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PMRC’s ‘Filthy 15’: Where Are They Now?

Three decades after W.A.S.P., Vanity, Judas Priest, Prince, Madonna and others shocked Tipper Gore and her committee, Rolling Stone takes a critical look at 1985’s worst of the worst

PMRC

Protesters attend the PMRC Senate hearing in 1985. Here, Rolling Stone evaluates each of the so-called "Filthy 15" songs the committee compiled that year.

Mark "Weissguy" Weiss

In the past year, Tove Lo's hit "Talking Body" found her singing, "We fuck for life," Big Sean got on the radio with "I Don't Fuck With You" and Macklemore's "Thrift Shop," in which he raps about purchasing a blanket with the sole intention of ejaculating on it, continues to get airplay. So what is today's litmus test for obscenity?

Thirty years ago, a committee known as the Parents Music Resource Center made a playlist of what it deemed the most offensive music at the time, including songs by megastars like Madonna and Prince and culty underground metal groups like Venom and Mercyful Fate. The list, dubbed the "Filthy 15," was to serve as an example of how the PMRC thought albums should be "rated," in a way similar to the MPAA. But instead of issuing general "PG" and "R" designations, the committee — on which former Second Lady Tipper Gore famously served — suggested content-based ratings: "X" for profane or sexually explicit lyrics, "O" for occult references, "D/A" for lyrics about drugs and alcohol and "V" for violent content.

Ultimately, the Record Industry Association of America convinced labels to affix potentially offensive albums with the warning stickers the world has grown to love: "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics." At the time, record-stickering became such a talking point that the Senate's Committee on Commerce held a hearing on the "Contents of Music and the Lyrics of Records," at which Frank Zappa, John Denver and Twisted Sister's Dee Snider testified. The musicians were worried that stickering would lead to record stores refusing to carry albums, a fact that came true with Walmart.

The 30th anniversary of the hearing is this weekend, so Rolling Stone has revisited each of the so-called Filthy 15 songs to see what was so objectionable about them in the first place, and to find out what became of the music industry's onetime pariahs. Many of the artists, including Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., Vanity, Mary Jane Girls and Black Sabbath, were eager to offer their thoughts on what it all means now.

Judas Priest

Judas Priest, circa mid-Eighties.

Paul Natkin/WireImage/Getty

Judas Priest, “Eat Me Alive”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit

Explicit Lyrics: "Groan in the pleasure zone/Gasping from the heat … /I'm gonna force you at gunpoint/To eat me alive … /Squealing in passion as the rod steel injects."

Judas Priest Then: By 1984, the heavy-metal trailblazers, who pioneered headbangers' leather biker look, were at their peak. Since the release of their 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla, they'd issued one genre-defining album after another, earning gold records for 1980's British Steel and 1984's Defenders of the Faith, which contained the charging BDSM-themed "Eat Me Alive," and a platinum plaque for 1982's Screaming for Vengeance. They'd even scored a rare spot on the Hot 100 in 1982 with "You've Got Another Thing Comin'." With Black Sabbath in a fractured state at the time and Led Zeppelin over, by 1984 Judas Priest had become metal's most prominent elder statesmen.

What They Said Then: "We agree that certain guidelines are important, I don't really feel that we as a band have done anything that can be misconstrued as harmful or damaging," frontman Rob Halford said in 1986. "God forbid, we should ever want to do that. That would end our career overnight."

After the PMRC: The group's 1986 album, Turbo, featured a tune called "Parental Guidance," which contained the lyrics "Don't you remember what it's like to lose control?/Put on my jacket before you get too old … /We don't need no parental guidance."

What They Say Now: "I love 'Eat Me Alive,'" Halford tells Rolling Stone. "We did that song on the Metal Masters tour in 2008. It's a great song. For me it was a fun S&M, rock, sex song. But the PMRC twisted it into some kind of snuff song, which is ridiculous. The PMRC's suggestion of giving people some guidance was OK to me. It was just common sense from my perspective for young kids at the time. But the fact that there was this scary political screaming and yelling and shouting at the forefront was smothering the whole message. It was like, 'God this is just so stupid.' The heart of the message is a valuable idea, but all of the other extraneous screaming and yelling — 'Bands are out to kill your kids' — and the telethon Christians, adding that extremism in the mix with crazy people. Crazy people diluted the message.

"We wrote 'Parental Guidance' and 'Private Property' after all of that. Priest has never been that kind of a band, but they kind of forced our hand in that respect, you know? 'We don't need no parental guidance.' What we were saying was just what the younger fans were saying: 'Your mom and your dad don't like your music; they never have and they never will.' We're on your side as it was then and I think to some extent how it is now."

motley crue

Mötley Crüe, circa mid-Eighties.

Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty

Mötley Crüe, “Bastard”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Violent

Explicit Lyrics: "Out go the lights, in goes my knife/Pull out his life, consider that bastard dead"

Mötley Crüe Then: A few years after emerging from L.A.'s Sunset Strip with teased hair, makeup and platform shoes, the group had become glam-metal's sleazy messiahs, unapologetically having sex with groupies, doing any kind of drug and carrying on like hell-spawn incarnate, all the while singing about their exploits. After Mötley Crüe released their sophomore LP, 1983's gritty Shout at the Devil, they quickly became superstars, thanks to heavy MTV support and singles like "Too Young to Fall in Love" and "Looks That Kill." The record, which had gone double platinum by the time the PMRC formed, also contained the driving deep cut "Bastard," which the committee felt warranted placement on its Filthy 15.

What They Said Then: "I'm not a parent," bassist and "Bastard" composer Nikki Sixx told Rolling Stone in 1987. "I don't want to tell kids what to do … I've always thought of us as the psychiatrists of rock & roll because the kids come to see us, get all this anxiety and pent-up aggression out. That hour and a half is theirs. No one can take it away. No parent can tell them to turn it down."

After the PMRC: Tipper Gore reportedly praised the group's "Smokin' in the Boys Room" video, released in 1985, for showing the group's bad-boy image without resorting to depicting their real-life off-screen antics. By 1986, they'd co-opted record-stickering as a marketing tactic, releasing a "special limited-edition X-rated package" version of their single "Girls, Girls, Girls." The album Girls, Girls, Girls, with songs referencing murder and strippers, also became one of the band's best-selling records. The Crüe became one of metal's biggest bands with 1989's Dr. Feelgood and is currently on its final tour.

What They Say Now: "Once you put that sticker on, that parental-warning sticker, that album took off," singer Vince Neil said in 2001. "Those kids wanted it even more."

Prince

Prince, circa mid-Eighties.

Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty

Prince, “Darling Nikki”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit

Explicit 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"

Prince Then: At the peak of his purple majesty, Prince was ubiquitous in 1985. He'd scored big hits with a string of albums including Prince, Dirty Mind, Controversy and 1999, and in the summer of 1984, he made his big-screen debut in the box-office smash Purple Rain. In the movie, Prince's character — the Kid — freaks out upon learning that his girlfriend was working with his rival, Morris Day, hits her and writes the overtly sexual song "Darling Nikki" to humiliate her onstage. Out of context, when Tipper Gore's 11-year-old daughter brought the record home, the lyrics prompted the activist to want to inform parents of albums' content, leading her to cofound the PMRC.

What He Said Then: "A lot of people have the idea that I'm a wild sexual person … To some degree I am, but not 24 hours a day," Prince told Rolling Stone in 1985. "Nobody can be what they are 24 hours a day, no matter what that is."

After the PMRC: Purple Rain became an enduring hit and, as of 1996, was certified 13-times platinum. The singer-songwriter subsequently chalked up nearly two dozen gold and platinum records since then, having recently released Hit n Run. The now infamous "Darling Nikki" has gone on to be covered by Foo Fighters, Rihanna and even comedian Maya Rudolph. Prince said he became a Jehovah's Witness in 2001 and said he would stop using profanities in his lyrics, and he dropped "Darling Nikki" from his set list for a spell. But after reintegrating it back into concerts in 2007, it became a staple of his 2011 tour, and he has been performing it at concerts this year.

What He Says Now: "Times were different back then," Prince told The Washington Post in 2004 about why he wasn't performing "Darling Nikki" at the time or cursing in his songs. "I wouldn't stand out today if I was brand-new and came like that. But see, back then nobody else was doing that, and I knew that would get me over. I didn't dress like anybody, I didn't look like anybody, I didn't sound like anybody. We still try to do that."

sheena Easton

Sheena Easton, circa mid-Eighties.

Richard E. Aaron/Redfern/Getty

Sheena Easton, “Sugar Walls”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit

Explicit Lyrics: "Blood races to your private spots/Lets me know there's a fire … /Come spend the night inside my sugar walls"

Sheena Easton Then: In her early twenties, Easton scored a Number One hit with her second single, the catchy, middle-of-the-road pop tune "Morning Train (Nine to Five)," and continued to notch adult-contemporary hits like "For Your Eyes Only," "You Could Have Been With Me" and her duet with Kenny Rogers, "We've Got Tonight." But on her 1984 album, A Private Heaven, she adopted a sexier look and sang a song by an admittedly sex-obsessed songwriter, Prince. The song, "Sugar Walls," for which Prince was credited as Alexander Nevermind, found her alluding to sexual arousal and earning a Top 10 single.

