To be clear, Tom already knew about the Filthy Fifteen, since he has worked in the music industry for some time. I didn’t. When I actually reviewed the songs in question, I didn’t understand why they had been selected or what the PRMC (Parents Resource Musical Center) was all about. But in the end, the PRMC was way more jacked up than any of the songs they went after, and several rather basic truths became apparent when you examine the story of the Filthy Fifteen.
It all began when Tipper Gore brought Prince’s Purple Rain album for her 11 year old daughter. She was entering her daughter’s room when Prince infamous ‘Darling Nicky’ began to play. (Lousy timing for the kid, BTW). Panicking, she called Susan Baker (wife of the treasury secretary) who had just caught her 7 year old with a Madonna album and wasn’t too happy about it. They called other housewives, including Sally Nevius (wife of DC’s City Council chair) and Pam Howar (wife of a powerful realtor) and they too were unhappy with the musical landscape. Gore tried to return the record, but the store would take it back because it had already been opened.
So she did what any concerned mother would do. She listened to her kid’s albums before she handed them over to her minor children and got her pedicure every Thursday. Business as usual.
Just kidding. She formed an advocacy group to try to change the entire music industry, because that is a normal and proportional response. And so began years of legal battles, controversy, and eventually infamy.
(Photo from drunkleather, another wordpress blog, BTW)
One of the reasons, the Filthy Fifteen is so odd is that some of the songs are rather mild, even in their own time. They certainly weren’t the best songs to underline the PRMC’s point to indicate that the industry needed change. That’s because Tipper Gore didn’t actually do any research. Gore watched MTV for a few hours, and that was enough for her… and the reason the list is so random. None of these women actually knew what they were talking about, and they weren’t exactly inclined to ask for input.
Which lead to the next problem. The stuff the PRMC was asking for was utterly impossible to comply, mostly because none of the wives knew anything about the music business. It is difficult to successfully legislate an industry when you don’t know anything about it, and don’t ask people that do. The PRMC wanted a rating system for albums… and live concerts, although I have no idea how you rate something that hasn’t happened yet. They wanted song lyrics to be printed on the cover of albums which is an insane idea. They wanted albums with explicit covers to be kept under the store counters, because apparently stores have infinite counter space, I guess. They wanted record companies to terminate the contracts of artists who did objectionable things onstage at live concerts, because – blargle!
Another problem was that the PRMC had no idea how to interpret any song. Gore thought that Twisted Sister song “Under the Blade” was about rape and S&M. It was about Dee Snider’s scheduled surgery. Out of Rick James entire repertoire, the PRMC fingered the Mary Jane Girls “In My House,” for sexual content, but the song was not about sex at all. In the end John Denver testified before Congress that the proposed censorship wouldn’t work because people keep misinterpreting an artist’s songs… and the PRMC fell right in his hands.
To boot, this was probably a political hustle to find a platform for a young Al Gore to get a shot at the Presidency, or at least that’s what several of the persecuted musicians thought. But we know that Al Gore wouldn’t misrepresent a real problem just to make himself more prominent. Now what’s this about global warming?
Perhaps the most bitter irony of all, is that the PRMC played right into the RIAA’s hands. The RIAA already had research that kids would buy more albums if you put warning labels on them. As soon the PRMC got their way and got Parental Advisory stickers put on albums, heavy metal sales went through the roof, and those albums were bought by the white suburban kids that the PRMC was trying to protect. Content became coarser as well, because once the sticker was on your album, you could literally say whatever you wanted to now. Simultaneously, the RIAA was able to get a tax on blank cassettes and eventually blank CDS passed through Congress while everyone was focused on the PRMC. Tipper Gore ended up costing you a lot of money.
(Sidebar: You know all the money the music industry says they lose on piracy? Yeah. They’ve been getting money on every CD sold, even though blank CDs are mostly used in the computer industry, and they got that specifically to offset their losses from domestic piracy even though the overwhelming majority of piracy occurs in Asia. They told Congress if they got that money, they wouldn’t have to take such lousy deals from artists)
The one person the most responsible for all this was Tipper Gore. And Tipper ignored bands she liked. Tipper Gore was a rock drummer, and a huge Grateful Dead fan, in fact she played drums onstage at a “The Dead” gig. Funny thing is, few groups have ever advocated and spread the use of recreational drugs more than the Grateful Dead did. She ignored popular groups of her generation to attack newer ones that she didn’t personally like. In case of Tea Party like myopia, she lamented the innocent days of her childhood with “I Love Lucy,” and “Twist and Shout.” Apparently she had never heard of any off-color rock, blues or swing music growing up in an upper middle class bubble in Northern Virginia (traditionally among the wealthiest areas in the country.)
But it was all for the kids, right? In the end, I suspect that three generations of broken marriages (Tipper’s parents, her marriage to Al Gore, and 3 of her 4 children’s marriages) would cause more trauma than one or two dated eighties records.
And so, in the end, the music industry became uglier, consumers were shaken down, artists got cheated, and all because one bored housewife didn’t like a Prince CD she hadn’t researched before giving to a minor. And that is the horrifying true story of the Filthy Fifteen.