In 1981, the BBC banned Heaven 17’s debut sinlge “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” on the grounds the song’s lyrics were possibly libelous to President Ronald Reagan.
The couplet that caused the Beeb’s legal eagles such wrinkled brows was contained in the song’s third verse:
Democrats are out of power
Across that great wide ocean
Reagan’s president elect
Fascist god in motion
Generals tell him what to do
Stop your good time dancing
Train their guns on me and you
Fascist thang advancing
Reagan’s president elect… A fascist god in motion?
Now, this may all sound like the kind of poetry exercise Rick from The Young Ones might have concocted in his overheated imagination—indeed try saying the lyrics in your best Rick the People’s Poet voice and you’ll see what I mean… Let’s not forget, this was the 1980s, when the drum machine was king and the fictitious “Rick” was far closer to how many on the Left actually behaved than most would care to admit.
Even the language of student rebellion had changed little since the late 1960s: everyone was a “fascist,” “the pigs” were in charge, “the man” had his finger on the a nuclear trigger and Armageddon was imminent. If you don’t believe me, just pick up any review, by say Angela Carter, from back then, and you’ll be hard pushed to get through more than a few paragraphs before the woe-is-me hand wringing fears of Baby Boomer nuclear annihilation is apparent.
“(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” was very much of its time, with the lyrics contain the expected tropes on racism, fascism, Adolf Hitler, nuclear war, cruise missiles and a call to “unlock that funky chain dance.”
And to a man the nation asked, “Why hadn’t we thought of this before? Unlocking our funky chain dance to stop nuclear war?”
Heaven 17 were formed after Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh split from the Human League and teamed-up with singer Glenn Gregory. Among the early songs they worked on together was “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” In an interview, Martyn Ware discussed how the song was written:
The lyrics of the song reference Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan and include a wry joke about cruise missiles. Ware recalled to us how the track evolved into denunciations of the UK and US political leaders:
“We started out jamming together loads of these cut up titles and coming up with ridiculous lines for the song, like, ‘Heart USA. I feel your power.’ What the hell does that mean? I mean, really, what does it mean? We just thought it was a comedy song. I know people will read meaning into it.”
“Then, as we got more into writing the lyrics, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have some real world people in there?’ We were obsessed with Reagan coming into power and the specter of Margaret Thatcher coming into power and those were some very genuine concerns. The whole world was going to be blown to smithereens. It seems a little melodramatic now, but it was a genuine thing at the time if you remember. So we thought, ‘It’s time for action here. We’re all political people. It’s time to walk the walk.’ So as it evolved, the songwriting – it only took two days to write – it turned into this really bizarre hybrid of politics and dancing and comedy and black American soul influence.”
The BBC has always had a strange relationship with pop music. In 1969, they banned The Kinks’ song “Plastic Man” because it contained the word “bum,” (or “ass,” as you Americans know it). Just a few years later in 1972, they were happily piping out Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” with its lines about “giving head” to the Beeb’s Radio 2 grey-haired Daily Mail-reading middle aged listeners. Now, they were quaking that The Gipper might possibly, maybe, well you just never know, sue the ass off the Corporation for some rather juvenile political pop posturing? What would Rik have said?
The single made number 45 in the charts and was a favorite of clubs at the time. In 2010 (almost thirty years later), Heaven 17 performed the song live on BBC Radio 6—as Reagan had been dead for six years the Beeb probably felt safe from litigation.
‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’