What She Said Then: "You think of rock & roll, it's just from the heart … and if you feel sexy and raw and raunchy, be you male or female, doing any particular performance or song, then that's what you do," Easton said in 1985. "We are not embarrassed to be sexy when we want to be. Men have never had to apologize for being sexy. Artists are just saying, 'Hey, lighten up. Get off our case. This is what art's all about, it's being free. And if you don't like it, then tune in to something else. Go watch the news and watch violence if you don't like sexuality.'"

After the PMRC: Despite its ostensibly suggestive title, her Nile Rodgers–produced 1985 album, Do You, found Easton returning to safer territory, though she'd dabble in R&B toward the end of the decade. She also sang Prince-composed tunes again with 1987's "Eternity" and 1988's "101," earning a Number Two dance track but no notoriety for the latter track; Prince also invited her to share vocal duties on his 1987 hit "U Got the Look." Her last big hit was 1988's dancey "The Lover in Me," which was co-written in part by L.A. Reid and Babyface. Easton's most recent LP, Fabulous, came out in 2000, though she continues to perform live. For one upcoming concert, she'll be singing James Bond hits (hers was "For Your Eyes Only") with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

What She Says Now: "My feelings were then, and remain now, that every parent has the right to filter the content that their children are exposed to," Easton told Billboard earlier this year. "If [parents] felt that 'Sugar Walls' was inappropriate for their kids to listen to, they were well within their rights to make that clear. Adults, on the other hand, are free to choose what they want. It did not offend me that some people didn't want their kids listening to 'Sugar Walls' at all. I believe the track found its intended audience."

W.A.S.P

W.A.S.P., circa mid-Eighties.

Mark "Weissguy" Weiss

W.A.S.P., “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit

Explicit Lyrics: "I got pictures of naked ladies lying on my bed … /I'm making artificial love for free/I start to howl in heat/I fuck like a beast"

W.A.S.P. Then: By the early 1980s, shock rock was in an odd place. Alice Cooper had gone new-wave and Kiss were taking off their makeup. So a group of L.A. metalheads seized the day along with their buzzsaw codpieces and formed W.A.S.P., a group whose name was an acronym for "we are sexual perverts." Frontman Blackie Lawless has described their early shows as psychodrama, in which he drank "blood" from a human skull, threw meat into the audience and tortured semi-nude women on stakes as part of the show. The group introduced itself to the world with the lascivious, howling 1984 single "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)," which was available only as an import after Capitol refused to include it on the group's self-titled debut. It eventually got a domestic release, which the PMRC found and exploited as porn rock. Both W.A.S.P.'s first album and 1985 follow-up, The Last Command, went gold the month after the record-labeling hearings; neither album contained the song at the time.

What They Said Then: "I think we've created quite a bit of a controversy here lately," Blackie Lawless told a screaming Montreal audience in 1986 while introducing "Sex Drive." "I've been reading a lot in the newspapers and the magazines about me and my boys here. You know what they say about us? They say that we are sexual perverts [rim shot]. They say that W.A.S.P. are a parent's worst nightmare. Have you ever heard the expression, this one's for you? Well, this is for Tipper Gore and all the rest of the fuckin' PMRC."

After the PMRC: The band went through a number of lineup changes throughout the rest of the Eighties, though they stuck to their guns with presenting controversial stage shows. W.A.S.P.'s fourth album, 1989's The Headless Children, which contained their hit cover of the Who's "The Real Me," was both their highest-charting album on the Billboard 200 and last to make onto the chart. The group has consistently put out records since then, and its most recent – Golgotha – is due out next month. Frontman Blackie Lawless became a born-again Christian.

What They Say Now: "At the time, to have a female senator hold up a picture of my crotch in front of the Congress of the United States made me ask myself, 'Are you kidding me? I'm just some kid in a rock & roll band. Do these guys have nothing better to do with our tax money?'" Lawless tells Rolling Stone. "But now being a born-again Christian, I've not played that song for almost 10 years.

"Knowing what we know now, the PMRC should have stood for 'Politicians Masked as Reelection Campaigns,'" he continues. "It was Al Gore's 'Joe McCarthy moment.' I was supposed to have gone to the Senate committee hearings and I opted out three days before, on the advice of my label. I was with Frank Zappa the day after the hearings were over and he told me, 'Be glad you didn't go — it was a big dog-and-pony show.'

"Looking back, after all was said and done, more was said than done. Talking with Frank was interesting because he had seen this all before, back in the early Sixties. What I didn't understand at the time is that he was running interference for the rest of us. He had been through these 'witch hunts' before and although he didn't have a dog in the hunt as far as a record goes, he understood how dangerous the idea of any suppression of free speech could be. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who didn't understand the magnitude of the seriousness. A few years later, I had a chance to thank him for it before he died. He just smiled graciously and nodded his head. He knew what he had done for us.

"As far as the PMRC having any real impact? Yeah, Al sold out to Al Jazeera and left a huge carbon footprint on Nashville before he and Tipper divorced. Talk about an inconvenient truth."

Mercyful Fate

King Diamond, circa mid-Eighties.

Mark "Weissguy" Weiss

Mercyful Fate, “Into the Coven”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Occult

Explicit Lyrics: "Come, come into my coven/And become Lucifer's child"

Mercyful Fate Then: If W.A.S.P. were the United States' heavy-metal answer to the shock-rock void, Mercyful Fate were Denmark's. To accompany frontman King Diamond's helium-pitched vocals about Satan and the band's muscular riffing, they used human bones as props onstage and blew up a nun dummy as part of their concerts. Moreover, King Diamond's satanic dogma would inspire legions of extreme-metal bands to flirt with demonic imagery on both sides of the Atlantic. They issued two highly influential albums in the Eighties, their 1983 debut Melissa, which contained the heavy "Into the Coven," and 1984's Don't Break the Oath. Metallica would later record a medley of their songs for their covers album Garage Inc.

What They Said Then: "I know people like to be scared just a little bit and they like that because they go watching all the horror movies," he said circa 1987. "People don't like our lyrics because it says Satan on it, but they go and watch Halloween, so why don't they just accept our lyrics? … Just take it as horror stories, that's all."

After the PMRC: The group disbanded of its own accord in 1985, as Diamond, guitarist Michael Denner and bassist Timi Hansen formed a solo band under the name King Diamond. Although those sidemen would later leave, King Diamond enjoyed a fruitful career as a cult artist, releasing albums that charted decently in the Billboard 200 through the rest of the Eighties. Mercyful Fate re-formed in 1992 and recorded a handful of albums before King Diamond decided to focus on his solo career again in 1999. Mercyful Fate guitarists Michael Denner and Hank Shermann are releasing their first collaborative album, Satan's Tomb, on October 2nd. King Diamond will be embarking on a fall tour, on which he'll be playing his solo album Abigail, around Halloween.

What They Say Now: "It's seems funny, because today what people are writing about makes those times seem so quaint," King Diamond tells Rolling Stone. "Even back then, we didn't think what we were writing about was very 'extreme.' I think we were on tour in '85, and we saw an article with us listed in USA Today and we were all like, 'Whoa, wow, someone is writing about us — we can't believe it. We barely set foot in the U.S., and we're already that big.' Then we realized it was a sort of shit list, and the whole thing was just pathetic. We thought they must be really bored to have time for this. How they saw those songs said more about them than it did about us — they had some really perverted minds. It was funny, ridiculous, surprising. Thanks for the promotion, Tipper!

"The 'Parental Advisory' sticker never served as a warning, but more as a stamp of approval that kids ended up looking for in record stores," he continues. "I remember with Abigail, we didn't know much about how things worked in the U.S., and we jokingly gave the finger on a picture on the inside of the sleeve of the vinyl, and it got rejected and we had to redo it with a new picture. That kind of thing mattered, because you risked not getting picked up by a distributor."

Vanity

Vanity, circa mid-Eighties.

Mark "Weissguy" Weiss

Vanity, “Strap On ‘Robbie Baby'”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit

Explicit Lyrics: "Come on and stroke me/Strap this thing on tight/If you want to glide down my hallway, it's open/Strap yourself in and ride"

Vanity Then: After Denise Matthews met Prince at the American Music Awards in 1980, the future "Darling Nikki" singer appointed her frontwoman of a girl group he eventually named Vanity 6 (after she refused to let him rename her "Vagina"). Prince wrote most of the songs on Vanity 6's 1982 self-titled debut, including the hit "Nasty Girl," and produced the LP. She was originally supposed to play Prince's love interest in Purple Rain, but she severed ties with the singer before filming, telling People, "I needed one person to love me, and he needed more." She put out her first solo album, Wild Animal, in 1984, which contained the suggestive "Strap On 'Robbie Baby'," a tune written by her then-boyfriend Robbie Bruce. In 1985, she posed nude for Playboy.

What She Said Then: "I put the sexual image of me in my music," she told The Associated Press in 1985. "My music is very sexual, so you could say I'm just putting all of me out there."

After the PMRC: Vanity put out another solo album, Skin on Skin, in 1986 and subsequently focused her attention on acting. In the Eighties, she was also linked romantically to Adam Ant, Billy Idol and her onetime fiancé Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx. She turned to Christianity and returned to her birth name, Denise Matthews, in the early Nineties after nearly dying from smoking cocaine. She told Joan Rivers she felt she was possessed by demons and that a friend had found her levitating three feet over a bed. Matthews has since become an evangelist and authored the memoir Blame It on Vanity. She now leads her own Pure Heart Ministries in Fremont, California. Matthews has distanced herself from her past and has not recorded any new albums, though Prince's 1994 album Come featured a 1983 recording of her moaning on his own song "Orgasm."

What She Says Now: "I was young and irresponsible, a silly woman laden with sin, not caring for anything except fame and fortune and self," she tells Rolling Stone. "But I have lived seeking truth in Jesus Christ and found it has made me free.

"According to God's word, we haven't done a very good job concerning our little ones, nor our teens," she continues. "I haven't given the song any thought [in many years]. I don't listen to my old music of Vanity's unless I have to hear it playing in a mall or something place like that. I sing to Jesus for Jesus now. This gives me pure joy … worship! I apologize profusely to those I have offended deeply a million times over."

Def Leppard

Def Leppard, circa mid-Eighties.

Mark "Weissguy" Weiss

Def Leppard, “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Drugs and alcohol

Explicit Lyrics: "Saturday, I feel right/I've been drinking all day … /I got my whiskey/I got my wine/I got my woman/And this time, the lights are going out"

Def Leppard Then: After emerging from the fabled New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene with a hard-edged sound in the late Seventies, Def Leppard refocused their sound for a little more commercial appeal and scored their first hit album in the States with 1981's High 'n' Dry. The record contained two hits that still get classic-rock airplay, "Let It Go" and the unstoppable "Bringin' on the Heartbreak," but it was the AC/DC-like drinking ode "High 'n' Dry (Saturday Night)" that earned them notoriety on the Filthy 15. By the time the PMRC had homed in on the song, though, Def Leppard were megastars, having recently seen High 'n' Dry's 1983 follow-up, Pyromania, certified six-times platinum.

What They Said Then: "[Party songs were] part of the entertainment," frontman Joe Elliott once said. "The kids like us to do that. We like to do it as well, but we don't write about it all the time. And a lot of people seem to think that's it, that we don't have opinions on anything else."

After the PMRC: The group went on to even more success. Their 1987 album, Hysteria, was certified 12 times platinum, and — after guitarist Steve Clark died of an alcohol and drug overdose in 1991 — their 1992 offering, Adrenalize, even withstood grunge's displacement of metal on radio, selling more than three million copies. In late October of this year, Def Leppard will release their 11th album, Def Leppard, for which they're already touring. The group still continues to perform "High 'n' Dry" in concert.

What They Say Now: "Dee Snider basically stood up for our rights as artists," Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen said in 2012. "He is an extremely intelligent and cool guy. This obviously upset those people with closed minds who in their ignorance expected him to turn up in his stage attire expecting him not to be able to tell the difference between entertainment and real life. His inclusion in this period of our history is momentous and really means a lot to all of us as artists."

Twisted Sister

Twisted Sister, circa mid-Eighties.

Mark "Weissguy" Weiss

Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Violent

Explicit Lyrics: "We'll fight the powers that be … /We're not gonna take it"

Twisted Sister Then: At the time of the record-labeling Senate hearing, androgynous headbangers Twisted Sister were at their commercial peak. After slugging it out in Long Island since the early Seventies, the group scored major hits with "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock," two songs off their third album, 1984's Stay Hungry. By the time of the hearing, the record had already gone double-platinum, thanks to humorous videos for those songs. Along with Frank Zappa and John Denver, the group's frontman, Dee Snider, was one of the three musicians who spoke at the hearing.

What They Said Then: "On this list is our song 'We're Not Gonna Take It,' upon which has been bestowed a 'V' rating, indicating violent lyrical content," Dee Snider said during testimony at the Senate hearing. "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 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 Road Runner–Wile E. Coyote theme. Each stunt was selected from my extensive personal collection of cartoons."

