It's where Bluffton gets its news!
April 14, 2021

You are here

Icon music review: Five songs people wanted to cancel 

Including “Puff The Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul, And Mary?

Reviewed/Written by Craig Hoffman 
“Let’s cancel it!” A polarizing phrase that appears to be a product of the social climate and times in which we live.

Everything from TV shows, movies, books, and, yes, music is now under the microscope of the “woke” public eye. But in music, songs and artists meeting with criticism for their so-called lack of a moral compass is nothing new. 

Here’s a look at five iconic songs that people wanted to say sayonara to, despite the issues they sing about remaining front and center in 2021. 

Where do you stand on the ‘cancel culture’ debate? Where does the artistic license to push the social change envelope end for you? Let the Icon know (nicely) in the comments!

“Puff The Magic Dragon”- Peter, Paul, And Mary (1963)
The quintessential example of a song dealing with controversy. Although it has long been denied by the group, the song is thought to reference drug use. Despite this ongoing debate, a 1978 animated television special, Puff the Magic Dragon, used the song. In fact, it also spawned two sequels all featuring the voice of Burgess Meredith (Rocky) as Puff. 

“The Pill”-Loretta Lynn (1975)
The debut of the contraceptive pill allowed women to take charge of their reproductive health and family planning. When this song was released, people took notice. But it was not always a positive response. Many radio stations refused to play the tune, but it became popular anyway. “The Pill” reached number 70 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It remains an iconic song for women’s reproductive rights.

“Papa Don’t Preach”- Madonna (1986)
The 1980s were not immune to debates over what was appropriate to discuss on the airwaves. Madonna’s hit about teen pregnancy, and whether to keep the baby, hit a nerve with conservative radio stations and even a growing, hip, MTV. This song was to be one of many run-ins with the taboo subject that Madonna would go on to have in her illustrious career.  

“F**K THA POLICE”- N.W.A (1988)
Little has changed in America in regard to African-Americans and their relationship with law enforcement. Sadly, the topic and the song was and is still as relevant for many in America even today. It sold 750,000 copies back in its debut before the group launched its successful tour.

“They Don’t Care About Us”- Michael Jackson (1995)
The late pop megastar did his best to avoid angering people with the fourth single from Jackson’s HIStory: Past, Present, Future, Book I. But even after re-recording and apologizing several times, the song angered many in the Jewish community due to its perceived anti-Semitic tone. The King of Pop’s legal issues and rumors of impropriety with minors don’t help matters either when defending similar messages found in his music. 

“Goodbye Earl”- Dixie Chicks/The Chicks (2000)
A story about the abuse of a woman. She gets her revenge by poisoning her husband with the help of her friend. It’s not the best illustration of the way to deal with such heinous crimes. The song was popular with the Dixie Chicks’ (now The Chicks’)  fans, and the video featured an all-star cast of actors, including Lauren Holly as Mary Ann. Espousing such views as a means to solve domestic violence is a slippery moral slope to be on in modern times. 

Final take: It’s always a difficult balance to strike when allowing artists to openly address social issues. Yesterday’s heroes have become today’s villains, and many music legends and their works are burning in virtual effigy. The artists’ apologies fail to placate the vitrole of the mobs on social media who seek justice, retribution while erasing their beloved creations from existence.

How can we change the world for the better while reigning in offensive or incendiary images, messages, and art in our society? Let the Icon know your thoughts in the comment section. Not cancelling civil discourse and debate.: 5/5

Craig Hoffman is a music graduate of Ohio Northern University and The University of Akron School of Music. He also serves as the Icon’s Japan correspondent.