This week marks the 30th anniversary of the United States Senate’s so-called “porn-rock” hearing, in which Frank Zappa, John Denver and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider protested proposed measures that would require record labels to “rate” albums like movies. The issue had been raised earlier in 1985 by an activist group called the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which was founded by the spouses of four influential people in Washington, D.C.
Although she was not the group’s president, Tipper Gore, wife of then-Senator and eventual Vice President Al Gore, became its most famous and outspoken member. Her interest in labeling record covers had arisen when her 11-year-old daughter bought Prince’s Purple Rain and played “Darling Nikki,” a song that references masturbation, on the home stereo. After forming the PMRC, the group’s advocacy prompted labels to put “Parental Advisory” stickers on albums, and Tipper would publish the 1987 book Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society. Rolling Stone reached out to her for a statement on how the PMRC’s advocacy has affected society.
“In this era of social media and online access, it seems quaint to think that parents can have control over what their children see and hear,” she says. “But I think this conversation between parents and kids is as relevant today as it was back in the Eighties. Music is a universal language that crosses generations, race, religion, sex and more. Never has there been more need for communication and understanding on these issues as there is today.”
She added, “All of the artists and record companies who still use the advisory label should be applauded for helping parents and kids have these conversations about lyrics around their own values.”
In anticipation of the 1985 Senate hearing, and in an effort to forestall prohibitive legislation, Stanley Gortikov, then president of the Record Industry Association of America, met with 19 record labels, which all agreed to include parental advisory stickers on their albums. The PMRC had wanted labels to mark which albums contained lyrics referencing sex, the occult, violence and imbibing drugs and alcohol. It also wanted lyrics printed on labels, but Gortikov insisted that was too prohibitive, leading to the stickers still used today. The musicians who testified at the hearing were afraid that the stickers might influence retailers not to carry their albums, which became true of Walmart.
Tipper quit the PMRC in 1993, shortly after becoming Second Lady, to focus her attentions on the issues of mental health and homelessness. Six years later, she hosted a White House conference on mental health. She has also been active in advocating for the LGBT community, participating in AIDS walks.
Outside of politics, Tipper has published a book of her photography, Picture This: A Visual History, and has occasionally returned to an early love, making music. Once the drummer of an all-female rock group called the Wildcats, she has sat in with Willie Nelson and the Grateful Dead.