Remember When: Elton John Had a Top-10 Hit Despite It Being Banned by Some Radio Stations

When Elton John released his eighth studio album Caribou in 1974, he was on a roll. His previous album, the double LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, was his third straight No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. It was also his most successful, having spent eight weeks in the top spot, and it was still in the Top 10 when Caribou debuted at No. 5. It seemed there was nothing John could do that would keep his records off the airwaves.

Videos by American Songwriter

Each of John’s previous three albums produced multiple Top-10 hits. Even with Caribou’s lead single “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, John could have jeopardized that streak with his follow-up single, “The B—h Is Back,” simply because of the song’s title and oft-repeated refrain. While the B-word has made frequent appearances in the titles of chart hits in recent years, it was unprecedented when MCA Records decided to make “The B—h is Back” a single.

But it did, in fact, become a hit. Let’s take a look back at the single that gave some program directors and DJs headaches.

“It Is Kind of My Theme Song”

John sings “The B—h Is Back” in the first person, and he was actually the inspiration for the song. John’s longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin took the titular line from the words of his then-wife Maxine Feibelman. Whenever John was in a bad mood, Feibelman would say to Taupin, “The b—h is back.” Taupin’s interactions with Feibelman would make their way into several of John’s songs, and in “Tiny Dancer,” she was the “seamstress for the band” mentioned in the lyrics.

John leaned into the label Feibelman gave him and to the lyrics Taupin wrote about him. He once said, “It is kind of my theme song,” and he has made it a staple of his live shows ever since its release. “The B—h Is Back” is John’s ninth-most played song in his concert performances, according to setlist.fm.

A Mild Boycott

Some radio stations wouldn’t play “The B—h Is Back”—at least not initially. One program director, Neil McIntyre of WPIX-FM in New York, told Billboard that his station wouldn’t play the song, adding, “We won’t play those types of records no matter how popular they get.” McIntyre contrasted John’s song with Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night.” WPIX played Stewart’s hit, even though other stations banned it, and Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke out in protest against the song’s suggestive lyrics. “Tonight’s the Night” may have actually been helped by the publicity, as it spent eight weeks at the top of the Hot 100.

“The B—h Is Back” wasn’t hurt by the limited boycott against it either. It debuted on the Hot 100 at No. 63—seven spots higher than “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’s” position in its first week on the chart. It took the song only eight weeks to reach its peak position of No. 4. Caribou became the fourth of six consecutive No. 1 albums for John, and it was nominated for the 1975 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

From Scandalous to Mainstream

“The B—h Is Back” caused a stir when it was released, and even though it still managed to receive heavy airplay, the offending word continued to be viewed as inappropriate for radio for years to come. Between the song’s 1974 release and 2000, only one Gold- or Platinum-certified single besides “The B—h Is Back” featured the word in its title—Meredith Brooks’ 1997 hit “B—h.” In 2000, Trina’s debut album Da Baddest B—h went Gold, though the title track only made it to No. 64 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart. There was a trickle of Gold and Platinum singles with “b—h” in the title in the 2010s, but the word only became commonplace in titles of singles that were certified Gold or Platinum beginning in 2021. In just over the last three years, a total of 21 singles with the word in its title have been certified Gold or Platinum.

Still, John’s once-controversial song has been getting props since long before the 2020s. Tina Turner covered it for her 1978 album Rough (and again for a 1991 John/Taupin tribute album Two Rooms). Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil included a cover on his 2010 solo album Tattoos and Tequila. Miley Cyrus performed the song for the 2018 tribute album Restoration: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Lita Ford not only covered the song as a bonus track for her 2012 album Living Like a Runaway, but she made sure to get John’s blessing before releasing it. Ford also made it the title track of her 2013 live album The B—h Is Back … Live.

“The B—h Is Back” features a killer guitar riff, some Tower of Power horns, and a great vocal performance from John, so it didn’t slow the momentum of the John/Taupin hit machine. It was not going to be denied its place on radio or on music lovers’ turntables, and it continues to be a favorite of John’s fans.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Behind the Meaning of Ronnie Milsap’s “Daydreams About Night Things,” Penned by John Schweers

John Schweers // Photo courtesy of Music Row

Country Songwriter and “Amazing Love” Hitmaker John Schweers Dies at 78