Part 219: Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics

Thanks to 80smetalman for the inspiration.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 219:  

Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics

Remember the PMRC? If you were around in the 1980’s you might. The Parents’ Music Resource Center was an organization cofounded by Tipper Gore. They caused a lot of grief for musicians and fans alike. The PMRC wanted albums to have ratings, much like a movie, and to restrict certain albums to certain age groups.

PARENTALBoth Dee Snider and Frank Zappa raked them over the coals in a Senate hearing, but much damage was done. The PARENTAL ADVISORY – EXPLICIT CONTENT logo has defaced many rock albums. Sometimes it’s just a sticker, but almost as often, it’s printed over the cover art.  Frank Zappa’s instrumental album Jazz From Hell was even stickered “explicit content” – an album that has no words at all!  Huge chains such as Walmart refused to carry many albums such as this, and this eventually led to the rise of “clean” and “dirty” versions of albums.  It was one way to get the records in the stores.  This way, grandma can buy little Johnny the “clean” version of Eminem for Christmas.

This had an impact on us, an independent chain, as well. In the senate hearing, Dee Snider advised that if a parent is concerned about the music their kids are listening to, “I think a parent could take it home, listen to it. And I do not think there are too many retail stores that would deny them the ability to return the album for something different.”

Dee was 100% right. That was the policy that we had. If a parent wasn’t happy with the lyrical content of their kid’s purchase, we had no problem returning it.  Even though there were times that I’d been yelled at for doing a refund instead of an exchange, we made exceptions when it came to explicit lyrical content.  In those cases we often offered a full refund, and normally getting a refund out of us was about as easy as Steve-O removing this snapping turtle from his ass.

Some parents used to get upset that I would knowingly sell an album with swearing on it to their kid. Now, to be clear, we wouldn’t sell 2 Pac to a 10 year old. We didn’t do that. We would tell the 10 year to come back with a parent, and they’d whine and leave. However when a kid is in their mid-teens, and it’s harder to tell their age (or if their parents have a pickle up their behinds), we’d sell them the disc. And that’s when some parents would get mad. “Isn’t it illegal to sell this to a kid?”

No, it wasn’t illegal, thankfully. I would have hated to live in a world where I couldn’t hear Twisted Sister until my 18th birthday. But I was smart enough to know fantasy from reality, and my parents were trusting enough to give me that much credit.

Once you give the parents a refund, they were always happy. You never know what a parent would be offended by. One guy refused to buy Nirvana for his son, because Kurt committed suicide. One parent refused to allow her kid to listen to “black music” such as Backstreet Boys. No shit.

WU

Very hard to tell just from this if it’s “clean” or “dirty”

For us, selling used CDs, I think the biggest problem was the “clean” and “dirty versions”. On some discs, it was nearly impossible to tell by the cover if it was censored or not, because often those kinds of stickers would be on the plastic shrinkwrap. Once the shrinkwrap was off, and the CD made it into a used shop like ours, the only way to tell would be to listen.

I spent a lot of time sampling Wu-Tang Clan albums to see if they were clean or dirty. Thankfully I knew where on the disc to check easily without spending too much time on it. We had to sell clean versions for less, because the majority didn’t want them. We had to exchange a lot of clean versions for something else too, when it wasn’t obvious by the packaging.

Looking back at the kind of music people used to get upset about, it seems hilariously blown out of proportion. I’ll end today’s tale with a quote from Dee Snider’s testimonial at the senate hearing:

“The PMRC has made public a list of 15, of what they feel are some of the most blatant songs lyrically. On this list is our song “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” upon which has been bestowed a “V” rating, indicating violent lyrical content.

”You will note from the lyrics before you that there is absolutely no violence of any type either sung about or implied anywhere in the song. Now, it strikes me that the PMRC may have confused our video presentation for this song with the song with the lyrics, with the meaning of the lyrics.

”It is no secret that the videos often depict story lines completely unrelated to the lyrics of the song they accompany. The video “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was simply meant to be a cartoon with human actors playing variations on the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote theme, Each stunt was selected from my extensive personal collection of cartoons.

”You will note when you watch the entire video that after each catastrophe our villain suffers through, in the next sequence he reappears unharmed by any previous attack, no worse for the wear.

”By the way, I am very pleased to note that the United Way of America has been granted a request to use portions of our “We’re Not Gonna Take It” video in a program they are producing on the subject of the changing American family. They asked for it because of its “light-hearted way of talking about communicating with teenagers.

“It is gratifying that an organization as respected as the United Way of America appreciates where we are coming from. I have included a copy of the United Way’s request as part of my written testimony. Thank you, United Way.”

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35 comments

        1. He did all of that on purpose. The jean vest, the hair, and he had his speech folded up about 5 or 6 times into a tiny square in his pocket. Then he threw it down with some well worded testimony.

          Of course Frank Zappa’s testimony was brilliant (and funny) as ever.

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  1. We don’t need no,no,no, Parental Guidance here!
    I remember this gaining traction when I was I high school and than a short time later I think one of the first artists I seen here in the record stores stickered with there PMRC labels was everything Wasp….
    I’m sure that boosted there sales somewhat but by 86-87 I had purchased all the Wasp I wanted ie…debut and the Last Command….

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  2. As expected, another excellent post from LeBrain. It’s amazing to compare the stuff that’s acceptable now to what was considered obscene back then. Even though that Parental Advisory label is still in use, I’m not sure how much sway it has over anyone, although I know that places like Walmart still have “pickles up their behinds” about certain content (and they’re not always consistent).

    One thing you didn’t mention was how that label often increased sales because people wanted “forbidden fruit.” I wonder how many artists had successful careers, or at least successful albums, based solely on the supposed explicit content.

