All over the city
And all of the dives
Don't mess with this place
It'll eat you alive
Read full Lyrics
The 2001 Clear Channel memorandum was a list of 165 “lyrically questionable songs” released to radio stations after the World Trade Center bombings of September 11th, 2001. These songs were consequently banned from airplay on Clear Channel’s stations. “Safe in New York City,” from AC/DC’s album Stiff Upper Lip
(released in 2000), was on that list and it’s not hard to see why.
For starters, the album cover shows a bronzed Angus Young doing his characteristic rain-dance on the platform that the Statue of Liberty usually rests on, thumbing his nose at so-called American liberty and freedom. Across the water is the backdrop of a typical night-time scene of New York City at the turn of the millennium, complete with the brightly-lit Twin Towers, phallic symbols of America’s economic virility and prowess. Retrospectively, it’s easy to see why this cover wasn’t a great marketing decision on the part of AC/DC’s record company. To make matters worse, the official music video is set in a traffic tunnel, with the band performing inside a police-barricade whilst stern police officers look disapprovingly on. To them it seemed rebellious, but to a post-9/11 viewer, it looks like a state-of-emergency.
Clear Channel (a subsidiary of CC Media Holdings, Inc. as of 2008), situated in Texas but operating internationally, is the single largest owner of pure-play radio stations and AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations in the world. When they chose to remove these 160 songs from their playlists in the first major musical boycott of the century, the effect was that 1,200 national and Web-based radio stations pulled “Safe in New York City” off the air. A powerful mass-media company like Clear Channel is one of those behind-the-scenes key-players beloved of conspiracy theorists because of the extent of their total control over the arts industries, and the way that they slip by, unnoticed by the general public, until they suddenly do something atrocious, like banning 160 well-loved songs (talk about thumbing your nose at the concept of American liberty).
The problem with this mass ban is that CC’s list was horribly inaccurate, as can be seen from the variety of tracks included in the memorandum. Most of the songs have absolutely nothing to do with the Twin Towers. Even some of the more obvious choices, AC/DC’s “Shot down in Flames,” for example, are not what they seem. “Shot down” is just about a pervy old man trying to pick up a woman at a bar. “Over by the juke box, like she’d something to sell, I said baby what’s the goin’ price, she told me to go to hell.” Clearly this is not a politically inflammatory statement, even if it is highly “lyrically questionable” on a few levels. Rage Against the Machine was the most effected, having all of their songs banned in accordance with the memorandum, and AC/DC was also badly hit, losing airplay for seven of their songs.
So what exactly did Angus Young mean when he sang “I feel safe in a cage in New York City, throw away the key”? In the 2004 reissue CD-booklet of Stiff Upper Lip
, Young says that he wrote the lyrics in response to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s claim that he had cleaned up New York City, described at length in his book Leadership
(2002), mostly written before the attacks of September 11th. Young said that “to me, New York City is a place where you can never predict what’s coming next." Unfortunately for New York City, he was right.
~ Douglas MacCutcheon
Douglas MacCutcheon is a music psychology researcher at a British university (yes, he experiments on people - if you can call musicians people, that is) and freelance music writer. He is interested in popular music, cultural economics and curry. He also plays classical piano for his mother and amateurishly produces ambient electro which nobody listens to Soundcloud.com/douglas-mccutcheon.
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