How Spain’s Franco dictatorship censored music

This music video is called Gene Vincent – Be-Bop-A-Lula.

From British daily The Independent:

How Sir Cliff fell foul of Franco’s music police

By Graham Keeley in Madrid

Published: 05 January 2008

It may come as a surprise [to] his army of blue-rinsed [conservative] fans, but Cliff Richard once fell foul of the Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco because of the supposedly sexually explicit lyrics in one of his songs.

The Peter Pan of Pop’s 1961 hit “Theme For A Dream” was banned by the state broadcaster Radio Nacional de España (RNE) because it contained such suggestive lines as “When I dream I kiss you/Music fills with star-light/Every time I touch you”.

Sir Cliff’s ditty shared the same fate as far more notorious records such as “Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus“, the Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin hit banned on release in Britain in 1969.

Jose Manuel Rodriguez, who has written a history of Spanish radio censorship, has documented how the public’s ears were shielded by overzealous officials during Franco’s rule. Among the singers whose records were banned were Nat King Cole, Edith Piaf and Yves Montand. A version of Gene Vincent’s 1956 hit “Be-Bop-A-Lula” was also outlawed, and another record was banned simply because it was named after the French actress Brigitte Bardot.

That was before Ms Bardot joined the fascist Front National in France. Maybe the Franco dictatorship would not have censored her if she would have done so earlier.

The songs were barred by censors at the Ministry of Information and Tourism run by Manuel Fraga, who is still a leading light in the conservative opposition Popular Party. During the Franco era, which lasted from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until his death in 1975, the overriding orthodoxy of the state was National Catholicism, which proclaimed conservative religious and family values.

As the rest of the world rocked through the Fifties with Elvis Presley and into the Swinging Sixties with The Beatles and “flower power”, Spain remained the chaste aunt of Europe. The state-appointed censors aimed to protect the public from anything risqué in films, plays and books. Until now, not much was known about the way Spanish radio was sanitised by General Franco’s thought police. Censors were particularly keen to stop any hint of sex or even “passionate kissing” from reaching the airwaves. Drunkenness was also abhorred; hence a Spanish version of Nat King Cole’s record “El Bodeguero” (“The Vintner”) was banned lest it encouraged Spaniards to go out and get drunk.

Mr Rodriguez said: “What sounded the alarms was any hint of sex or if, as often happened in boleros, if they mentioned God or they denigrated sinning.”

The ears of the censors were alive to any metaphor which might in their minds be too near the knuckle. They would mark a record “censurado ” (censored) in red pencil and it would stay on RNE’s shelves forever.

Some popular Spanish and Latin American folk songs, or coplas, were acceptable if sung by men but not if they were performed by women. One that hinted at the “hot blood” of Spanish men was deemed too spicy. American slang also had the censors reaching for their red pens, while an innocent song about a farmer was thought to hint at a Spanish slang word for penis.

But what really got their blood boiling was anything to do with France, which always seemed to carry with it some hint of sex. A Brazilian song about Brigitte Bardot, released after she starred in the 1956 film And God Created Woman, never made it to the Spanish airwaves. Similarly, Edith Piaf’s “L’Hymne À L’Amour“, written after the death of her lover Marcel Cerdan, was banned because their relationship had been adulterous.

Two songs by another of Piaf’s lovers, Yves Montand, met a similar fate in 1959. However, they were not banned for erotic content but because Montand was thought to be a Communist.

Franco, Cliff Richard, and the Eurovision song contest: here.

Viridiana, Spanish director Luis Buñuel’s masterpiece about a beautiful young nun and her brush with a lustful uncle, unleashed a storm in Spain when it was released in 1961: here.

Propaganda under Mussolini, Hitler and Franco: here.

12 thoughts on “How Spain’s Franco dictatorship censored music

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