Parents Music Resource Center

Parents Music Resource Center
Tipper Gore, cofounder of the Parents Music Resource Center

The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was an American committee formed in 1985 with the goal of increasing parental control over the access of children to music deemed to be violent, have drug use or be sexual.The committee was founded by four women: Tipper Gore, wife of Senator and later Vice President Al Gore; Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker; Pam Howar, wife of Washington realtor Raymond Howar; and Sally Nevius, wife of former Washington City Council Chairman John Nevius. They were known as the "Washington wives" – a reference to their husbands' connections with government in the Washington, D.C. area. The Center eventually grew to include 22 participants.


Background and formation

In October 1984, the National Parent-Teacher Association, (PTA), sent a letter to 30 record labels and to the Recording Industry Association of America, (RIAA), proposing the music industry label records that contained "explicit lyrics or content", in order to "take the element of surprise out of buying an album". Initially none of the record companies agreed to the PTA's proposal. A response letter from RIAA President, Stanley Gortikov, stated that: "There are wide variations, company to company, within our industry in respect to artists, contractual relationships, marketing considerations and product services."

The formation of the PMRC began in 1984 after Tipper Gore, along with her daughter Karenna, heard Prince's song "Darling Nikki". This track, which appears on the soundtrack to the film Purple Rain, contains references to sex and masturbation ("I knew a girl named Nikki/I guess you could say she was a sex fiend/I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine").

Gore watched other rock music videos and concluded: "The images frightened my children, they frightened me! I am frightened! Way frightened! The graphic sex and the violence were too much for us to handle." Susan Baker became alarmed when she heard her seven-year-old daughter singing along with Madonna songs that Baker considered inappropriate[citation needed] Gore and Baker, along with Howar and Nevius, formed the PMRC in May 1985.

The PMRC claimed that the change in rock music was attributable to the decay of the nuclear family in America.[1] Gore asserted that families are "haven[s] of moral stability" which protect children from outside influence, and that without the family structure rock music was "infecting the youth of the world with messages they cannot handle."

Rap music of the mid to late 1980s, especially artists that were deemed violent, particularly Ice-T and Geto Boys furthered the PMRC's influence in American politics. Ice-T was personally accused by Tipper Gore with support from the PMRC for the increasing rates of violence against police officers in Los Angeles in the late 1980s.


As a method of combating this alleged problem, the PMRC suggested a voluntary move by the RIAA and the music industry to develop "guidelines and/or a rating system" similar to the MPAA film rating system. Additional suggestions from the PMRC that appeared in an article in the Washington Post included: printing warnings and lyrics on album covers, forcing record stores to put albums with explicit covers under the counters, pressuring television stations not to broadcast explicit songs or videos, "reassess[ing]" the contracts of musicians who performed violently or sexually in concert, and creating a panel to set industry standards. This article led to the removal of rock music and magazines from American stores including Wal-Mart, J. C. Penney, Sears and Fred Meyer.

The PMRC also released the "Filthy Fifteen", a list of the 15 songs they found most objectionable:

# Artist Song title Lyrical content
1 Prince "Darling Nikki" Sex
2 Sheena Easton "Sugar Walls" Sex
3 Judas Priest "Eat Me Alive" Sex
4 Vanity "Strap on Robbie Baby" Sex
5 Mötley Crüe "Bastard" Violence
6 AC/DC "Let Me Put My Love into You" Sex
7 Twisted Sister "We're Not Gonna Take It" Violence
8 Madonna "Dress You Up" Sex
9 W.A.S.P. "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" Sex/Language
10 Def Leppard "High 'n' Dry (Saturday Night)" Drug and alcohol use
11 Mercyful Fate "Into the Coven" Occult
12 Black Sabbath "Trashed" Drug and alcohol use
13 Mary Jane Girls "In My House" Sex
14 Venom "Possessed" Occult
15 Cyndi Lauper "She Bop" Sex

Senate hearing

Frank Zappa testifies before the US Senate, 1985
John Denver testifies before the US Senate, 1985
Dee Snider testifies before the US Senate, 1985

[2] In August 1985, 19 record companies agreed to put "Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics" labels on albums to warn of explicit lyrical content. Before the labels could be put into place, the Senate agreed to hold a hearing on so-called "porn rock". This began on September 19, 1985, when representatives from the PMRC, three musicians -- Dee Snider, Frank Zappa, John Denver -- and Senators Paula Hawkins and Al Gore testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on "the subject of the content of certain sound recordings and suggestions that recording packages be labeled to provide a warning to prospective purchasers of sexually explicit or other potentially offensive content."

