Many controversial songs have obvious reasons for being shunned or banned, from NWA’s profanity-laced F*ck Tha Police to The Prodigy’s Smack My B*tch Up, but the reason for”Rumble, the only instrumental banned from radio, does not hold up today. But did you know that song was banned in the US?
Despite having no lyrics, Link Wray’s 1958 song Rumble was banned on several radio stations in the United States for glorifying juvenile delinquency.
Link Wray’s Banned Song
Wray’s guitar added more of a zing, more of a delinquency, if you will, to rock and roll, according to historian Dan Del Fiorentino. Having recently survived WWII and looking for comfort and consistency in traditional values, Wray’s sound upset many people. Wray’s music didn’t fit in in a world where adults were dismissing teenagers and their desire to be individuals, possibly after engaging in what was considered juvenile delinquency.
Fifties rock was pretty clean, and you’ve got this guy – he’s got a leather jacket, he looks scary – and all of a sudden, he plays this loud chord that practically tears your eyebrows off your face. It was extremely aggressive, and it kind of paved the way for the next level of rock ‘n’ roll.Michael Molenda, Guitar Player Editor
Because of the solid opposition to teen culture and Rumble, disc jockeys at several radio stations across the United States refused to play the song. Despite the lack of lyrics, some thought the song’s raw power would cause young people to riot and become juvenile delinquents who rebelled against social norms.
DJs in New York City and Boston refused to play Rumble, making it the only instrumental ever banned in the United States. Others agreed that playing the song was acceptable but objected to the threatening-sounding title. Even Dick Clark let Wray play the music on American Bandstand, but he refused to introduce it by name the first time Wray appeared. (Source: Ranker)
Sounds Like Inviting for Knife Fight
Many people enjoyed live dance shows, also known as hops, in the late 1950s, such as American Bandstand and Milt Grant’s House Party, a popular show in Virginia. Wray and his band, the Wraymen, later Ray Men, performed for House Party in January 1958, and host Grant asked them to play a stroll, a type of slow rock melody and line dance.
I just made up something on the spot, because I didn’t know any stroll tunes.Link Wray, Musician
Wray joined in with three chords as the drummer picked up a beat. The band kept the song instrumental, which was not unusual then. Still, the song became unique when Wray’s brother Ray plugged the microphone into the guitar amplifier to create a gritty, much louder sound.
The speakers are rattling because they can’t take that heavy playin’, they’re small, and I’m playin’ really hard, see? So they’re rattlin’ all over the place and these kids started swarming, rushin’ to the stage… My brother Doug got off the drums and started laughin’ his a** off. He said, ‘Y’know, you’ve been playin’ here all f*ckin’ night and these kids haven’t been payin’ a bit of attention, and now yer playin’ this thing and they’re going completely apesh*t.’ We played it about four or five times. So Milt smelled a dollar and tells Ray, ‘We gotta find a studio.Link Wray, Musician