What are companies to do when irate parents attack? Can managers ignore parental uproar, or must they simply give in? Or is there the possibility of negotiations? These are the questions that the music industry initially confronted during the mid 1980s. By 1985, the music industry had become a powerful force in American society with $4.4 billion in annual sales. Twenty six percent, or $1.14 billion, of this $4.4 billion was being generated by the ever controversial style of music traditionally known as ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ popularity brought with it mounting concern over the message this brand of music was carrying. At issue were the provocative, sexually explicit lyrics and videos of artists such as Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Kiss, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crue. The record industry had to decide to handle the charges levied by irate parents that the content of many rock ‘n’ roll songs was unfit for the teenage audiences that the songs were attracting.
Parents were reacting in particular to the allegedly obscene rock ‘n’ roll and videos that were becoming popular among teenagers. Rock musicians, on the other hand, felt music was simply a reflection of what their fans wanted. Nikki Sixx, bass player for Motley Crue, for example, described bands such as his as representatives of “the American youth”. According to sixx, [Y]outh is about sex, drugs, pizza, and more sex. We are intellectually on the crotch level. Moreover, rock ‘n’ roll was popular among youths because, as The Economist pointed out, of the “teenage trinity” of sex drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll was freely available.
In the wake of the failed PTA – RIAA negotiations, the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) took over. The PMRC was formed by several women, including Tipper Gore who became outraged when she heard Prince’s album Purple Rain, which she had purchased for her 11 year old daughter. When she and her daughter heard “Darling Nikki,” the rock industry made another enemy.
Negotiations between parents and the music industry began anew during the summer of 1985. On behalf of the PMRC, Gore met with Gortikov and requested the development of guidelines or a rating system similar to the movie industry’s rating system. In addition, Gore also requested that the lyrics of rock ‘n’ roll songs be printed on the outside of album jackets so that parents could inspect them for potentially harmful references.
As the negotiators were unable to reconcile their differences, the committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on the issue of record labeling. The purpose the meeting was not to pass any legislation, but to “air out” the issue. Several musicians attended the hearing in support of the rock ‘n’ roll industry. Many musicians write and perform their own material and stand by it as their art, whether you like it or not, asserted the late Frank Zappa.
The situation remained unresolved. Even as parents were up in arms regarding the allegedly provocative content of rock ‘n’ roll songs, people in the industry were equally disturbed. This is censorship asserted Gary Stevens, president of Doubleday Broadcasting Company. Many of us have been careful not to play pornographic records, but a few well connected people have imposed their views of good taste on the masses. The record industry has caved in, and the broadcasters are bearing the brunt of it. In addition, according to Gortikov, only 9 percent of purchases of rock ‘n’ roll music are made by children under 14. People over 20 are responsible for 69 percent of the purchases.
The dispute continued into the 1990s. As bad as things are going lately [in 1990] said Lee Ballinger, West Coast editor of Rock and Roll Confidential, an industry newsletter, I doubt if Prince will even be able to play his song ‘1999’ by the time 1999 rolls around.
In the spring of 1990 top managers at the country’s warning labels steps were taken primarily to discourage state legislatures from requiring such labeling by law. According to Sue Henseler, State Representative in Rhode Island. There are two reasons why bills get introduced. One is that you see a need for them, and secondly, you raise the consciousness of a lot of people so that things get done voluntarily action, she agreed to withdraw her bill.
This does not mean that everyone was pleased with the outcome. In Boston, Greg Wallis, general manager of tower Records, was far from content. The legislatures are forcing the record industry to do the parenting for kids, he said. It is not like these type of lyrics and suggestions have not been in recorded music since recorded music has been in existence. It is too bad that it has come to this. But this should be sufficient enough to do what the parents want.
The following June, a US District Judge in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida ruled for the first time that some rock ‘n’ roll could be considered obscene. In this case, Judge Jose Gonzalez held that the lyrics in 2 Live Crew’s “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” album were obscene. This meant that retailers could be arrested for selling the albums and the same could happen to broadcasters for airing them. Retailers were now on the spot. Whenever a judge in court finds some expression of speech is chilled. We hope this is an isolated situation, said Mark Siegal, executive vice president of the Los Angeles based Shamrock Holdings, Inc., parent company to Show Industries and the 137 store Sound Warehouse chain. Instead we favor labeling products and restricting labeled products to adults.