A Look Back At The Filthy Fifteen – Part One

This will be the first of two parts examining the PMRC and the “Filthy Fifteen” list of objectionable songs. I’m splitting this up due to length and will post the second part on Friday.

Listening to music in the 1980’s was not just about the music. Many cultural and social issues were brought into play while most people were simply trying to enjoy some songs. The Satanic Panic was a huge issue throughout the decade and would greatly inform rock and especially heavy metal culture.

Coupled with, but also beyond the scope of, satanism was a grand posture of moralizing about a “societal decay” that the youth of the time were experiencing due to their music tastes. This posturing would look beyond just heavy metal to expose the base evils of rock and even pop music. There was no way anyone could strive to be a functioning, morally upright person when this awful music was around.

The movement to rid music of its less tasteful elements would take shape in the US in the form of the Parent’s Music Resource Center. This group was led by the wives of several US senators and found a figurehead in Tipper Gore, the wife of Senator and future Vice President Al Gore. Their efforts culminated in Congressional hearings on the subject of explicit music, famously featuring testimony from John Denver, Frank Zappa and Dee Snider.

The PMRC’s efforts ultimately led to the music industry adopting a sticker to place on albums. The infamous “Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics” tag meant that an album had been deemed to bear some sort of subversive message within its vocals. Major retailers like Wal-Mart refused to stock albums with the sticker, a blow to record sales in a time before the Internet when music couldn’t be sought out as easily.

But the sticker truly failed in its purpose. It rallied the music industry against it, which musicians from all genres using it as a point of ire. The sticker served as more of an advertisement for an album rather than a deterrent. Music distribution would seek to avoid the big box stores, which remained stuffed with inoffensive Garth Brooks albums and edited copies of any major release that had the sticker in its original form. CD and record stores would be a small business venture until the digital music revolution of the early 2000’s.

One component of the PMRC’s campaign was a list of songs deemed most terribly offensive. The “Filthy Fifteen” pulled songs from rock,metal and pop to condemn lyrics about sex, real or perceived violence and occult/satanic themes. The list was a rallying cry to the steps of the US Capitol for the senators’ wives and was a resource for finding good music for many others.

Today I want to take a spin through the songs found on the Filthy Fifteen list. A few are staples of my music lexicon, while others are artists I know but am specifically unfamiliar with these works. And a few others are acts I never really heard of. I’ve provided a Spotify playlist at the end that has all but one of the songs on it. I had to comb the recesses of YouTube’s unauthorized uploads to locate one song.

Here we have it, one of the greatest unintentional compilation albums ever made – the Filthy Fifteen.

Prince – Darling Nikki

Our list kicks off with the multi-talented and eccentric Minnesota native. Prince would be a major force in 1980’s music and beyond and is widely considered one of the best talents in the industry.

Prince is also responsible in some form for two other songs on the list besides his own, making him the true King of the Filthy Fifteen.

Darling Nikki is a cut from Prince’s seminal 1984 record Purple Rain. The reasons for its inclusion on the list are blatantly obvious in the opening lines, as the song’s subject Nikki is in a hotel lobby “masturbating with a magazine.” Apparently this was also the song that spawned the PMRC – Tipper Gore found her daughter listening to the song and leapt into action.

The song itself is nothing special and certainly not Prince’s best work. If anything, all the PMRC did was put more attention on a deep cut from an album that would sell 25 million copies worldwide. It would have otherwise been a looked-over curiosity from one of Prince’s signature albums.

Sheena Easton – Sugar Walls

Prince has his hands on this track as well, having anonymously penned the tune for Sheena’s 1984 record A Private Heaven. The objectionable nature of the song is apparently that “sugar walls” is a reference to the lining of the vagina. Back in the ’80’s we didn’t just air such things out loud, it was all purity or some such shit, I don’t know. The song would be a hit for Sheena, due likely in part to the free publicity generated by the PMRC. It’s a bit tough to say since she was trending upward anyway, but press is press.