Supporting witnesses

Paula Hawkins presented three record covers (Pyromania by Def Leppard, W.O.W. by Wendy O. Williams and Animal (Fuck Like a Beast) by W.A.S.P.) and the music videos for "Hot for Teacher", by Van Halen, and "We're Not Gonna Take It", by Twisted Sister, commenting: "Much has changed since Elvis' seemingly innocent times. Subtleties, suggestions, and innuendo have given way to overt expressions and descriptions of often violent sexual acts, drug taking, and flirtations with the occult. The record album covers to me are self-explanatory."

Susan Baker testified that "There certainly are many causes for these ills in our society, but it is our contention that the pervasive messages aimed at children which promote and glorify suicide, rape, sadomasochism, and so on, have to be numbered among the contributing factors." Tipper Gore asked record companies to voluntarily "plac[e] a warning label on music products inappropriate for younger children due to explicit sexual or violent lyrics."

National PTA Vice President for Legislative Activity Millie Waterman related the PTA's role in the debate, and proposed printing the symbol "R" on the cover of recordings containing "explicit sexual language, violence, profanity, the occult and glorification of drugs and alcohol," and providing lyrics for "R"-labeled albums.

In addition, Dr. Joe Stuessy, a music professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, spoke regarding the power of music to influence behavior. He argued that heavy metal was different from earlier forms of music such as jazz and rock and roll because it was "mean-spirited" and "had as one of its central elements the element of hatred." Dr. Paul King, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, testified on the deification of heavy metal musicians, and to the presentation of heavy metal as a religion. He also stated that "many" adolescents read deeply into song lyrics.

Opposing witnesses

During his statement, musician and producer Frank Zappa asserted that "the PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretation and enforcement problems inherent in the proposal's design." He went on to state his suspicion that the hearings were a front for H.R. 2911, a proposed blank tape tax: "The major record labels need to have H.R. 2911 whiz through a few committees before anybody smells a rat. One of them is chaired by Senator Thurmond. Is it a coincidence that Mrs. Thurmond is affiliated with the PMRC?" Zappa had earlier stated about the Senate's agreement to hold a hearing on the matter that "A couple of blowjobs here and there and Bingo! — you get a hearing."[3]

Folk rock musician John Denver stated he was "strongly opposed to censorship of any kind in our society or anywhere else in the world", and that in his experience censors often misinterpret music, as was the case with his song "Rocky Mountain High". In addition, Denver expressed his belief that censorship is counterproductive: "That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting. Consequently, a great deal of time and energy is spent trying to get at what is being kept from you." Incidentally, when Denver came up to give his speech, many on the PMRC board expected him to side with them, thinking he would be offended by the lyrics as well.

Dee Snider, frontman and lead singer of glam metal band Twisted Sister, testified that he "[did] not support [...] Mr. Gortikov's unnecessary and unfortunate decision to agree to a so-called generic label on some selected records".[4] Like John Denver, Snider felt that his music had been misinterpreted. He defended the Twisted Sister songs "Under the Blade", which had been interpreted as referring to sadomasochism, bondage, and rape, and "We're Not Gonna Take It", which had been accused of promoting violence. Snider said about "Under the Blade", a song Snider claimed was written about an impending surgery, that "the only sadomasochism, bondage, and rape in this song is in the mind of Ms. Gore." He stated, "Ms. Gore was looking for sadomasochism and bondage, and she found it. Someone looking for surgical references would have found it as well." Snider concluded that "The full responsibility for defending my children falls on the shoulders of my wife and I, because there is no one else capable of making these judgments for us."

