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.