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    1. Good point rich! A lot of mediocre rap bands had a lot of attention due to this. I don’t think I need to remind anyone that 2 Live Crew was something of a one-trick pony!

      I think people today ignore the parental advisory labels — they are now part of the scenery.

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  3. Censorship can kiss my entire ass. I’m a parent, and I will help my kids decide. So don’t you PMRC and your ilk sit in your little privileged gated communities and spit down on us and try to tell all of us what we can and cannot listen to or watch just because you, personally, don’t like it. Seriously, go away.

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        1. I like Frank Zappa’s testimony. He said the same thing…but using many more words :) He basically accused them all of being anonymous, rich suburban busybodies and he’s right.

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  4. I think the PMRC might have been the best thing that happened to Metal in the 80s!

    In the UK I don’t think the whole clean version of an album was a thing over here. We got the sticker on some albums but I think that was about it. Maybe cause we didn’t have your Walmarts and what have you. I might be wrong but I just don’t remember that. Only one I can think of might have been Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish… when I worked in Borders but I think that was cause we got US Imports.

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    1. Was it stickered, “Warning: Terrible Music”?

      Who knows man, maybe the PMRC was the best thing to happen to metal in the 80’s. But only because guys like Dee Snider, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, and us fans fought back.

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      1. That’s it exactly. It gave bands a cause and inspired a lot of great tunes. I guess certain political climates suit certain types of music too.

        Yeah, you’d think any edits to a Limp Bizkit album would be an improvement! The shorter the better…

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    1. Children! Cross was Sabbath.

      It’s a great record. I caught flak from my buds for buying W.A.S.P…and then suddenly they changed their minds when they heard Forever Free, one of the best power ballads of the 80’s.

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  5. I believe Alice Cooper has said that the PMRC and it’s British equivalent of malcontents only gave them good publicity, so that the kids wanted to buy their records even more (although Alice Cooper’s recordings don’t contain any language worse than “hell” or “damn”, they often used to have sexually suggestive themes). If parents were so concerned with their childrens’ exposure to certain language, they should have pulled them out of the public schools! HA!

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    1. Yes, Alice’s albums do have some sexually suggestive lyrics. I remember my mom walking into my room while I playing The Black Widow. “The virgins and children he’s deflowered”. My mom said, “WHAT?” I didn’t actually know what deflowered meant.

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      1. You mean that parents actually DO pay attention to what their kids are listening to? (well, at least they used to) The younger parents of today (30’s) are listening to some of the same things their kids like. Rock on…

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        1. Well BeeDee, I didn’t know it at the time, but my sister tells me now that when I was a kid, my mom would watch my music videos while I was at school to make sure I wasn’t into strange drugs or cults.

          I’m a little hurt that it was a concern of hers, but on the other hand, it was good parenting and she loves her kids. Besides I was totally an introvert into bands with album titles like “Shout at the Devil” and “To Hell With the Devil” and it was the 1980’s. Sally Jessie Raphael had parents and kids on every week who looked like me, but were burnouts and dropouts. I kind of get why certain things would concern her.

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        2. I take it you were an otherwise decent kid, and Mom couldn’t figure out why you liked to listen to that stuff? I could maybe see it if you were into all black clothes and slouched around with your hands in your pockets. When I worked in a record store (’77 – ’81) we had these two young males (slouchy and all) who would come in and try to steal cassettes (mostly AC/DC and Black Sabbath) from the locked cases. The tapes themselves were in supposedly theftproof plastic sleeves, but the displays had holes you could put your hands through to look at things. They’d figured out how to get them out without the special tool, so we really had to watch them. Those are the kids I would worry about, not the normal, curious kids, although who knows? I think I’m pretty normal, considering I listened to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Doobie Brothers, Three Dog Night, etc.(I’m aging myself, right? I even remember seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show!)

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        3. Compared to how kids pass their time today, I think we were pretty much saints! I got good grades (hey, I ended up a History major at WLU) and I never got drunk before I was 24.

          The kind of stuff we did for fun was pretty innocent. I distinctly remember going through phone books to make crank calls. And it was dumb crank calls, too. I remember we called this one guy named Hans. My friend Bob sand into the phone, “Hans, Hans, Hans and feet, I have Hans and feet!” Then he hung up and we laughed for about an hour.

          That’s how bad we were!

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  6. Hey Mike, I am humbled. I only bought “The Last Command” by WASP because it was the first album I knew of to have the label on it. Back in the 80s, music seemed to be blamed for everything and what was worse, people bought this shit. The religious right in America at the time didn’t help. I mean one of the criteria expected of a new convert to Jesus was to destroy their record collection

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    1. What happens in America tends to leak into Canada… we experienced this to a lesser degree. When I was in grade school it was assumed I was a satan-worshipping drug addict because of my Judas Priest shirt, which I mistakenly decided to wear on the first day of grade 8. Not a good idea.

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  7. I was in Iowa for a family reunion years ago and bought the Matrix Reloaded soundtrack. The whole damn thing was “clean.” Every time Marilyn Manson goes to say “motherfucking” the song sounds like it is in reverse, and the line “new shit” becomes “new it.” All censorship does is piss musicians off and challenge them to make even more “offensive” material. LOL

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    1. Yeah — there are many albums from the past that were censored and not even listed. I was REALLY pissed when I got Warrant’s Cherry Pie album, only to find the song Train Train was censored! Where he says, “All a-fucking-board!” it was beeped and I was pissed, it was completely unmarked.

      I have the uncensored today, which contains a bonus track called “Ode To Tipper Gore” and it’s nothing but swearing!

      Liked by 1 person

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