The BBC has a long history of issuing ban orders for songs deemed controversial by executives in positions of power. As a public service broadcaster, you should aim to appease everyone and not divide your audience. However, there should be some exceptions, and Sheffield electronic pop pioneers Heaven 17 were taken aback when Beeb banned his anti-fascist anthem for the dance floor.
From the moment of its formation, there was palpable enthusiasm for Heaven 17. Members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were formerly with The Human League, but after becoming creatively frustrated, they left to start a new effort. Significant pressure was put on their debut single, ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, to be a hit, but the overtly political nature of the song prevented this from becoming a reality.
Heaven 17 wanted to wear their left-wing political leanings on their chest and make their identity clear from the start. On ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, the Yorkshire band lamented the state of politics in 1981 and sang, “Reagan’s president-elect, Fascist god in motion.” The BBC became uncomfortable with the lyrical content of the track, which they believed could cause legal issues, and they opted not to play the song to avoid this scenario.
“We were sure (Groove Thang) would break into the Top 20,” Ware said later. original 909. “But then Mike Read banned it from the BBC playlist because of the line ‘Reagan president-elect/fascist god on the move.’ In hindsight, we could have been more subtle. We could have said ‘American president’ instead of directly identifying Reagan.”
Ware added: “We got a panicked phone call from Virgin Records asking if there was a chance we could record again.”C.Order it with new letters. We weren’t really ready for that, but we still did it. We went to the studio and re-recorded it as ‘We Don’t Need This Axis Groove Thang’. But it didn’t really work, and it was never released. There are about 100 white labels of that somewhere. It’s quite a collector’s item.”
Despite the BBC’s ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ banning order, the track was relatively successful, despite failing to reach the highs Heaven 17 had initially anticipated. Ware’s comments suggest that he understands why the BBC made that decision and regrets not being more astute in expressing the sentiment of the song.
While their attempt to strike back at the political establishment got them into trouble, Heaven 17 commendably put their morale ahead of their career with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’. The song established the electronic band as the voice for the voiceless as Britain shifted to the political right. They later joined the Red Wedge collective of musicians who came together in a bid to support Labor in the 1987 election.
Thankfully, the BBC ban has now been lifted on ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, and in 2010, the group performed the track live on BBC 6 Music.