The music of youth rebellion was bound to say something naughty, right?
Most of the entries in the below list of 40 Classic Rock Songs With #$&%-ing Curse Words were censored before airing on the radio – if they ever aired at all. But some notable examples slipped past the censors, providing a charge for younger listeners in a different age.
And make no mistake, it was a very different age. The FBI even investigated a rock band in an effort to discover what the Kingsmen were singing in 1963’s “Louie Louie.” The funny part: They totally missed Lynn Easton’s early outburst (“Fuck!” at 0:51) after dropping a drum stick amid all of the other indecipherable lyrics. Of course, dropping f-bombs has become so widespread in the modern era that it’s become mainstream. There are chart-topping hits with swearing right in the title. So, the focus here is on stand-out moments from classic rock’s early era.
That means leaving out ZZ Top, who probably cursed during “Legs” from 1984’s Eliminator, and Kiss – who most certainly did on “Give All You Can Take” from 1984’s Animalize. Also John Mellencamp’s timeless advice about picking up girls on “Play Guitar” from 1983’s Uh-Huh.
We’re also skipping jokey live versions – as when the Beatles changed the lyrics to “It’s been a hard day’s cock” in the midst of Beatlemania-influenced bedlam at a 1964 performance in Blackpool, England – and spoken-word intros that included some form of vulgarity.
Our look back at 40 Classic Rock Songs With #$&%-ing Curse Words come from a time when some of the most well-known bands from the period could still create a buzz by singing the odd obscenity.
1. “Who Are You?”
From: The Who’s Who Are You (1978)
(2:12: “Ah, who the fuck are you?”)
Back then, you almost couldn’t hear it on a tinny transistor radio. But once you did, you never stop hearing it.
From: Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
(1:34: “Don’t give me that do goody-good bullshit”)
There are so many groundbreaking elements to this song, from its time signature to the looping sound effects. Yeah, but … cursing!
3. “Big Shot”
From: Billy Joel’s 52nd Street (1978)
(0:34: “Don’t come bitchin’ to me”)
Apparently, Mick Jagger’s wife Bianca really annoyed Billy Joel over dinner one night.
4. “Hey Jude”
From: The Beatles’ 1968 single
(2:56: “Fuckin’ hell!”)
John Lennon insisted that this outburst remain. “Paul [McCartney] hit a clunker on the piano and said a naughty word,” he admitted in Geoff Emerick’s Here, There & Everywhere. “Most people won’t ever spot it, but we’ll know it’s there.”
5. “Sinner’s Swing”
From: Van Halen’s Fair Warning (1981)
(0:29: She looks so fuckin’ good)
The wonder is that it took David Lee Roth this long to finally say this.
6. “Jet Airliner”
From: The Steve Miller Band’s Book of Dreams (1977)
(3:08: “I don’t want to get caught up in any of that funky shit goin’ down in the city”)
A radio version switched out the word “kicks” for the curse word, and Miller has been known to do the same during live performances. But that’s not what he originally sang.
7. “Do You Feel Like We Do?”
From: Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! (1976)
(8:33: “I wanna fuck you”)
A robot makes a pass at another robot, right in the middle of a classic-rock song.
8. “Rocks Off”
From: The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. (1972)
(1:37: “Plug in, flush out and fire the fuckin’ feed”)
If you want to make the perfect drugged-out fever dream of a double album, start with the most drugged-out fever dream of them all.
9. “Life in the Fast Lane”
From: Eagles’ Hotel California (1976)
(3:02: “We’ve been up and down this highway, haven’t seen a goddamned thing.”)
Glenn Frey was hurtling down a California freeway when a drug dealer dubbed the Count tossed out the title line. The rest practically wrote itself.
10. “Hair of the Dog”
From: Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog (1975)
(0:48: “Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch.”)
The mystery in all this is that they didn’t just title the song “Son of a Bitch” in the first place. That’s what everybody calls it anyway.
11. “Kick Out the Jams”
From: MC5’s Kick Out the Jams (1969)
(0:09: “Now it’s time to … kick out the jams, motherfucker!”)
You could buy the replacement version of this album, with a censored cover and uncensored audio, but only if you asked for the clerk to retrieve it from behind the counter.
