On Wednesday I offered up part one of this look at the infamous Filthy Fifteen list. That first piece also gives some background about the PMRC for anyone unfamiliar. This post covers the remaining ten songs from the FF list. The Spotify playlist at the end features all but one of the songs, that song is featured in my prior piece.
AC/DC – Let Me Put My Love Into You
The song made Tipper Gore’s shitlist for being about sex, something the mother of four was apparently just not into. The song itself is a fine track but is really little more than a footnote on one of music’s most impactful records and, as per Wikipedia’s list, the second-best selling album of all time.
AC/DC obviously did not need the help of the PMRC to promote their material. Back In Black was something of a miracle record done in the wake of Bon Scott’s death and finished just a few months after with new singer Brian Johnson. It was also miraculous that someone convinced Mutt Lange to produce two records within a year of each other but that’s another story for another time. The album is full of references to getting down and dirty, including the well-known single You Shook Me All Night Long. Kind of odd to pick this deeper cut from the album but the PMRC didn’t exercise a ton of logic in their selections.
Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It
Twisted Sister would come to embody opposition to the PMRC at the Senate hearings, where he adeptly testified against music censorship and insinuated that Tipper Gore was the one with a dirty mind with her interpretation of song lyrics.
We’re Not Gonna Take It stands out as the clear winner of the notoriety gained from this list. The song became Twisted Sister’s best-selling single and stands as their signature anthem. It was made a hit in large part due to the PMRC controversy and Dee Snider’s appearance before the Senate. The band had spent a decade as a New York area club act before entering the commercial mainstream and the PMRC made sure everyone far and wide knew who Twisted Sister was.
Madonna – Dress You Up
Madonna burst onto the 1980’s scene and became one of its biggest stars. She was a worldwide sex symbol and would push artistic boundaries and image constraints in her trailblazing career.
Dress You Up is easily the most inoffensive song on this list. It’s here because, like Darling Nikki, Tipper Gore caught one of her daughters listening to it. While this song is clearly about being into someone and getting down, it is not at all vulgar or explicit, in stark contrast to the others here. Madonna would provide many songs far more suitable for inclusion on the Filthy Fifteen, and it’s likely her growing reputation that landed her here more than anything.
W.A.S.P. – Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)
While Twisted Sister made out like bandits due to the PMRC, there was one clear loser from the group’s efforts and it was W.A.S.P. Animal was meant to be on the band’s debut record and was released as its lead single, but Capitol Records feared the album might get pulled from retail and struck the song from the album before release. A reissue years later would restore the song as the album’s lead track.
Unlike Madonna’s song, there is no questioning why Animal is on the list. It literally has “Fuck like a beast” in its subtitle. The band did gain quite a bit of infamy from their presence on the list but would also earn their reputation through shock-rock tactics. This was just another notch in the belt, one that Blackie Lawless has since disavowed as he no longer performs the track live.
Def Leppard – High N’ Dry (Saturday Night)
The British rockers commit the ultimate sin of glorifying having some beers and a good time. Their transgressions were noted by the PMRC, who included this party anthem on the Filthy Fifteen list.
I don’t know if this inclusion did anything one way or another for Def Leppard. They would go on to become one of rock’s most successful acts and I don’t see any real correlation between them being on the list and their career trajectory. Of course the song glorifies getting lit and having a good time, that was the decade of the 1980’s. The list could have been the Filthy Five Thousand on that basis.
Mercyful Fate – Into The Coven
No more good time having or getting with some hot chick – now it’s time for the real evil. Mercyful Fate broke the Filthy Fifteen with one of their very many songs about satanism and the occult. I don’t know what prompted the PMRC to settle on Into The Coven, a person could throw darts at any Mercyful Fate song and have a valid basis for inclusion on the list for occult themes.
It’s difficult to say what tangible effect being on the Filthy Fifteen had for Mercyful Fate. Though a more underground band, the group would have a vast influence on heavy metal – both in the mainstream with Metallica and also being a pioneering act in what would come to be extreme metal. They might not have found multi-platinum sales from being labeled subversive by the PMRC but they cast a shadow over heavy metal that lasts to this day.
Black Sabbath – Trashed
The masters of occult metal would find themselves targets of the PMRC – but not for anything dark or spooky. Instead, Trashed makes the list because it’s a tale of how Ian Gillan stole Bill Ward’s car and crashed it in a booze-filled accident. It makes for obvious inclusion on songs the youths shouldn’t be listening to.
Born Again was a commercially successful record for the reconfigured Sabbath, though they would enter a wilderness for several years afterward. It probably sold well on the Sabbath name and Ian Gillan’s role as singer and didn’t need help from the PMRC to move copies. The album gets mixed reviews from critics and fans but is still a much talked-about part of the Sabbath discography. The song itself did not gain any particular notoriety from the Filthy Fifteen.
Mary Jane Girls – In My House
This all-women R&B group was assembled by Rick James and had some minor hits on the ’80’s scene. In My House would be the group’s biggest hit and probably gained some attention from being on the list. It is another ode to getting busy between the sheets but, much like Madonna’s track, is in no way explicit or obscene. It was probably more of a benefit to the group and record label’s bank accounts to be considered for inclusion on the Filthy Fifteen.
Venom – Possessed
Of anything to dig up to put on a list of objectionable songs, the PMRC went across the pond and found this Venom track. The inclusion on the list was probably a perfect marriage made in hell for the PMRC, who needed shocking examples of music to convince industry execs and politicians to care about their cause.
It’s hard to say that being on the list affected Venom in any real way. The group had already cemented themselves as a wide-ranging influential heavy metal act with their first two albums and were entering a transitional period by the time this song came around. The band were overtly satanic, an ruse meant to entertain and amuse according to the group. Their imagery and sound, pioneering in a way despite honestly sucking, would have a great influence on the coming extreme metal movement.
Cyndi Lauper – She-Bop
We conclude the Filthy Fifteen with a feminine ode to masturbation from Cyndi Lauper. She-Bop was one of Cyndi’s big hits around this time. The song is openly about enjoying one’s self, it does not imply or conceal anything and makes for excellent fodder for the PMRC.
I don’t know of the PMRC had any effect on Cyndi Lauper. She became a huge star regardless of her inclusion on the Filthy Fifteen and the song was ever-present despite the political outcry against it. She just wanted to have fun, she did, and smiled all the way to the bank. Her 50 million in album sales were most likely on her own merit and not affected by the PMRC.
That does it for this look at the Filthy Fifteen. The list itself was more of a precursor to the Senate hearings and the adoption of the Parental Advisory sticker on albums. It was an interesting look back to see what songs were so subversive as to be called out by Tipper Gore and the wives’ club. I’m not sure how huge of an effect this list had on the artists at hand, by and large their careers went without a ton of fuss from this dust-up. A few benefited and really only W.A.S.P. seemed negatively impacted. If nothing else, we at least got a sticker out of it to let us know that Cannibal Corpse records might contain explicit lyrics.
2 thoughts on “A Look Back At The Filthy Fifteen – Part Two”
It’s a strange thing this list and how I see it as an Aussie. There’s no thought or any criteria as to what makes up a “filthy” song.
Plus a lot of the artists didn’t even know they were on the list.
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It was very arbitrary, a lot of parents crying wolf after noticing what their kids were listening to. There was some legitimate concern about censorship in the U.S. before the Senate hearings over the list, but after the hearings most everyone thought it was a joke.
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