5 Controversial Classic Rock Lyrics that Sparked Outrage

If the essence of country music is “three chords and the truth,” then the essence of classic rock is “electric guitars and some controversy.” From the moment the genre was born, it was rich with pelvis thrusts, big amplifiers, and destruction. Classic rock is perhaps the most provocative genre going.

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But beyond the general “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” attitude, which songs were especially taboo? Below, are five controversial classic rock lyrics that have sparked outrage over the years.

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1. “Brown Sugar,” the Rolling Stones

Released in 1971 on the Rolling Stones’ album, Sticky Fingers, “Brown Sugar,” while immensely popular, deals with some pretty gruesome topics. The question is whether it’s the Rolling Stones’ fault or American history’s. Either way, the track deals with slaves, the slave trade, and even the rape of Black slave women.

According to two of Jagger’s ex-girlfriends, Marsha Hunt and Claudia Lennear, both of whom are Black, the song was inspired by them. Decades later in an interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, Jagger said he could never write the song today. And in 2021, the Rolling Stones said they would stop performing the song on tour due to its subject matter.

Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in a market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver, know he’s doing alright
Hear him whip the women just around midnight

Brown sugar, how come you taste so good?
Brown sugar, just like a young girl should, uh huh

2. “Walk on the Wild Side,” Lou Reed

Lou Reed is a polarizing figure. Listeners usually either love him or hate him thanks to his odd voice and, at times, off-kilter delivery. His well-known 1972 song “Walk on the Wild Side” has recently come under some scrutiny for its lyrics. The song is about sex, gender fluidity, and more, and on it, Reed highlights “colored girls,” a term that was likely uncouth then and certainly is today when talking about Black women.

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she

She says, “Hey, babe
Take a walk on the wild side”
Said, “Hey, honey
Take a walk on the wild side”

Candy came from out on the Island
In the back room she was everybody’s darling
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head

She says, “Hey, babe
Take a walk on the wild side”
Said, “Hey, babe
Take a walk on the wild side”

And the colored girls go
“Doo do doo do doo do do doo…”

3. “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss),” The Crystals

Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) by the Crystals talks about and perhaps even glorifies domestic violence. It was inspired by the news that Goffin and King’s babysitter was being beaten often by her boyfriend. When the babysitter was asked why she took the punishment, she said that she got hit because her boyfriend loved her so much. While the title and refrain might be ironic, they don’t always read as such and thus have caused a great deal of protest. Later, King even expressed regret about having anything to do with the song.

He hit me and it felt like a kiss
He hit me but it didn’t hurt me
He couldn’t stand to hear me say
That I’d been with someone new
And when I told him I had been untrue

He hit me and it felt like a kiss
He hit me and I knew he loved me
If he didn’t care for me
I could have never made him mad
But he hit me and I was glad

4. “Money For Nothing,” Dire Straits

From the British band Dire Straits’ 1985 album, Brothers in Arms, “Money for Nothing” is one of many classic rock tunes that celebrate a near-addiction for sex and women, but the delivery and lyrical content of the song brings it to the forefront of the conversation because it seems to explicitly treat women like objects. But wait, there’s more! The song uses “the F-word” very liberally. The controversial song ends with the refrain,

Money for nothing, chicks for free
Get your money for nothing, chicks for free
Money for nothing, chicks for free
Money for nothing, chicks for free
Money for nothing, chicks for free
Money for nothing, chicks for free
Ow, Money for nothing, yeah
And the chicks for free

5. “One in a Million,” Guns N’ Roses

Speaking of no-no language. “One in a Million” from Guns N’ Roses uses “the N-Word,” “the F-word” and more. It’s an equal-opportunity slur-fest. Released on the band’s 1998 LP, G N’ R Lies, the track remains controversial to this day.

Of the song, lead singer Axl Rose said: “I used words like police and n****rs because you’re not allowed to use the word n****r. Why can black people go up to each other and say, n****r, but when a white guy does it all of a sudden it’s a big putdown? I don’t like boundaries of any kind. I don’t like being told what I can and what I can’t say. I used the word n****r because it’s a word to describe somebody who is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word n****r doesn’t necessarily mean black. Doesn’t John Lennon have a song ‘Woman Is the N****r of the World’? There’s a rap group, N.W.A. – N****rs With Attitude. I mean, they’re proud of that word. More power to them. Guns n’ Roses ain’t bad . . . N.W.A. is baaad! Mr. Bob Goldthwait said the only reason we put these lyrics on the record was because it would cause controversy and we’d sell a million albums. Fuck him! Why’d he put us in his skit? We don’t just do something to get the controversy, the press.”

Immigrants and f****ts
They make no sense to me
They come to our country
And think they’ll do as they please
Like start some mini-Iran
Or spread some fucking disease
And they talk so many goddamn ways
It’s all Greek to me

Photo by Len Trievnor/Express/Getty Images

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David Bowie performs on stage on his Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane Tour in London, 1973.

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