11 Songs Ruined by Radio Edits

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by YouTube

Radio edits are, for the most part, a necessary evil. In an industry bound by the FCC, there are some things that simply can’t be broadcast over the public airwaves without getting bleeped, censored, or dubbed, and certain radio formats offer varying degrees of resistance to anything that deviates too much from conventional song lengths or structures. For the most part, that’s fine. Listeners understand the deal, accept a few small compromises, and let it slide on the understanding that it’s better to hear a version of “Gold Digger” that the 6-year-old in the back seat won’t ask uncomfortable questions about than to not hear it at all.

But sometimes, those edits are so tin-eared and misbegotten that they manage to undercut something that was crucial to the song in the first place. Enter “abcdefu,” Gayle’s burn-it-all-down kiss-off anthem currently sitting at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Or, more accurately, enter “abc,” the version that Top 40 radio is playing. The un-redacted version is a smart-stupid bit of pop wordplay, with the singer singing, “Let me spell it out” and then running up the alphabet to pull the rug out with a pleasantly jarring switcheroo by yelling “FU!” when you expect her to say “FG” next.

The radio edit, meanwhile, replaces that “FU” with “forget you,” and in so doing turns the title meaningless. Without the alphabetical punch line, the “ABCDE” that leads up to it is simply pointless lyrical filler. Making matters worse is that “FU!” is already radio-friendly. “Eff you” is, in fact, “fuck you” cleaned up for the kids, making the radio edit a skittish redaction of something that was already a skittish redaction; more importantly, the very hook of the song is built around a clever play on that skittish redaction. “abc” deliberately wrecks the gag of its own chorus.

Luckily, though, Gayle isn’t the first pop act to have her song rendered toothless by her radio edit. She’s in fine company. Here is a not remotely exhaustive list of some of the more egregious (non-)offenders.

The older student that “abc” cribbed its notes from. Britney’s winning single is built around an innuendo that the radio edit dismantles; not innuendo, not song. The chorus, already hanging on by a thread, is turned meaningless by removing one entire understanding, unless … [checks Urban Dictionary for “fuca”] nope, not what Ms. Spears had in mind, methinks.

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The power of “Fuck You” came in large part from CeeLo’s pulling the subtext of countless classic soul songs to the forefront and making it into the text; he was pissed and hurt, and he wasn’t mincing words. Reapplying the politeness filter left a joyous bounce of a backing track and a hole where the song’s entire reason for being once lived.

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The Genesis drummer clearly intended his metaphorical divorce snarl to have maximum impact, making it the leadoff track to his solo debut and releasing it as the first single. So why agree to label demands that he bolster his sparse electronic rhythm with additional drums, all the better to mute the mood and flatten the colossal boom of the drum entrance heard ’round the world?

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To quote Patton Oswalt, “Cleaned-up, G-rated filth is way more creepy and disturbing than just flat-out filth.” Which is to say, the unabashedly foul-mouthed “wet-ass pussy” is, as imagery, less upsetting than “wet and gushy.” Besides, filth is the entire raison d’être of “WAP.” When you clean that up, you get … a socially presentable song about vaginas in an elevated state of sexual excitement? Bonus demerits for “wet and gushy” not even matching the song’s title.

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It’s fun to imagine the calculus that went into the decision to release “Fuckin’ Problems” as a single, with a label executive struggling to reconcile the catchy-as-hell chorus with the fact that pretty much none of it would make it to radio. . The commitment? “I love bad, bad, that’s my problem, my problem / And yeah I like to, I got a [noticeable pause] problem.” (And repeat.) Not at all bafflingly incoherent! “Problems” solved! It reached No. 8 on the Hot 100, though, which shows how much we know.

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It was inevitable that Tyler’s seven-minute-long opus would get trimmed, and the video edit does a good job of keeping everything that works. But there’s a shorter “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” version, perplexing for a song that doesn’t actually have one. The result is a rushed journey to reach the massive, cinematic sweep, when it should be so gradual that you don’t know you’re in crazytown until you’ve already established residence there.

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I mean, there’s humor in the replacement of “bitches” with “females,” “hoes” with “shorties,” and so on. But let’s get real: What catapults this into infamy is the way that the “motherfucker”s of the chorus gets swapped out with “skeet skeet,” the meaning of which must have been lost on the censors. As a result, Lil Jon “skeet skeet”s all over the place. It almost makes the original sound like a model of restraint. Almost.

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On the face of it, the changes foisted on the radio version of Rihanna’s single are fairly boilerplate and nondisruptive; it’s not like the rest of the song leaves it a mystery whom she’s talking to or about. On the other hand, removing the first word of “Bitch Better Have My Money” strips the attitude right out of the whole thing. And once you’ve got a Rihanna song without attitude, what are we even doing here?

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Barrett’s original is a nasty swipe of vindictive rage, one woman channeling the betrayal that she’s suffered into a curse spat directly into the heart of her ex. Along comes Puth to steal a verse from her in the name of crossover potential, and what started out as one woman’s intensely focused fury gets smoothed into a simple commiseration between two wounded saps, or worse, a dialogue between both sides of a mutually toxic relationship .

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In which Eminem flips off the very idea of ​​making his songs safe for radio by transforming a cartoonishly horrifying story about a girl ODing on Eminem’s stash into a cartoonishly ridiculous story about a girl eating too much pizza, thanks to the flexibility of the key line “ I never meant to give you mushrooms, girl.” Thankfully, she still ends up dead as a result, because dirty or clean, Eminem’s gotta Eminem.

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