Notable snippets of audio from the hearing found their way into Zappa's audiocollage "Porn Wars", released on the Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention album. Senators Gore, Hollings, Gorton, Hawkins, and others appeared. The album cover featured a parody of the RIAA warning label. The LP included a note to listeners to send to Zappa's Barking Pumpkin Records for a free "Z-PAC", a printed information package that included transcripts of the committee hearing, and a letter from Zappa encouraging young people to register to vote. Zappa's full testimonial was released on a posthumous 2010 compilation called Congress Shall Make No Law...

The Tipper Sticker

On November 1, 1985, before the hearing ended, the RIAA agreed to put "Parental Advisory" labels on selected releases at their own discretion. The labels were generic, unlike the original idea of a descriptive label categorizing the explicit lyrics.

Many record stores refused to sell albums containing the label (most notably Wal-Mart), and others limited sales of those albums to adults. The label became known as the "Tipper sticker".[citation needed] One of the albums to receive the "Parental Advisory" sticker was Frank Zappa's Grammy-winning album Jazz From Hell, presumably for the use of the word "Hell" in its title but also for the song "G-Spot Tornado", even though it is a collection of instrumental pieces and contains no lyrics at all.

Many musicians have criticized or parodied the PMRC and Tipper Gore:

  • Danzig's 1988 song "Mother" scored a top 40 hit as the most famous song about[5] the PMRC labeling and its inherent problems. This is still one of the only songs about[5] Tipper Gore and the PMRC to reach a wide audience.
  • The song "Rock You to Hell" from the album of the same name by heavy metal band Grim Reaper is a protest song against the PMRC's attempts to censor music.
  • As an early parody of the PMRC "explicit lyrics" warning labels, many prints of Metallica's 1986 release of their album Master of Puppets sported a sticker on the front in the shape of a stop-sign saying:


F is for fighting,
R is for red ancestors' blood in battles they've shed
E, we elect them,
E, we eject them in the land of the free and the home of the brave
D, for your dying,
O, your overture
M, they will cover your grave with manure

This spells out freedom, it means nothing to me
As long as there's a P.M.R.C.

In addition, in the music video for the song "In My Darkest Hour", from the same album, as well as the Megadeth portion of the 1988 rockumentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, bassist David Ellefson can be seen with a sticker on his bass that says "Fuck The P.M.R.C".
  • Glam metal band Quiet Riot's 1986 single The Wild And The Young is a hymn to youth and freedom. The accompanying video shows an Orwellian future, where rock 'n' roll is battled and finally wiped out by totalitarian militarists. The video ends with a reference to the PMRC that compares the Tipper stickers to the fictive dystopia.
  • Ice-T's 1989 album The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say contains many criticisms of the PMRC. One song in particular, "Freedom of Speech", is an extended attack on Tipper Gore:

Yo Tip, what's the matter? You ain't gettin' no dick?
You're bitchin' about rock'n'roll, that's censorship, dumb bitch
The Constitution says we all got a right to speak
Say what we want Tip, your argument is weak