Judas Priest – Eat Me Alive

Now we get into more familiar territory for me and also the song that sparked my retrospective interest in this list. I visited Defenders Of The Faith on Monday as my Album of the Week. I was in the middle of compiling that post when I ran over the lore behind the record and went down the PMRC rabbit hole, thus giving birth to this post.

And as I said in that post, yeah, this song is kinda bad. Overall it’s just silly and nonsensical, it’s a total farce. But the line “I’m gonna force you at gunpoint” does shade things in a certain direction, that much I’ll admit. I don’t really care in the end, Rob Halford has admitted the line was engineered for the purpose of attention. That attention would come, thanks to the busy bodies at the PMRC. Years later the band would wind up in a terrible lawsuit not owing to this song but likely indirectly influenced by controversy generated by the PMRC.

Vanity – Strap On ‘Robbie Baby’

Here we have the lone song not found on Spotify. I dug up an upload from YouTube, no telling if or when it’ll get struck by the big bad copyright robot. It’s a hair more provocative than other songs on the list but still isn’t overtly explicit.

Vanity was a product of the Prince women’s music machine, though by the time of this release she had left Prince behind and struck out on her own. The song is quite obvious lyrically, she is looking forward to being plowed by some dude named Robbie. Her album saw minor success but the song’s placement on the Filthy Fifteen likely helped move a few copies.

Denise Matthews would be one of the few to disavow her infamous work. She dropped the Vanity moniker in the early ’90’s and became a born-again Christian and specifically denounced her “sexed-up” work in interviews. She would unfortunately pass away in 2016.

Motley Crue – Bastard

I’ll wrap up part one with the Sunset Strip machine that caught fire in the early ’80’s and led the charge for rock’s direction in that decade.

Of all the songs from Shout At The Devil that could have easily found a spot on the Filthy Fifteen, Tipper Gore apparently chose this cut because of its violent lyrics. The song was reportedly written about someone who’d “stabbed the band in the back” and the lyrics take a defensive posture against an assailant rather than openly inciting violence. I guess nuance wasn’t much of a factor with the PMRC.

Again, of anything a group of concerned parents would pick off Shout At The Devil, this seems like a misfire. The Crue would get plenty of infamy for their antics and music along the way so being a part of the PMRC’s shitlist was just icing on the cake for them.

That does it for part one. I’ll be back on Friday with the conclusion of this look at the Filthy Fifteen.

Guilty Pleasures

The “guilty pleasure” is one of music listening’s most odd and sometimes interesting terms. People like something, but people don’t want anyone else to know. It’s embarassing for a 35 year old, burly man to like Britney Spears or whatever, or for some mild-mannered soccer mom to headbang to Suffocation.

Of course the concept of a guilty pleasure is pretty dumb. People should, in an ideal world, just like what they like and not have any expectations or judgments from society attached to it. And in the modern age a lot of people spend so much time ripping dissenting opinions apart that it’s almost a strength to just express one’s own tastes without giving a damn what anyone else thinks of it. Being affected by any negative thoughts others might have of my music taste is not a thing I can really afford to carry around.

I do have a handful of things that could be thought of as guilty pleasures. They aren’t all that deep or shocking, and only one gives me some hesitantcy to admit. And even that I’m past the point of caring about. Here’s a handful of my “guilty” pleasures, which being real, I don’t feel guilty about at all.

Bon Jovi

I’ve mentioned before that Slippery When Wet was the first album I really ever owned. I still very much enjoy Bon Jovi, especially the 80’s output and some of the stuff from the 2000’s. (No, I’m really not into what they did in the 90’s.)

The conflict of interest comes from metalheads who can’t fathom enjoying something as, well, not metal and as popular and mainstream as Bon Jovi. I’ve caught a fair bit of shit for expressing my interest in the band. I don’t know how I’m supposed to care – I did not disavow rock music when I got into heavy metal. I didn’t take a dark oath to only listen to self-released demos from black metal bands recorded on a Fischer-Price tape deck in the lead singer’s bathroom. I will listen to that, but I’ll also listen to You Give Love A Bad Name.

Hall and Oates

This one seems to throw people off a lot. I love Hall and Oates, I always have. Their big hits in the 80’s were in constant rotation as I was exploring music as a youth. They aren’t an act that I chase down every release or anything (there’s a lot and they’ve covered a lot of musical ground) but I still very much enjoy H&O and I feel very not guilty about it.

