Fifty-three years ago in August of 1966, the South African government banned the playing of all Beatles songs. The ban came as a result of of some controversial comments that John Lennon made in regards to Christianity earlier that year.
The Beatles had Top 20 hit singles playing on South Africa’s Springbok Radio for three consecutive years: “From Me to You” and “She Loves You” in 1963; “A Hard Day’s Night” in 1964; and “Ticket To Ride” and “Help” in 1965. But in early 1966, things changed. John Lennon was educating himself about Christianity at the time. On March 4th of that year, he sat down for an interview with the London Evening Standard and spoke on his newfound thoughts in regards to religion.
“Christianity will go,” Lennon said. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
Certainly, many were appalled and offended by Lennon’s audacious comments. Surprisingly, Great Britain had little reaction to what he said but the same couldn’t be said of elsewhere in the world. In the Bible Belt of the United States, for example, Beatles records and memorabilia were burned. Radio stations refused to play their songs and venues canceled Beatles concerts.
Apartheid South Africa joined in on the conservative condemnation as well. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) banned the playing of all Beatles songs from its airwaves. As a result, Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” and SGT Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad of The Green Berets” were the greatest hits on South African radio in 1966, as well as those by South African artists such as Virginia Lee, Dickie Loader, and Des Lindberg.