On Feb. 5, 2006, the Rolling Stones used their performance during the Super Bowl XL halftime show to prove they could still make network censors blush.
The band’s three-song set offered a brief survey of their illustrious career, offering the early single “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the mid-period hit “Start Me Up” as well as “Rough Justice,” a single from their then-current release, A Bigger Bang. Two out of the three songs contained lyrics that made the NFL uncomfortable.
There were two offending lines in all. In “Start Me Up,” the league took issue with a lyric applauding a woman’s sexual prowess as being so powerful that it could reanimate one particular portion of a dead man’s anatomy, while “Rough Justice” gave cause for concern with a line containing a reference to cocks — never mind that it was (sort of) used in a barnyard context.
Even given the Super Bowl’s status as one of the year’s biggest appointment-viewing programs and the league’s need to satisfy the widest possible audience, nitpicking over vaguely profane Stones lyrics seemed like pretty minor stuff. At the time, however, the NFL wasn’t willing to take any chances: two years before, they’d found themselves facing a whirlwind of criticism after a halftime show featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake ended with Jackson’s exposed breast.
The Stones didn’t put up too much of a fuss, agreeing to have singer Mick Jagger‘s mic dialed down during those particular lines, but they made their displeasure known after an NFL spokesperson alleged that not only was the band aware they’d be censored, but they were “fine with it.”
“The Rolling Stones thought the censorship of their songs by the NFL/ABC was absolutely ridiculous and completely unnecessary,” said Stones rep Fran Curtis. “The band did the songs they were supposed to do and they sang all the words. There were many many conversations back and forth and the band clearly was not happy about it.”
Of course, as Stones fans are aware, the Super Bowl was far from their first brush with television censorship. In fact, they were famously forced to alter the lyrics to their 1967 single “Let’s Spend the Night Together” during a Jan. 15, 1967 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show — an episode that, coincidentally, aired the same day as the very first Super Bowl. That wasn’t an occasion that the band specifically referenced from the stage during Super Bowl XL, but Jagger did offer a wry nod to the Stones’ veteran status before they launched into “Satisfaction.” “Here’s one,” he quipped, “we could have done at Super Bowl I.”
1. Start Me Up
2. Rough Justice
3. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction