The 1980s were a curious time for music. It was one of the most creative and cool times ever for all kinds of music from Rock, Heavy metal, Pop, Hip-Hop, and Dance Music. Art and music is an expression of society and what people are feeling, and rarely just artists pushing their opinions on fans. But forces were aligning against personal freedom, especially in the United States Government and the Parents Music Resource Center (The P.M.R.C.) led by Tipper Gore, wife of Senator and later Vice President Al Gore; Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker; Pam Howar, wife of Washington realtor Raymond Howar; and Sally Nevius, wife of former Washington City Council Chairman John Nevius.
One of the PMRC’s lasting legacies was a list of songs they wanted to ban – “The Filthy 15”, which included some of the biggest names in Rock and Metal (Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, WASP, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Venom) Popstars (Madonna, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Sheena Easton) and more. Topics of sex, violence, drugs, Satan, and more were not new to music, in fact, they have existed in popular music, including Classical music, for 1000s of years. Taken out of context, any lyrics can be interpreted in an offensive way. They may not be for every sensibility but surely didn’t need to be banned from music.
A senate hearing was held on September, 19th 1985, 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 content.” to determine if the music was detrimental to the youth of America and the public in general. They wanted to at best label this dangerous music, and at best ban it entirely.
Appearing to defend music and freedom were Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, who notably destroyed the opposing arguments with a brilliant missive on freedom and the subjective nature of musical taste and lyrical interpretation, preserving our rights. Dee, Frank, and John were all heroes that day, and even though Parental Advisory stickers became a thing on Metal and Rap albums shortly thereafter, meeting these forces on their home turf and eloquently defending our rights, they ensured future generations could enjoy music and decide for themselves what was harmful or not. Although their labels became commonplace and teens may have found barriers to purchasing the music, one could argue the labels had an opposite effect, and albums with labels, especially Death Metal and Rap sold even better than ones without. This Is still an issue today as some other countries band music, large chain stores won’t cover certain albums and artwork, and even Spotify (not an American company) won’t allow Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” on their platform.
We interviewed Dee recently on the anniversary of the hearings and he spoke at length about the Senate hearings, the PMRC, and the lasting effect of his speech on his career. The lasting effect, personally to Dee and Twisted sister is now “We’re Not Gonna Take It” has become a beloved American rock song, used in Television Commercials, and even a Christmas song. Dee said perfectly at the time “This wasn’t a good move for my career. But, I wanted to show the world that metal is not stupid, it’s not accidental. It’s important.”
Thank you Dee. Thank you, heroes.