PMRC

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.

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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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REVIEW: Styx – Kilroy Was Here (1983)

“I am the modren man…”

STYX FRONT

STYX – Kilroy Was Here (1983 A&M Records)

I was just 11 years old when I first heard of Kilroy.

Allan Runstedtler at school had it first.  He was always talking about it…this cool song called “Mr. Roboto”.  This album where the songs all told a story.  It had robots in it, it was an album with pictures and a story…not unlike those Star Wars story soundtracks we used to listen to.  In hindsight it seems obvious that Kilroy Was Here was my gateway drug to rock music.

I went over to Allan’s house, with my little Fisher-Price mono tape deck, as he put Kilroy Was Here on the hi-fi.  I hit “record” and we all quietly left the living room…so as to not disturb the open air recording.  Only once did we step downstairs, but this was only to flip sides on the LP and cassette.

You can see why it was so appealing.  The robots didn’t look that dissimilar from the childhood classic film The Black Hole, plus there were robot vocals on the song, but it wasn’t guitar heavy or threatening.  It was catchy though, “Mr. Roboto” being the song that hooked us in.  We had the lyrics completely memorized (the handy lyric sheet was a revelation to us) and could sing any part of the song by heart.

With the benefit of hindsight, “Mr. Roboto” todays sounds quaint, a harmless boppy synth radio hit nothing like the Styx that emerged onto the scene over a decade earlier.  Dennis DeYoung’s vocals are all spellbinding as ever, the man as identifiable on this as he was on “Lady”.  Where’s the guitars from Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young?  I’m really not sure.  There are a few things here and there, fuzzy buzzy melodies that might well be guitars.  Only once in a while in the course of a 5-minute-plus song can you really hear any sort of instrument that wasn’t programmed or played with keys!

Tommy’s “Cold War” was another upbeat one we liked as kids, and yes you can hear some guitar in the intro and chorus.  There’s even a solo!  Otherwise, it’s just a dreadful synth pop piece, with loads of those annoying synth-claps and other assorted sounds that are supposed to sound like percussion.  Tommy plays a character named Jonathan Chance on this album, and “Cold War” reads like a manifesto from that character.

STYX INNER

The album came with a story, so it was quite easy to break it down and figure out what was happening.  It’s a dystopian tale, and the setting is…”the future”. Dr. Righteous (James Young) has risen to power, using a clever manipulation of media and government.  Rock N’ Roll music…is banned!  Robert Kilroy (DeYoung), a legendary rock musician, is jailed for a murder he did not commit.  But Jonathan Chance (Shaw), a young rebel hoping to bring back Rock N’ Roll, is using Kilroy’s image and music as a rallying cry for his cause.  One night Kilroy escapes prison, and disguises himself as a “Roboto”, the labor robots pervasive in this future world.

Got all that?

Drummer John Panozzo is credited as a character named “Col. Hyde”, and bassist Chuck Panozzo as “Lt. Vanish”.  I have no idea who those people are supposed to be.  There was a minifilm that went with the album and tour, and opened the live shows.  It’s incredibly funny and campy, the Styx version of the Star Wars Holiday Special.

“Don’t Let It End”, a DeYoung ballad is a song we always skipped as kids.  I played the ballads maybe once the whole time I owned the album!  But it’s actually a pretty good tune, and you can see why it was a hit.  This is followed by “High Time” with DeYoung, introducing the character of Dr. Righteous:

“I flip the switch on my laser video,
And there’s the man staring back at me,
He starts to speak in a voice so righteous,
About the sins of society”

It’s a fun song, upbeat, very showtune-y, with DeYoung having a chance to cut loose a bit.  It’s alright, and it sounds like the horn section are real horns, not some synth.

JY gets to be the one to bring the rock on “Heavy Metal Poisoning”.  In this song, Dr. Righteous takes to the airwaves with the ironically hardest rocking song on the album.

What the Devil’s going on?
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more!

We were always amused by Dr. Righteous using heavy metal music as his musical vehicle to attack heavy metal music, and wondered if there was a hidden message there?  Something about hypocrisy.  Righteous complains that rock and roll will lead to sex and drugs, while punishing his guitar with some seriously heavy riffing and a smoking solo.  Unfortunately, some goofy keyboard bits detract from the song and keep it from being a pure heavy rocker.

“Just Get Through This Night” is a ballad we skipped as kids, but in retrospect this is a great dramatic ballad.  Tommy wrote this one, a long, atmospheric meandering 6 minute piece that would have been too long to hold our kiddie attention span anyway.   Even though it didn’t do anything for us as kids, it stands as one of the bright spots on an album that so often just gets too goofy.  Tommy’s guitar solo, recorded backwards, is a highlight on this song.

