down,” as well a handful of temporarily regular rock-radio rotators, including “Authority Song” and “Play Guitar.” The latter is John’s advice to all up-and-coming young men, assuring all that mastering six-string rudiments is superior to a cushy job, a fancy car, shined shoes, pumped iron, and, of course, macho… stuff.
“Show Biz Kids” – Steely Dan (1973)
3:55 – “Show biz kids making movies of themselves/you know they don’t give a f–k about anybody else”
It’s amazing today that a band as genuinely weird and cryptic as Steely Dan could have become the superstars that they are. Of course, such was the tenor of the times in which Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, and company arose, when an intoxicating concoction as bizarre as “Show Biz Kids” with its repeated mantra of “Lost Wages/go to Lost Wages” could command FM airwaves and when nobody flinched beyond maybe chuckling out bong smoke when the song ends with an F-launch. Everything really was cooler in the ’70s, everybody.
“We Can Be Together” – Jefferson Airplane (1969)
1:17 “In order to survive we steal, cheat, lie, forge, f—ck, hide, and deal
3:15 “Up against the wall mother—ker”
The B-side Jefferson Airplane’s hit single “Volunteers,” “We Can Be Together” is the group’s harmoniously lush call to anarchic revolution. Upon ethereal pillows of sweet-layered vocals by Grace Slick, Marty Balin, and Paul Kanter, lead guitarist blazes a psychedelic through-line and the words sound off for law breaking, class warfare, and an end to private property. The “up against the wall” line, which appears uncensored on the single and was played on progressive rock stations, is borrowed from the Airplane’s Bay Area neighbors, the Black Panthers.
BONUS: 2 Classics That Sneak in Barely Audible Spoken F-Bombs
Listen close. It’s f—ing in there.
“Hey Jude” – Beatles (1968)
2:56 – “Aw, f—in’ hell!”
As the song builds from its opening melody into the “na-na-na” part, John Lennon blurts out in the background.
“Louie Louie” – The Kingsmen
0:53 – “F–k!”
Drummer Gary Abbot expresses distress over dropping his sticks. Amusingly, the FBI’s intense investigation of “Louie Louie” for obscenity completely missed this split-second outburst.