The “Filthy Fifteen” and the Birth of “Parental Advisory” Stickers

In 1985, the music landscape witnessed a significant shift with the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), spearheading a campaign against explicit content in music. This period marks the genesis of the controversial “Filthy Fifteen” list and the subsequent establishment of “Parental Advisory” labels.

The “Filthy Fifteen” and the Birth of “Parental Advisory” Stickers

The Inception of the PMRC: A Crusade Against Explicit Music Content

In the vibrant and ever-evolving landscape of the 1980s music scene, a crescendo of concern began to build over the explicit content prevalent in many popular songs of the time. This growing wave of worry found a voice in 1985 when a group of influential women in Washington D.C., united to form the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). This assembly was spearheaded by Tipper Gore, the spouse of Senator Al Gore, who would later serve as Vice President of the United States. Joining her in this endeavour were Susan Baker, married to Treasury Secretary James Baker, and Pam Howar, wife of prominent Washington realtor Raymond Howar.

In the mid-80s, the music industry found itself under the microscope, with the PMRC urging for tighter control on the explicit content accessible to the younger generation.

This period in the mid-1980s marked a time of significant scrutiny for the music industry in the United States. Much of this intense examination was propelled by the PMRC’s initiatives, a body resolute in its ambition to amplify parental control over the kind of music accessible to youth, particularly those encapsulating violent narratives, drug-related content, or sexual themes. This campaign heralded the onset of a fervent discourse on the intricate balance between artistic freedom and the safeguarding of impressionable minds, setting the stage for a series of consequential developments in the music industry.

PMRC’s “Filthy Fifteen”: A List that Stirred the Music Industry

As the PMRC forged ahead with their mission, a significant milestone was the creation of a notorious list of songs they deemed exceptionally objectionable. This list, aptly named the “Filthy Fifteen”, showcased a collection of tracks that, according to the PMRC, signified a concerning decline in the lyrical content pervading the music scene at the time. The list brought under scrutiny songs from an array of genres, although metal bands found themselves significantly represented.

The “Filthy Fifteen” encapsulated songs infusing elements of sex, violence, drug use, and the occult, which the PMRC believed were corrupting the moral fabric of the youth. Here’s the detailed list that marked a pivotal moment in the music industry:

  1. Prince – “Darling Nikki” (Sex/Masturbation)
  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/Language)
  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 (F**k 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/Masturbation)

This controversial list played a pivotal role in sparking Senate hearings, a significant step towards the eventual endorsement of parental advisory labels on music releases bearing explicit content. The PMRC utilized this list as a potent tool to underscore the perceived degradation of the music industry, fueling debates and discussions that would soon culminate in tangible changes in the dissemination of music content.

The Inception of the “Parental Advisory” Label: A Response to the “Filthy Fifteen”

In the wake of the PMRC’s concentrated efforts, the spotlight turned towards the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), who found themselves under pressure to institute a rating system for music albums, akin to the one existing for movies. This proposition by the PMRC culminated in a series of Senate hearings that unfurled on September 19, 1985.

A significant chapter in this saga was the Senate hearings of 1985, which sought to delve into the potential adverse effects of explicit content in music on young audiences. These hearings became a platform where renowned musicians like Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Frank Zappa, and John Denver vehemently testified against the proposed labels. They posited that such a move amounted to censorship and was a blatant violation of the First Amendment rights that safeguard artistic expression.

The introduction of the ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker marked a contentious chapter in the music industry, fostering debates on artistic freedom and societal responsibility.

Despite the resistance from various artists, a consensus emerged between the RIAA and the PMRC to initiate a parental advisory label, a measure perceived as a middle ground to avert government-induced censorship. This sticker, branded as the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content”, served to alert potential buyers, notably parents, regarding the explicit nature of the content encapsulated in the albums.

However, this development wasn’t devoid of criticism. Many condemned the PMRC’s strategies as an encroachment on the artistic liberties of musicians, fostering an environment of censorship. Moreover, critics pinpointed that these labels could paradoxically heighten the attraction of such music among young listeners, thus contradicting the intended effect. Over the years, this label has not only become a familiar sight on albums harbouring explicit content but has also ignited discussions concerning the essence of censorship and the onus artists carry in sculpting societal norms and values.