By Jennifer Cabaniss
August 1985, 19 record companies agreed to put "Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics" labels
on albums to warn of explicit lyrical content.
However, before the labels could be put into place, the Senate agreed to hold a hearing on so-called "porn rock".
This began on 19 September 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
Paula Hawkins presented three record covers (Pyromania by Def Leppard, W.O.W. by Wendy O. Williams and Animal
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
In addition, Dr. Joe Stuessy, a 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
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 interpretational and enforcemental
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."
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 John 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". 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 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