Our second-favourite song was next: “Double Life” written and sung by JY.  It’s certainly one of the highlights on the album, a menacing, dark stomp with the synths this time supporting rather than fighting the song.  No idea how this fits into the story, but who cares!

Tommy’s final ballad, “Haven’t We Been Here Before” is kinda skip-worthy, although it’s nice when Dennis accompanies him on the chorus.  There’s also a nice harmony guitar solo, but loaded down with effects, blunting its edge.  Fortunately, the album ends with “Don’t Let It End (reprise)” which is actually a reprise of “Mr. Roboto”, but with Tommy singing and more guitars.  The album ends on a bright note, as Jonathan Chance seemingly takes the mantel of rock leadership from Kilroy, vowing to keep Rock N’ Roll alive!  Then Dennis comes in, doing his old rocker schtick, sending up Elvis, Little Richard and many more, and that’s the album.  Great finish.

I think if we were to discuss this album in 1983, I would have raved and rated it 4/5 stars.  I also probably would have overused the words “awesome” and “cool-a-mundo”.  That was 30 years ago…man.  That’s a long, long time.  Listening to it now…

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Cinderella – Once Around the Ride…Then & Now (promo, inc. Heartbreak Station)

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I’m going to be covering more of my rarities in 2013.  This is part 2 of today’s Cinderella feature.  For part 1, a more comprehensive review of the Heartbreak Station CD, click Tommy Morais’ review here!

This Cinderella compilation is a rare promo.  Don’t know what a promo CD is?  Watch the educational video below starring yours truly!

Record Store Tales Part 117:  Promos

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CINDERELLA – Once Around the Ride…Then & Now (Promotional only, 1990 Polygram)

This is a really, really cool package.  Two discs:  Then… and Now…, showcasing the absolute best of Cinderella up to 1990, including two rare live bonus tracks.

Somewhat predictably, Then… is a greatest hits set from the first two records.  Five tunes from Night Songs, six from Long Cold Winter, which I rated 4.5/5 in a recent review.  Then, the aforementioned two bonus tracks:  “Shake Me” and “Night Songs”, performed live.  “Night Songs” was one that I owned previously on a rare Polygram compilation from ’92 called Welcome To The Jungle.  From what I can tell, these two tracks are originally from a 1987 European release called The Live EP, and it appears they’ve been recycled as bonus tracks on several items since, including a promo Kiss single for “Any Way You Slice It”!

Interestingly, the back cover states that the two bonus tracks are from a forthcoming EP also called Night Songs, an EP I’ve never seen or heard of before or since.

The tracks chosen are pretty much the tunes that anybody would have chosen given a compilation like this:  All the singles, and a selection of kickass album tracks such as “Night Songs”, “Fallin’ Apart At The Seams”, and “Push, Push”.  As a Cinderella collection of the early stuff, this is about as perfect a compilation as it gets.  As far as I’m concerned the only track it’s really missing is the awesome “Take Me Back” from Long Cold Winter, a great tune that would have made a perfect single.

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The second disc, Now… is the entire Heartbreak Station album (review here) from start to finish.  It even comes with the full booklet for Heartbreak Station, so this is how I chose to buy the album.  Heartbreak Station is another fantastic, underrated Cinderalla album.   It was clear from Long Cold Winter that the band was interested in exploring their underappreciated blues roots.   On Heartbreak Station, they ditched the glam and went full bore into those roots.

The opening track “The More Things Change” is aptly titled, but is actually the track most like their past work.  “Love’s Got Me Doin’ Time” is nothing but pure funky goodness, a completely unexpected twist.  The horn-laden “Shelter Me” was the first single (remember Little Richard in the video?), a really cool soul rock song.  The lyrics were totally on-trend in the wake of the fresh Judas Priest trial, a rant on Tipper Gore and the PMRC!

Tipper led the war against the record industry,
She said she saw the devil on her MTV

Sharp minded readers will remember that Tipper was prompted to start the PMRC when her kid was terrified by Tom Petty’s video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” on MTV!

I love Little Richard.

The centerpiece of the album is the title track, with strings by John Paul Jones.  The band were dissatisfied that they had to use synth on the previous album’s hit, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”.  John Paul Jones lent the band some serious credibility.  The song is a lush, sullen ballad with an incredible slide solo.  I remember some video channels played it under the wrong name back in ’91.  They were calling the song “The Last Train”.

Other winners:  The totally country-fied “One For Rock & Roll”, with loads of steel guitar, dobro, and 12 string.  The electrified “Love Gone Bad”, which also hearkens back to the Long Cold Winter sound in a powerful way.  “Dead Man’s Road”, which is a haunting, slow dark rocker with loads of acoustics.  Really, there are only a couple filler songs on the whole album.

This isn’t a cheap compilation to find today, but if you do happen upon it, pick it up.  It’s a collectible now, but not just that, it’s one you’ll actually play!

5/5 stars