Twisted Sister were riding high in 1985 when they got wind that a committee calling itself the Parents Music Resource Center had singled them out, along with a handful of other artists, for ostensibly making obscene music. The previous year, the mascara’d headbangers had put out Stay Hungry, an album that had quickly gone double-platinum on the strength of anthems like “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” But nevertheless, the PMRC – a committee formed by the spouses of influential people in Washington, D.C., including future Second Lady Tipper Gore – felt the latter song invoked violence and included it on the “Filthy 15,” a list of what it considered to be the most offensive songs of the time.
Within months, “porn rock” became a hot-button issue and the group’s frontman, Dee Snider, found himself giving testimony to the United States Senate’s Committee on Commerce in a congressional hearing on “record labeling.” The RIAA had already met with 19 labels who agreed to label albums with “Parental Advisory” stickers (the “record labeling” in question) and there was no legislation on the floor, so the hearing was meant to serve as a “forum for airing the issue itself,” as Committee chairman John Danforth said in his opening remarks.
For Snider, it was a chance to show the world that he was not the dumb, aggressive metalhead palooka he felt the PMRC thought he was. As footage of his testimony shows, the senators present – including Al Gore – were not ready for him. “They really wanted [Mötley Crüe singer] Vince Neil,” Snider tells Rolling Stone. “Vince is not very articulate. He actually is a life-styler, so he probably would have been half in the bag going in there. They would have smacked him around, because he’s incapable of fighting at the level. As far as going and having an intellectual debate on something, he’d be pretty defenseless.” Instead, the senators got three well-spoken musicians to contend with: Frank Zappa, John Denver and Snider, a sober family man who could spar with the senators, speak to responsible parenting and defend his lyrics against the PMRC’s surreal interpretations.
“Ms. Gore claimed that one of my songs, ‘Under the Blade,’ had lyrics encouraging sadomasochism, bondage and rape,” Snider said in pointed turn of his testimony. “The lyrics she quoted have absolutely nothing to do with these topics. On the contrary, the words in question are about surgery and the fear that it instills in people. … I can say categorically that the only sadomasochism, bondage and rape in this song is in the mind of Ms. Gore.”
This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the Senate hearing, which Snider still considers a “pretty significant event.” Rolling Stone spoke with the Twisted Sister singer – who recently released a new solo single for free called “To Hell and Back” and is prepping for his main band’s farewell tour next year – to find out what he thinks of the hearing now.
Why do you think 1985 was the year the PMRC felt it needed to act?
It was the Reagan era. The conservatives were definitely holding sway on things. But it should be noted, this was a Democrat-driven cause, which is crazy. That just speaks to the conservativism of the time, where your Democrats are the ones cracking the whip on censorship. Al Gore was a conservative in liberal clothing.