12. “Young Man Blues”
From: The Who’s Live at Leeds (1970)
(5:33: “They ain’t got nothin’! They got sweet fuck-all!”)
The Who became the first repeat offenders on this look back at 40 Classic Rock Songs With #$&%-ing Curse Words – but far from the last – by dropping an f-bomb on Mose Allison.
From: Bob Dylan’s Desire (1976)
(1:52: “No. 1 contender for the middleweight crown had no idea what kind of shit about to go down”)
In some circles, the bigger controversy was that Ruben “Hurricane” Carter – the tragic figure at the heart of this expansive album-opening track – was, in fact, never a top-ranked boxer.
14. “Candy and a Currant Bun”
From: Pink Floyd’s 1967 single
(0:28: “Don’t talk to me; please, just fuck with me.”)
Latter-era expletive-filled Pink Floyd songs may be more famous, but doomed original frontman Syd Barrett got there first.
15. “Working Class Hero”
From: John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band (1970)
(2:19: “You’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see”)
Lennon was well known for his sneer. But there may not be a more sneery line than this one – the second in a pair of f-bombs – in a storied career of sneers.
16. “The Bitch Is Back”
From: Elton John’s Caribou (1974)
(0:30: “The fever’s gonna catch you when the bitch gets back”)
Lyricist Bernie Taupin’s wife Maxine Feibelman used to say the title line when John was in a foul mood.
17. “Lawyers, Guns and Money”
From: Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy (1978)
(2:01: “Send lawyers, guns and money – the shit has hit the fan!”)
Urgent pleas for these three things tend to follow.
18. “Speak to Me”
From: Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
(0:35: “I’ve been mad for fucking years, absolutely years”)
The spoken-word parts on this album were delivered by whoever was at hand – including guitarist Henry McCullough, who was in a nearby studio recording with Wings. Pink Floyd roadie Chris Adamson handled this line.
From: Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life (1977)
(4:07: “Oh shit; oh shit!”)
Backup singers repeat everything Pop says throughout this song. You can guess what happens next.
From: The Pretenders’ Pretenders (1980)
(0:40: “But you know I was shittin’ bricks ’cause I’m precious”; 2:53: “But not me baby, I’m too precious – fuck off!”)
Chrissie Hynde is not one to be trifled with: Witness this track’s rare in-the-park double, the first of which arrives less than a minute in.
From: Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain (1982)
(2:04: “Here I am, feeling like a fucking fool”)
Billy Joel comes down on this swear word with such sad vitriol that your own heart almost breaks.
22. “Star Star”
From: The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup (1973)
(1:01: “Yeah! You’re a starfucker, starfucker, starfucker, starfucker, star”)
Ahmet Ertegun, owner of the Rolling Stones label’s distributor Atlantic Records, nixed the original title. But Mick Jagger still lustily sings it.
23. “Starting Over”
From: Raspberries’ Starting Over (1974)
(0:08: “Used to feel so fucking optimistic, till she said goodbye”)
There couldn’t be a more appropriate way to close out this shooting-star band’s fourth – and final – studio album.
24. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”
From: Pink Floyd’s Animals (1977)
(3:04: “You fucked-up old hag – ha ha, charade you are”)
There’s long been conjecture over whom Roger Waters is referring to here – until he confirmed, years later, that he was targeting Margaret Thatcher.
25. “Show Biz Kids”
From: Steely Dan’s Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
(3:54: “Show biz kids making movies of themselves. You know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else”)
It’s easy to get a little lost in Rick Derringer’s woozy slide work. Then Donald Fagen snaps us awake with a well-placed obscenity.
26. “Been Down So Long”
From: The Doors’ L.A. Woman (1971)
(0:03: “Well, I’ve been down so goddamn long that it looks like up to me”)
This is one of those Doors songs that took on much deeper context after Jim Morrison’s death.
27. “I Am an Animal”
From: Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass (1980)
(2:42: “I will be immersed, queen of the fucking universe”)
Townshend could still write a melody worthy of the Quadrophenia-era quietest moments, but this level of bruising introspection wasn’t really suited to Roger Daltrey’s ballsy bray. No curse word on this list is delivered with more fragility.
