NEW YORK – When Louis Armstrong croons "What a Wonderful World," feelings of hope and goodwill warm the heart and raise the spirits. Or so it was thought.
A list allegedly compiled by station programmers for Clear Channel, the owner of 1,170 radio stations across the county, includes the song among some150 others that may be too painful for listeners to hear while dealing with last week's tragedy.
The list of songs circulated via e-mail yesterday, and some are now suggesting it is an "urban legend." Clear Channel officials confirm the list does exist, but said its importance has been blown out of proportion.
"From this list, which recently surfaced on the Internet, many are alleging that this is a corporate mandated list of songs to ban," said spokeswoman Pam Taylor. "This is not what this was. It was one region trying to be sensitive to their listeners after last Tuesday's events."
Taylor said the list was compiled in response to programmers' concerns about offending listeners, and that a regional vice president of programming created it in an effort to be considerate to people's fragile feelings just days after terrorist attacks on the United States.
The rundown of tunes with "questionable lyrics" includes AC/DC's "Shot Down in Flames" and U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which could certainly offend listeners who are still mourning the great loss of life that occurred last Tuesday. But some might argue Don McLean's "American Pie," is just the sort of song that would inspire Americans.
"Some of them are obvious like Steve Miller Band's 'Jet Airliner' and AC/DC's 'Safe in New York City,'" said Geoff Boucher, a pop culture writer for the Los Angeles Times. But, he added, "It makes you scratch your head when you see some songs that have been included," such as "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and John Lennon's "Imagine."
While many get nervous at the mere sight of such a list for fear of violating the First Amendment, Boucher said, "You're hard pressed to criticize a company for encouraging their employees to think twice." He added that the media is being careful not to use imagery and language that could be deemed insensitive in the context of last week's events.
Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, echoed those thoughts. "It's not being done for nefarious reasons, " he said. "I've heard some people shout 'censorship,' but hopefully we'll look back at that list and laugh at it as an overreaction."
However he added, "When we get an office of cultural administration that begins to limit these kind of things, then we need to revisit this as a much more serious issue."
With films and TV shows being edited for violence and inappropriate scenes, the idea of considering what songs to play to a mass audience seemed acceptable to most people.
"Right now, you err to the side of sensitivity," said Thompson. What's the worst that could happen? You don't hear 'Great Balls of Fire' for a few weeks. Big deal."