After the PMRC: Although Snider told the Senate he expected to be "well retired" by 1994 and spending more time with his children, Twisted Sister released two more albums before disbanding in 1989. Before the outfit regrouped in 1997, Snider formed a band called Widowmaker and began writing his first movie, 1998's Strangeland, which he also starred in. He has continued to act since then, appearing in the Broadway production Rock of Ages in 2010. Since Twisted Sister reunited, the group re-recorded many of their hits for an album called Still Hungry and holiday songs for A Twisted Christmas. The group's drummer, A.J. Pero, died while sleeping on a tour bus in March of this year, and the group has planned a farewell tour — dubbed "Forty and Fuck It" — for 2016 with former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy behind the kit.

What They Say Now: "Everything I represented, stood for and said back then, I have lived and stand by today," Snider tells Rolling Stone. "I stand by every word. As a parent, I monitored what my kids listened to. When my kids wanted to listen to Eminem, I listened to the album and talked about it with my kids and used it as a forum for discussion. And I practice self-censorship. When my own family got into Tenacious D, the first album, including my little daughter who was only eight, and I made a special tape for her without 'Fuck Her Gently' on it 'cause she wasn't ready for 'Fuck Her Gently.' But she clearly listened [to] 'Wonderboy' and the other songs her brothers were listening to. This is hands-on parenting and everything I stood for."

madonna

Madonna, circa mid-Eighties.

John Roca/NY Daily News Archive/Getty

Madonna, “Dress You Up”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit       

Explicit Lyrics: "Gonna dress you up in my love/All over your body"

Madonna Then: Thanks to MTV saturation and natural confidence, Madonna became a megastar almost immediately. By the time of the Senate hearing, Madonna's self-titled 1983 debut had gone double-platinum and her sophomore effort, 1985's little-record-that-could called Like a Virgin, was quintuple-platinum. She even had a gold home video. But the committee's selection of "Dress You Up," a single that's largely innocuous by Madonna standards (it's on an album called Like a Virgin!), seemed curious. Funnier still, the tune was written by what a local news report at the time described as "two New Jersey housewives."

What She Said Then: "I couldn’t be a success without also being a sex symbol," Madonna told Spin in 1985. "I'm sexy. How can I avoid it? That's the essence of me. I would have to have a bag over my head and over my body; but then my voice would come across, and it's sexy."

After the PMRC: The singer's inclusion on the Filthy 15 had no bearing whatsoever on her career. She sang about the joys of sex and female empowerment, and she branched out into the world of acting, appearing in Who's That Girl? In a surprising about-face, Tipper Gore even praised the singer's teen-mom drama "Papa, Don't Preach" in 1986 because, she told The New York Times, the tune "speaks to the fact that there's got to be more support and more communication in families about this problem, and anything that fosters that I applaud." Madonna put out her 13th album, Rebel Heart, this past March, and is currently supporting it on tour.

What She Says Now: "I like to provoke; it's in my DNA," Madonna wrote in a 2013 Bazaar op-ed. "But nine times out of 10, there's a reason for it."

cyndi lauper

Cyndi Lauper, circa mid-Eighties.

David Redfern/Redferns/Getty

Cyndi Lauper, “She Bop”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit

Explicit Lyrics: "I want to go south and get me some more … /They say I better stop or I'll go blind"

Cyndi Lauper Then: Fun-enthusiast Cyndi Lauper's 1983 solo debut, She's So Unusual, became a runaway success thanks to sharp hits like "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "True Colors" and a cover of Prince's "When You Were Mine"; lighthearted videos that featured wrestler "Captain" Lou Albano; and the singer's Betty Boop–like offstage spunk. The most unusual single, perhaps, though was an ode to masturbation, the incredibly catchy "She Bop," which became a Number Three hit. Its success helped She's So Unusual go quadruple-platinum by the time of the Senate hearing.

What She Said Then: "This song was very scandalous for me," Lauper told a Paris crowd jokingly in 1987. "It was scandal. I brought shame upon my family. I was accused of driving in the fast lane …. But anyway, the thing I thought of, I said, 'A bop a day keeps the doctor away,' and that's absolutely true. So I recommend it."

After the PMRC: Lauper released her follow-up, True Colors, in September 1986, which contained the title track, a Number One hit, and eventually went double-platinum. She notched her last big radio hit in the U.S. ("I Drove All Night") in 1989, when she put out A Night to Remember; that same year, the "She Bop" single went gold. Since then, Lauper has consistently put out new records, the most recent of which was 2010's Memphis Blues. She also branched out into acting, often portraying herself on shows like Queer as Folk and 30 Rock, and most recently, she wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, which won the Tony for Best Musical in 2013.

