The History of the PMRC
It started with a song. The song was Prince’s “Darling Nikki.” And the PMRC was born when the Purple One’s lyrics “I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend/ I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine,” drifted from the stereo belonging to Tennessee Senator Al Gore, his wife Tipper and their 12-year-old daughter Karenna, for whom Tipper had purchased the record.
Tipper was shocked at what she heard, particularly as there was no intimation on Purple Rain’s cover - aside perhaps from Prince’s suggestive leer - that there was "filth" inside. So in May 1984, she founded the Parents’ Music Resource Center along with other Washington wives to inform parents on how dubious material was being marketed to their kids. The goal was to advise the recording industry to monitor their artistic product.
To that end, the group isolated a list dubbed the filthy fifteen of songs with questionable lyrical content, and applied labels to each song according to subject matter. They suggested that rock music was responsible for the rising rate of rape and suicide among those between the ages of 16 and 24. Their media-friendly crusade quickly graduated to the Senate.
In a series of government hearings, the PMRC advocated printing lyrics on album covers; keeping explicit sleeves under the counter with the Redd Foxx albums; urging broadcasters to avoid airing “questionable talent;” reassessing the contracts of artists who sang about sex, suicide, Satanism and the like; and most controversially of all, a labeling system of warning stickers on records with suspect content.
Frank Zappa, John Denver and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider were the unlikely trio who opposed the PMRC’s aims, arguing that it would lead to industry-wide censorship. The Camelot retail chain said they would not carry records that bore the so-called “Tipper stickers.” But the music industry bowed to the outcry and in 1990 began voluntarily putting parental advisory stickers on offending albums.
Zappa’s Jazz from Hell
earned the distinction of being the first instrumental album to get a label. Rap artists like N.W.A. and Ice T reveled in the outlaw status (and platinum sales) a Tipper sticker seemed to guarantee. Tipper Gore resigned from the PMRC in 1992 after Al entered the White House as vice-president. And as far as we know, “Darling Nikki” has never been heard in the Lincoln Bedroom.
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