In his book The Ice Opinion, Ice-T wrote, "Tipper Gore is the only woman I ever directly called a bitch on any of my records, and I meant that in the most negative sense of the word".[7] On "You Shoulda Killed Me Last Year", his spoken-word outro to his album O.G. Original Gangster , he curses the CIA, the LAPD, FBI, George Bush Sr. and Tipper Gore.
  • The liner notes of Sonic Youth's 1990 album Goo include a cartoon with the caption "SMASH THE PMRC".[8]
  • The song "Shelter Me", from glam metal group Cinderella's 1990 album Heartbreak Station, contained a lyric which mockingly noted that "Tipper led the war against the record industry/She said she saw the devil on her MTV."
  • In 1990, thrash group Suicidal Tendencies released a song called "Lovely" on their Lights...Camera...Revolution! album, which has a mockingly clean/positive atmosphere to it and even addresses Tipper Gore by name. Also addressing the PMRC on the album was "You Can't Bring Me Down".
  • In 1990, the industrial band Ministry released the live album In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up with a cut out version of the parental advisory sticker. On the inside they urged fans to cut it out and send it to the PMRC in protest. Also on the track "Stigmata" the lead singer, Al Jourgensen, rants about Tipper Gore as well as George H.W. Bush and others.
  • A minute-long track tagged onto the end of Warrant's 1990 Cherry Pie was titled "Ode to Tipper Gore" and featured nothing but various swear words recorded in rapid-fire order from past concerts.
  • US Thrash Metal band Flotsam and Jetsam recorded the song "Hard On You" on their 1988 album No Place for Disgrace which deals openly with the topic and accuses the PMRC of limiting their artistic right without mentioning the PMRC or Tipper Gore directly. Lines like "One that's young sees the circled "R", does he buy it?" and "If your committee is so damn right, why did we write this song?" leave no room for misinterpretation though.
  • In 1990 Everlast released a song called "Fuck Everyone" on his first solo album, Forever Everlasting. This song contains the lyrics:

Got Tipper Gore protestin' my lyrics
Fuck that bitch, I don't need a clearance
To write my rhymes, speak my mind
You can't censor me, the public's not blind

  • In 1991 American hard rock band Guns N' Roses released Use Your Illusion I & II, each including a cover advisory stating "This album contains language which some listeners may find objectionable. They can F?!* OFF and buy something from the New Age section."
  • In 1992, The first music video released by Tool, "Hush", promoted their dissenting views about the then-prominent Parents Music Resource Center and its advocacy of the censorship of music. The video featured the band members naked with their genitalia covered by parental advisory stickers and their mouths covered by duct tape.
  • The PMRC would often protest Punk Rock band Butt Trumpet's live shows. This occurred many times through their American tours, but most notably at the 1995 "Sunset Junction" street fair in Hollywood where dozens of PMRC supporters showed up with picket signs in an attempt to block the stage. The band just laughed it off, and Butt Trumpet lead singer Thom Bone "freestyle" changed many of his lyrics on the fly during the performance to make fun of them. Between songs, he would also attempt to "interview" members as they walked by, asking them how they were enjoying the show.
  • The Ramones' 1992 album Mondo Bizarro contained the song "Censorshit", which proposes that the sticker is "just a smoke screen for the real problems. S&L deficit, the homeless, the environment."
  • Anthrax's "Startin' Up a Posse", from their 1991 release Attack of the Killer B's, states that "These seven words you're trying to take / Shit, fuck, satan, death, sex, drugs, rape / Right or wrong it's our choice to make". The song also mentions about stopping the P.M.R.C. while the band throws insults.

Let's kill the cops, the C.I.A.
The F.B.I., the P.T.A.
The N.F.L., the P.M.R.C.
Let's kill you and let's kill me

  • Underground Rapper Carnage has a song on his EP named "The PMRC has Silenced me"
  • Twisted Sister's 1985 album Come Out and Play featured a mark on the album cover resembling a parental advisory sticker; however, it read "H for humor".
  • On a live album, Live...In the Raw, W.A.S.P. dedicated their song "Harder, Faster" to the Washington Wives, a "branch" of PMRC. The PMRC said that WASP stood for "We Are Sexual Perverts".

I've been reading an awful lot in the newspapers, and magazine's about me and my boys here. And I was reading one article in particular, about an organization, you might of heard of them before... they're called "the PMRC", well I read... I read that they said, that they think that "We Are Sexual Perverts!" Now this is coming from an organization called "The Washington Wives". Now I don't know about you, but to me that sounds like some sort of, God damn, Hollywood fuckin' Jackie Collins novel if you ask me! Well this is for that whole bunch, because they can suck me, suck me eat me raw....this is "Harder Faster"

