Let's Talk About Sex, Violence, and The Occult with Tipper Gore
Sometime in 1985, Tipper Gore rounded up some of her best friends, popped open a bottle of Dom Perignon, and spent the night listening to Twisted Sister, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath. At least I hope this is what happened.
In reality, I’m sure Gore’s party was more low-key-- the family isn’t necessarily known for their ragers. Either way, Gore, Susan Baker, Pam Howar, and Sally Nevius joined forces on that fateful night. Each of the women had close ties to the government or the Washington business scene, so by combining their urges to protect our children from Prince’s weird ideas about sex with their vast oversight of the majority of AC/DC’s catalog, they became The Washington Wives. Their arch-nemesis-- the mustachioed, cackling Frank Zappa-- fought against them at every turn. In the end, The Washington Wives were (mildly) victorious.
The group that Tipper Gore co-founded in 1985 was known as the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). Gore was staunchly in favor of forming a ratings system for music-- much like what the Motion Picture Association of America does for films-- but the group’s intentions soon ballooned into what some members of the music community interpreted as censorship. The PMRC wanted albums with obscene covers stored underneath shop counters, the creation of a panel to design these industry standards, and warning labels placed on records deemed unseemly. Artists were worried that these standards would coerce retailers into refusing to stock albums that received strikes against them for their content.
A trio of musicians testified against the PMRC during the Senate hearing in August 1985: Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister all descended upon Washington (and hopefully met up for a drink somewhere afterward). Zappa, well known for his fights against censorship, called the PMRC’s proposal “an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children… [and] infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children.” Zappa's full testimony can be seen below.
Where Zappa was outspoken-- and the most openly divisive in his art-- Snider and Denver were upset that their songs had been so widely misinterpreted. Denver’s smash-hit “Rocky Mountain High” had brought the same issue of censorship to light in the 1970s when the song was banned from radio after the FCC claimed that maybe, just maybe, the song was promoting marijuana use. Snider, though, had a bigger chip on his shoulder. Twisted Sister’s relatively tame single “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was listed on what Tipper Gore and the PMRC had published as “The Filthy Fifteen.” These were, in the PMRC’s opinion, the fifteen songs that personified how deeply American culture had been lost to sex, violence, drugs, and the occult.
But that was thirty years ago. After Tipper threw out all of Al’s John Denver records (where they have sat untouched in a D.C. Goodwill for thirty years), the PMRC was eventually successful in placing the now infamous “Parental Advisory” sticker on albums, big box retailers like Wal-Mart still refuse to stock records with the sticker, and children of the 80s and 90s never heard a curse word ever, ever again. While the fallout of these decisions has been widespread, The Filthy Fifteen is a time capsule of popular conservative opinion regarding pop culture and rock music.
Join us this week as we look back at each song listed on the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen. How have they aged? How crude were they to begin with? How many times did Tipper and Al watch the “Hot for Teacher” video before submitting it as evidence at the Senate hearing?
Each post throughout the week will contain an in-depth look at five of the offending songs. Be warned. The following songs deal with sex, violence, drug and alcohol use, and ties to the occult.
The Filthy Fifteen
- Prince - “Darling Nikki”
- Sheena Easton - “Sugar Walls"
- Judas Priest - “Eat Me Alive"
- Vanity - “Strap on Robbie Baby”
- Motley Crue - “Bastard”
- AC/DC - “Let Me Put My Love Into You”
- Twisted Sister - “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
- Madonna - “Dress You Up”
- W.A.S.P. - “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)”
- Def Leppard - “High ‘n Dry”
- Mercyful Fate - “Into The Coven”
- Black Sabbath - “Trashed”
- Mary Jane Girls - “In My House”
- Venom - “Possessed”
- Cyndi Lauper - “She-Bop”