What She Says Now: "It's one thing to make that kind of [music]," she told Vulture in 2010, in the context of what her then-preteen son listened to. "But if they're going to play it on the radio, that's another story, isn't it? They're selling sex because sex sells."

ac/dc

AC/DC, circa mid-Eighties.

Michael Putland/Retna UK/Getty

AC/DC, “Let Me Put My Love Into You”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit

Explicit Lyrics: "Don't you struggle/Don't you fight/Let me put my love into you/Let me cut your cake with my knife"

AC/DC Then: Five years prior to the formation of the PMRC, hard-rock hell-raisers AC/DC pulled off the most unthinkable resurrection act in rock: They replaced their lead singer, following the death of frontman Bon Scott, with Brian Johnson and they put out Back in Black, one of the best-selling albums of all time. By the time the PMRC named the Back in Black deep cut "Let Me Put My Love Into You" one of its Filthy 15, AC/DC had already put out three new albums. Their popularity had begun to wane, though, as 1985's Fly on the Wall was ultimately certified merely platinum.

What They Said Then: "People who want to strangle other people's rights are possessed by one of the worst devils around — the Satan in their souls which is called intolerance," Angus Young told People in 1985. "Rock & roll is about one simple thing: freedom. When someone tries to murder that freedom, we're against it."

After the PMRC: Truly, nothing can stop AC/DC. Back in Black has since been certified 22 times platinum, and their latest record — 2014's Rock or Bust — has already gone gold at a time when selling 500,000 copies of an album ought to be considered multi-platinum. In the years since the Senate hearing, it's mostly been business as usual for the group, which has recorded albums and toured regularly. But AC/DC recently experienced a major lineup change when founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had to bow out of the band due to dementia and drummer Phil Rudd was arrested on drug-possession charges. Nevertheless, the group found replacements (Malcolm's nephew Stevie Young now plays rhythm) for their absent bandmates and is currently on tour.

What They Say Now: "[With the PMRC,] you got idiots like Tipper Gore, who really is a twit," Brian Johnson offered in the group's Behind the Music.

Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi

Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, circa mid-Eighties.

Mark "Weissguy" Weiss

Black Sabbath, “Trashed”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Drugs and alcohol

Explicit Lyrics: "I drank a bottle of tequila and I feel real good … /I knew I wouldn't make it the car/Just wouldn't make it"

Black Sabbath Then: Arguably the first heavy-metal band, Black Sabbath were an obvious target for the PMRC. At the time the committee took issue with the group's ostensible account of drinking and driving, the band was in a fractious state. Original frontman Ozzy Osbourne was long gone, and Ian Gillan, the singer of the Filthy 15 selection "Trashed," which appeared on Sabbath's 1983 album Born Again, had already reunited with his alma mater, Deep Purple. Other than a reunion with Osbourne for Live Aid in July 1985, Black Sabbath were on hiatus when "porn rock" became a talking point.

What They Said Then: "I think one of the most outrageous [videos] we've done was the one with Ian Gillan, was for 'Trashed,'" guitarist Tony Iommi once said. "Of course, it got banned because it was too lewd."

After the PMRC: The Live Aid reunion was short-lived and until reuniting with Osbourne again in 1997, the group cycled through a number of members with varying degrees of success. Its members would reunite off and on with Osbourne and singer Ronnie James Dio, with whom they formed another band called Heaven and Hell, throughout the 2000s until they put out the reunion record 13 in 2013. The band is now readying itself for a farewell tour it has dubbed "The End."

What They Say Now: "I have no personal feelings at all about such things," Gillan tells Rolling Stone. "Professionally, I would say that someone needs their head examined. 'Trashed' is about a wild night on a private racetrack … Filthy? I suppose if you have a really dirty mind."

Mary Jane Girls

Mary Jane Girls, circa mid-Eighties.

Mark "Weissguy" Weiss

Mary Jane Girls, “In My House”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Profane or sexually explicit

Explicit Lyrics: "When it comes down to makin' love/I'll satisfy your every need/And every fantasy you think up"

Mary Jane Girls Then: In the late Seventies, funk maestro Rick James decided his backup singers would make a fine breakout group and put together an ensemble he dubbed the Mary Jane Girls (after you know what) and appointed Joanne "JoJo" McDuffie their lead singer. He wrote and produced all of the songs on their self-titled 1983 debut, which made waves on the R&B chart with the infectious hit "All Night Long." He also wrote most of the songs for and produced their second album, Only Four You, which contained the funky, poppy tune "In My House," a Number Seven hit. The album went gold in June 1985, four months after it came out.

