The Reason Why The Rolling Stones’ ‘Undercover of the Night’ Video was banned
Mick Jagger in a 1983 interview - BlocksVideos / Youtube
You know you’re on the way to becoming has-beens when the new kids on the block are threatening to replace your infamy with an even more sinister reputation. This was exactly the predicament that The Rolling Stones encountered in the ’80s, as people were slowly buying into the new revolution that was punk. But the Stones didn’t want to give up that easily – not after what they’ve accomplished in their career.
Apart from the new craze taking over the rock scene, the Stones’ creative duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, with the former taking over as the latter struggled with substance abuse – which he overcame just in time. Richards was instrumental in the creation of 1983’s “Undercover of The Night”, which was a responsibility he tasked himself to toil on. Jagger also wanted fans to experience a whole new level of decadence, perhaps in desperation of reclaiming their throne as original bad boys of rock n’ roll.
Jagger’s vision was realized with the help of director Julien Temple, who translates it into visual detail involving criminality and sexual influences, which led to the music video being banned by MTV, the BBC, and the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
The frontman later noted that the whole production “was heavily influenced by William Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, a free-wheeling novel about political and sexual repression. It combines a number of different references to what was going down in Argentina and Chile.”
He added in 1984 that it was the song’s message of anti-establishment that led to its ostracization. “When (‘Undercover of the Night’) was written it was supposed to be about the repression of violence in our minds, you know, ’cause we have so much of it,” Jagger said. “It’s also about repressive political systems — pretty serious stuff for Top 20 material. It’s pretty risky to put out songs like that ’cause nobody’s really interested in that kind of thing. I mean, everyone wants to hear about the party all night long or just mumbo-jumbo. Nobody’s interested in anything real.”
During the song’s release period, Jagger and Temple made an appearance on the Channel 4 music show, The Tube, via link-up. Instead of promoting the material, Jagger went to defend their choice of scenes in the video, saying:
“It’s a film which goes with our new single which is about political repression, violence. I notice we all got your reactions when the violent bits came. We never got a chance to see them ourselves, we were only allowed to see you shaking your head. We didn’t want to dress the song up in cliches, we wanted to do a video that was about the song.”
Temple supplemented Jagger’s argument with figures that were supposed to justify the graphical nature of the music video. He said, “Let me tell you that the average kid in America when he gets to the age of 21 has seen 65,000 killings on TV and that devalues the meaning of killing. It makes people immune to it. If we’d made a documentary for six weeks in El Salvador, all the kids who might see this would have turned it off. This film is about the song, about what is happening in parts of the so-called civilized world.”
This was the first time that Jagger bared his fangs and wasn’t afraid to show his political ideas even if it was a known risk with artists. The Stones frontman was adamant in using his platform to bring to the front the happenings in South America, which he did so indulgently.