Frank Zappa testifying at the PMRC hearings, image from vulture.com
In 1984, Tipper Gore (the wife of then-Senator Al Gore), heard Prince’s “Darling Nikki” from the Purple Rain soundtrack. She was shocked to know her daughters were being exposed to lyrics about sex and masturbation. When she watched other rock music videos, she was alarmed by the images of what she deemed graphic sex and violence. In 1985, she teamed with several other Washington wives to form the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). The other founders were Susan Baker, the wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker; Pam Howar, the wife of Washington realtor Raymond Howard; and Sally Nevius, the wife of former Washington City Council Chairman John Nevius. The group eventually grew to 22 participants.
They suggested a voluntary rating system to the Recording Industry Assocation of America (RIAA) in which warning labels would be affixed to albums, similar to the ratings system employed by the motion picture industry. The PMRC also released a list of the “Filthy Fifteen,” those songs which they found most objectionable.
The Filthy Fifteen
In August 1985, 19 record companies agreed to put labels reading “Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics” on albums deemed to have explicit lyrical content. In addition, the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee agreed to a special hearing on the issue. In addition to members of the PMRC, musicians Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver testified, saying the move was a form of censorship which undermined freedom of speech.
The Senate committee was reportedly surprised by how articulate the musicians were. As Snider said, “They had no idea I spoke English fluently.” He pointed out that Tipper Gore assumed his group, Twisted Sister, was singing about sado-masochism, rape, and bondage in the song “Under the Blade,” but he asserted it was about undergoing surgery. Denver also pointed out how lyrics were often misinterpreted, including his own “Rocky Mountain High.” Zappa noted, “No one has forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to bring Prince or Sheena Easton [two of the artists on the filthy fifteen list] into their homes.”
The PMRC Hearings (full)
Resources and Related Links:
- Consequence of Sound: Rock History 101: Frank Zappa vs. The PMRC by David Von Bader (5 August 2012)
- Downlode.org: Frank Zappa: Statement to Congress, September 19, 1985
- History.com: The U.S. Senate convenes the PMRC hearings on Capitol Hill
- Wikipedia: Parents Music Resource Center