What They Said Then: "We say things that a lot of women are afraid to say and in a lot of relationships, lack of communication is what breaks you apart," Kimberly "Maxi" Wuletich said of "In My House" on Soul Train in 1985. "So we're trying to help the ladies. Honey, listen to this song, this is what I want to say to you."

After the PMRC: The record would spawn another pop hit, "Wild and Crazy Love," in 1985, and the group scored a final hit, a serene cover of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' "Walk Like a Man," in 1986. The band would fizzle out by 1987, though, after James had a falling out with Motown. James continued to record and release albums until his death in 2004. JoJo recorded a solo album, Slightly Dangerous, in 2006, and in 2013 put out an EP called The Shameless Hussy Project; she also sang backup for Barry White. Two groups of former members, one featuring Wuletich and Cheri Wells and another featuring Candi Ghant, have used the name the Mary Jane Girls in recent years, though the Estate of Rick James issued a cease and desist, claiming ownership of the name. The Waters Sisters, who sang backup on Mary Jane Girls, appeared in the Oscar-winning 2013 documentary about backup singers, 20 Feet From Stardom.

What They Say Now: "I don't feel that 'In My House' had any reason to be placed in the 'Filthy 15,'" McDuffie tells Rolling Stone. "At the time, I also felt that this was just a feeble attempt at 'censorship' to the music that was created by Rick James. It never had anything to do with 'parental guidance.' As most parents know, the quickest way to get your children interested in something is to try and keep it from them. All they did was stop any consideration for the song to get a Number One chart position or receive any of the accolades, like a Grammy or AMA, that a song of that popularity should have received.

"On the list, 'In My House' received a 'sex' description as the reason to be placed there," she continues. "Did the song discuss the sex act in a descriptive or lewd fashion? No. What it did was make an innuendo, purposely and tastefully, because Rick wanted the song to be played on the radio. True, he wanted to push the envelope, but in no way was that song of such a sexual nature to be called 'filthy.' … Creative expression has no rules, nor will it ever, no matter how many committees are designed or laws created against it. Whatever happened to 'Freedom of Speech'?"

venom

Venom, circa mid-Eighties.

Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty

Venom, “Possessed”

Proposed PMRC Rating: Occult

Explicit Lyrics: "I drink the vomit of the priests/Make love with the dying whore/Satan, as my master incarnate/Hell, praise to the unholy host"

Venom Then: When the PMRC set its sights on Satan-obsessed heavy-metal speedsters Venom, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. The group titled its debut album Welcome to Hell, sang songs like "In League With Satan" and "One Thousand Days in Sodom," and put a Baphomet on the LP sleeve. Venom's second album, Black Metal, also featured a demon on the cover and more songs about His Infernal Majesty. By the time they put out their fourth LP, 1985's Possessed — which featured drummer Abaddon's son in a Venom Baphomet T-shirt on the cover — the PMRC likely didn't have to put much effort into finding something objectionable.

What They Said Then: "I don't preach Satanism, occultism, witchcraft or anything," Cronos told Kerrang! in 1985. "Rock & roll is basically entertainment and that's as far as it goes."

After the PMRC: The group issued four more albums, unfazed by the Senate hearing, before splitting in 1993. Around that time, they earned notoriety for helping to inspire an altogether scarier metal movement — Scandinavian black metal — in which band members literally burned down churches and murdered each other and bystanders. Venom never endorsed this movement but embraced the attention and reformed in 1995, but Possessed-era members Abaddon and Mantas were both out by 2002; they have since re-formed as Venom Inc. The only original member left in Venom in 2015 is frontman Conrad "Cronos" Lant, who led his bandmates in the recording of this year's From the Very Depths, Venom's 14th release. The band will play its only North American show this year at Fun Fun Fun Fest in November, and it has lined up appearances at a number of festivals in 2016, including Baltimore's Maryland Deathfest.

What They Say Now: "It was by no means the most controversial song I wrote, but what the hell, I got a good laugh when I originally read it was included in the Filthy 15," frontman Cronos tells Rolling Stone. "Now, I still think that they were a bunch of losers. Everyone I spoke to always just figured that these were bored people with nothing better to do. Also, you know what they say about calling the frying pan black, yeah? I bet these people were up to all sorts of debauchery behind the scenes.

"[The PMRC] wasted their time when they could have been doing something more constructive with their lives, and for me, well, that album wasn't doing too well when it was first released, actually, but after their fantastic marketing scheme, it picked up and started selling very well, so thanks for that, PMRC. All they achieved was advertising hardcore underground music."