28. “Nobody’s Fault”
From: Aerosmith’s Rocks (1976)
(3:04: “Everything is on fire, a shit piled up in debris”)
A song apparently about the fear of looming temblors elicits a suitably earth-shaking performance by Aerosmith. Maybe their heaviest song.
29. “Wharf Rat”
From: Grateful Dead’s Grateful Dead (1971)
(2:49: “Half of my life I spent doin’ time for some other fucker’s crime”)
One thing you’re not expecting from a typically beatific Jerry Garcia is the word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “f-dash-dash-dash” word. It makes for a double-take moment, every time.
30. “You’re Breaking My Heart”
From: Nilsson’s Son of Schmilsson (1972)
(0:07: “You’re breakin’ my heart, you’re tearing it apart – so fuck you”)
Harry Nilsson takes some measure of blame for the then-recent separation from wife Diane. But only after starting things off on a decidedly different note.
31. “Oh No, Not Susan”
From: Electric Light Orchestra’s On the Third Day (1973)
(1:35: “Her money and her place, they just don’t mean a fucking thing”)
The printed back-cover lyrics for this song, with a musical setting as stately as the mansion where Jeff Lynne’s female protagonist feels so entrapped, fail to mention the expletive.
32. “Sweet Virginia”
From: The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. (1972)
(2:29: “Got to scrape the shit right off your shoe”)
Fans couldn’t scrape this one off their shoes even if they wanted. Besides appearing as the B-side to “Rocks Off” (mentioned elsewhere in this list), “Sweet Virginia” has been part of their sets since 1992. Martin Scorsese also featured it in 1995’s Casino.
33. “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)”
From: Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
(0:19: “Heard of a place at the back of town where you really kick the shit when the sun goes down”)
Elton John later told Circus that this song was meant to be “a cross between surfing music and Freddy Cannon records.” Now that he mentions it, “Tallahassee Lassie” actually could have used a little more cursing.
34. “Doctor Jimmy”
From: The Who’s Quadrophenia (1973)
(1:59: “Her fellah’s gonna kill me? Oh, fucking will he”)
In contrast to “I Am an Animal,” found earlier in our list of 40 Classic Rock Songs With #$&%-ing Curse Words, this always felt like a line that only Roger Daltrey could belt.
35. “The Pusher”
From: Steppenwolf’s Steppenwolf (1968)
(1:25: “I said goddamn, goddamn the pusherman”)
The whole fin de siecle feel of 1969’s simply devastating Easy Rider is set up with this song’s accompaniment in the opening sequence.
36. “Bus Rider”
From: The Guess Who’s Share the Land (1970)
(2:05: I’m so awful goddamn glad I’m not in your shoes)
The late Kurt Winter, one of two replacements the Guess Who brought in to replace Randy Bachman, arrived with this song about the workingman blues in his back pocket. The single stiffed, but by then they’d already released Winter’s “Hand Me Down World” – a Top 20 smash.
37. “Rehumanize Yourself”
From: The Police’s Ghost in the Machine (1981)
(1:35: “Got his hand in the air with the other cunts”)
Serious stuff here, dealing with mob mentality and the masks we wear in public. But with a beat like that, clearly few noticed. “Rehumanize Yourself” was next heard during a scene at a strip club for Tom Hanks‘ slight 1984 comedic film Bachelor Party.
38. “Some Girls”
From: The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls (1978)
(2:46: “Black girls just wanna get fucked all night”)
Perhaps sensing the controversial nature of this line, Jagger chose to change it while performing “Some Girls” on a 1999 Stones tour that focused on lesser-played cuts. It’s unclear, however, whether “white girls” appreciated the characterization much either.
39. “We Can Be Together”
From: Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers (1969)
(1:25: “In order to survive we steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide and deal”; 3:25: “Up against the wall, motherfucker”)
This provides a tidy timeline for the typical protest: Tell a hard truth, get a hard kick.
40. “My Shit’s Fucked Up”
From: Warren Zevon’s Life’ll Kill You (2000)
(0:24: “Let me break it to you, son: Your shit’s fucked up”)
It’s easy to read this line, delivered by a doctor in the late Zevon’s patently impish way, as a heads up. But Zevon wouldn’t be diagnosed with terminal mesothelioma until late 2002.
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