For some reason I don’t catch much shit from metalheads about this one. It’s because many of them also like Hall and Oates. It’s other people who do like them who wonder what this crusty dude in an Iron Maiden t-shirt is doing browsing through their records in the store. Sorry, I just wanted to see if there were any South American test pressings of Big Bam Boom.

Oasis

I’ve already written extensively about Oasis and I will be again next month when the Knebworth live set is released. And I probably will beyond that too.

I got into them in the mid 90’s when they were one of the biggest bands on the planet and I was just listening to whatever sounded cool to me at the time. I sort of set them aside in the 2000’s when their songwriting magic had worn off and the band eventually imploded. I, like many, found that wave of nostalgia a few years ago and have been back hard on the Oasis train since.

Now who gives me shit for liking Oasis? EVERYBODY. It’s literally anyone who doesn’t like Oasis is like “You like that crap?” Yes, I do. And if I need to have a defiant, snarky attitude towards anyone hating on my tastes, I can’t think of two better role models for that than the brothers Gallagher. Perhaps calling them role models says something about my lack of well-being but hey, it’s 2021, we’re past that sort of thing now.

Black Metal

This is an entire subgenre rather than one band, and for good reason. I personally don’t feel guilty about listening to it at all, but black metal is some absurd music with a ridiculous history and a lot of unsavory characters who happened to record some of the music’s most revered works.

I have a post coming in the near future that gets far more into how I came into black metal so I won’t bloviate about it much here. But I first heard of it when the crazy ass story of Varg Vikernes and Euronymous made the rounds in the 90’s. The music wound up really clicking with me a few years later.

I don’t feel guilty about listening to harsh, misanthropic, anti-religious music. Those themes are likely why I took to it in the first place. I do, like many, try to make sure I’m not accidentally supporting outright Nazis, something that is an unfortunate part of several black metal bands. That’s its own culture war playing out on the battlefields of social media right now. The signals and messages often get mixed up and crossed, which is why I largely stay the hell out of the arguments. There’s nothing to gain and far too much ire and spite to wind up with in all of that shit. But the style as a whole is being called into question, that’s an unavoidable part of being into this shit in 2021.

I personally will keep on listening to who I like, hoping that they aren’t trying to ressurect the Third Reich. Outside of that I don’t really care what these people get up to, and by and large most of them aren’t into any sick stuff like that. The murder and arson and whatever is fine, I guess.

Insane Clown Possee

Here we are – my one true guilty pleasure, the one thing I have long hesitated to admit liking. It’s the one that I’m like “dude, you have an old picture of me in an ICP shirt, please destroy that kthanksbye.” It’s the one group I had every studio album of at one time but later made a beeline to the CD store to trade in for something inoffensive and unembarassing, like black metal.

In 1998 I was exposed to ICP and I thought they had some funny and entertaining stuff. I really got into them in 1999 and the turn of the millenium. I never went so far as to paint my face, drink Faygo or even go see them live, but I was pretty into their stuff.

My thoughts on them started shifting around 2001. Honestly, their music is pretty dumb. I listen to some pretty stupid stuff anyway but man, these guys take the cake. And also them getting obliterated in song by Eminem didn’t help matters. I quietly packed up my juggalo stuff and pretended that my brief era of being down with the clowns didn’t exist.

Today my thoughts have shifted some again. I can look back at what ICP have done and respect their place in things. They built their own subculture and the infrastructure around it and they turned their own passions into a living and a way of life. They’ve also shown they can roll with the punches, like when they got clowned on SNL for the absurdity of their song Miracles. And the community of juggalos seem to be some pretty cool people, despite how maligned they are in popular culture.

I’ll also admit this – I can’t really get back into them. I think they have a few songs that stand out and are pretty good but by and large this isn’t something I want to play again or have in my collection again.

