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While my inclination is to go with:

Which The Beatles song did the BBC ban on May 20th, 1967 for its overt references to drug use?

it sounds cumbersome compared to:

Which Beatles song did the BBC ban on May 20th, 1967 for its overt references to drug use?

Which?

5

It is the convention to drop the article from band names when using them as attributive nouns:

... my favorite Beatles song.
... the most popular Rolling Stones album.
... another Flock of Seagulls. concert.

and so on ...

  • Or, in the case of possible confusion (Which Who song...) one could change the sentence structure to gain clarity: Which song by The Who... – oerkelens Aug 25 '18 at 15:01
  • Thanks. Any style guide that might be explicit on this issue to lend credence to this convention? – tchakravarty Aug 25 '18 at 15:09
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Which Beatles song?

First of all, since you're asking about grammaticality, the " correct" formal way to ask this is

Which of the Beatles' songs did the BBC ban on May 20th, 1967 for its overt references to drug use?

following the recommendation of this site about forming the possessive of a proper noun. It makes it clear, even to someone who has never heard of the Beatles, that we are selecting from a particular group's body of work and not some genre (e.g. "R&B song" or "skiffle song").

Of course, less formal writing and ordinary conversation will use "Beatles song" much more often. It's common practice to drop articles and other minor words when forming a possessive or adjective from a proper noun:

Which United States city whose name begins with 'X' has the largest population? (instead of "Which city in the United States")

Which Heat of the Night episodes didn't have Carroll O'Connor in them? (instead of "In the Heat of the Night")

Which Phillipine island is the largest? (instead of "The Phillipines")

This last example is a little more interesting: We're selecting one element out of a category with a plural name, and the resulting adjective becomes singular. (compare with the commonality of "pant leg" over "pants leg").

But "Philippine island" may not fit the category since we're talking about membership in a geographical grouping, not necessarily something that belongs to the political entity. Comparing "Philippine city" to "Philippines city" is more interesting, The plural form lagged behind for most of the period Google digitized book for, but ever since the 1990's, it's now the preferred form.

  • Surely, in all places The Beatles instead of the Beatles, which is what makes it dangerous to drop the The -- more difficult than if the question were about dropping the? In the extreme case, consider the band The The, and what your style would do to their name. – tchakravarty Aug 25 '18 at 16:04
  • @tchakravarty As I said in my post, it's very common to drop "The". We are talking about an informal usage here, and in such circumstances people don't make the distinction you're trying to make. And for the same reason, the pattern is not universal. So "The The" likely stays "The The" for most people turning it into an adjective. – Spencer Aug 25 '18 at 18:11
  • Absolutely! Which The The track is your favourite? Mine's "This Is the Day". – FumbleFingers Aug 25 '18 at 18:48

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