  • On the 2001 Dead Kennedys' live album Mutiny on the Bay, during their song "M.T.V. - Get off the Air", lead singer Jello Biafra tells the audience to "buy a homemade [record] instead, before the PMRC closes the stores down that sell 'em". Biafra had earlier been brought to trial on charges of "distributing harmful matter to minors" in an incident involving the 1985 Dead Kennedys' album Frankenchrist, which featured an insert of H. R. Giger's Penis Landscape and a parody sticker on the front cover reading:

"WARNING: The inside fold out to this record cover is a work of art by H.R. Giger that some people may find shocking, repulsive or offensive. Life can sometimes be that way." [10]

Releases by independent, non-RIAA labels may not carry the sticker (often proudly). Still, the RIAA encourages the labeling of any album containing explicit lyrics.

It is uncertain whether the "Tipper sticker" is effective in preventing children from being exposed to explicit content.[11] Some suggest that the sticker actually increases record sales. Philip Bailey stated that "For the most part [the sticker] might even sell more records in some areas - all you've got to do is tell somebody this is a no-no and then that's what they want to go see."[11] Ice-T's "Freedom of Speech" states that "Hey PMRC, you stupid fuckin' assholes/The sticker on the record is what makes 'em sell gold./Can't you see, you alcoholic idiots/The more you try to suppress us, the larger we get." And the Furnaceface song "We Love You, Tipper Gore", from 1991's album Just Buy It, suggests that the label "only whets my appetite ... only makes us want to hear it that much more".

  • Rap group Insane Clown Posse had a fight with the P.M.R.C and Hollywood Records in 1997 after their album The Great Milenko was pulled off the shelves six hours after the release of the CD due to unclean lyrics referencing rape, murder, child abuse and sex. Rapper Violent J said "We went to the guys at Hollywood Records and showed them the lyrics sheet months prior to the release, they OK'd it and we recorded it. The last minute they pull it off the shelves and say what we do is bad".

The rock group The Company Band features the PMRC in their song "Zombie Barricades". In it the lyrics call for the return of the PMRC and the USSR, saying "we need that motivation".

Frank Zappa's album Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers of Prevention is named as a parody of the PMRC and his former band The Mothers of Invention. Its cover features a Tipper Sticker parody which reads:

"WARNING GUARANTEE: This album contains material which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress. In some socially retarded areas, religious fanatics and ultra-conservative political organizations violate your First Amendment Rights by attempting to censor rock & roll albums. We feel that this is un-Constitutional and un-American. As an alternative to these government-supported programs (designed to keep you docile and ignorant), Barking Pumpkin is pleased to provide stimulating digital audio entertainment for those of you who have outgrown the ordinary. The language and concepts contained herein are GUARANTEED NOT TO CAUSE ETERNAL TORMENT IN THE PLACE WHERE THE GUY WITH THE HORNS AND POINTED STICK CONDUCTS HIS BUSINESS. This guarantee is as real as the threats of the video fundamentalists who use attacks on rock music in their attempt to transform America into a nation of check-mailing nincompoops (in the name of Jesus Christ). If there is a hell, its fires wait for them, not us."

See also


  1. ^ "Short history of the PMRC". Censor This. Archived from the original on 2003-04-06. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  2. ^ United States Senate (1985): Record Labeling: Hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. United States Senate, Ninety-ninth Congress, First Session on Contents of Music and the Lyrics of Records (September 19, 1985). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  3. ^ Lyons, Steve; Batya Friedman (January–February 1987). Winter in America. Option. Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  4. ^ Snider's testimony is also available at VH1.
  5. ^ a b Carnie, Dave (2000). "Danzig interview". Big Brother. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  6. ^ "Scorpion Archive". Archived from the original on 2004-11-02. 
  7. ^ Ice-T: The Ice Opinion, p. 98.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Micallef, Ken (March 1996), Rage Against The Machine's Brad Wilk, Modern Drummer. Retrieved February 17, 2007.
  10. ^ Alternative Tentacles - Bands.
  11. ^ a b "Spotlight on explicit lyrics warning". BBC News. 2002-05-27. Retrieved 2010-05-21. 

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