The Number Of The Beast – Satanic Panic in 2021

Note – I originally intended to post this last Friday, the 15th. I started coming into updated information about this incident so I held off until the final news of the matter came through. I had to rewrite most of what I had. This is why I don’t mess with current event stuff much. I’m a hobby blogger, not a damn reporter and I don’t have time for breaking news. I’ll still post this but it’s kind of a damn mess.

A strange case that seemed ripped out of headlines from 1986 came to the attention of heavy metal social media a few weeks ago. A group of parents with children in a high school in Ontario, Canada started an online petition to have the school’s principal removed from her job.

The original petition, since deleted, had a bit over 500 signatures to it. A counter petition filed by students of the school in support of the principal and obviously noticed by Iron Maiden fans, was over 23,000 signatures when I last looked Sunday afternoon. I will briefly mention that I think online petitions are totally useless, and then move on.

After some back and forth over the issue, someone who filed the original petition doubled down on their efforts. The filer suggested that they were uninterested in the principal’s music taste, but was concerned about the use of the number 666 on a sign the school official made in support of the band. Also, the principal dared flash the dreaded “devil horns” gesture in photos involving her obvious love of Iron Maiden. It is worth noting that the photos were posted to the principal’s official Instagram account as agent of the school, not a personal account.

Metal and rock sites offered details of the story and metal Twitter and Facebook lit aflame with criticism of the original petition filers. The filer continued to double down on the criticism of the Satanic imagery, even suggesting that the “battle” wasn’t over after the principal removed the photos from the school’s IG account. A campaign to “get to know” the “real” issue came from the first petition, even as the counter petition swallowed the original in signatures.

Someone file a petition to get me to stop using quotation marks in a sardonic manner, please.

This issue would dissolve for good on Saturday, October 16, when the school announced the principal would remain in her potion with no sanctions or action taken. The original petition was disabled and everyone went their merry way, I suppose. Here is a link to a Blabbermouth.net article outlining the likely final resolution in this case.

This case did remind me of something and also easily caught my attention since Iron Maiden is my favorite band. The following text is the second part of what I wrote originally about this whole thing and I’ve decided to post it unedited. It might make for an incoherent narrative so I wanted to make a note of it for context.

There is no escaping the number 666 with Iron Maiden – it is woven into one of their most famous songs. The Number Of The Beast is usually an auto-include in any tour setlist and is one of the band’s most celebrated works. I would imagine that shirts, posters, tapestries and other merchandise of the album are among the band’s highest-selling merch offerings, and the album itself is a classic that is often ranked at least top 5 in the band’s catalog, if not at the very top.

And the devil horns? A common sign from heavy metal and also often rock fans. Hell, it’s used in other applications outside of music, such as fans of the University of Texas Longhorns sports teams. Sure, they’re popularly known as “devil horns,” but the gesture likely not invented by Gene Simmons does not truly bear any Satanic connotations. It’s just a thing, that’s all it really is.

I won’t get into some huge theological argument here. I’m not a religious person but this site isn’t a space where I intend to really discuss that outside of any relevant context to music. I know plenty of very awesome religious people who are into heavy metal, and I know plenty of very awesome religious people who aren’t into heavy metal who probably think this whole thing is a joke and would not want someone removed from her job because she likes a band.

The overriding point I get out of all this is flashbacks to that absurd battle of the 1980’s – the Satanic Panic. It was quite the chore to grow up and get into rock and metal while everyone was flipping out about real and perceived Satanism in music, movies, behind bushes and in shadows everywhere. That panic informed a great deal of my music-listening childhood and adolescence. I will get much deeper into these themes another time, but I and many others had some memories surface when hearing about this kind of crap going on toward the end of 2021, and about 27 years after the harrowing conclusion of the Satanic Panic.

In the end, all I can really do is hope the principal gets to keep her job (she will). She seems loved by her students and hopefully reason will prevail in a world where it often doesn’t. I don’t expect the group of parents calling for her head to grasp the folly of their argument or to open their perspectives to any different views. That’s not how we do business in the world in 2021.

If nothing else, I’m sure this woman will not have to pay for any beverage of her choice the next time she sees Iron Maiden in concert. If I know anything, it’s that this community does rally around its own. Down with panic, and as always, Up The Irons.