Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the music urban legends featured so far.
MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: A Frank Zappa album was given a Parental Advisory sticker…even though the album was completely instrumental!
The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was founded in 1985 by four women, all the wives of prominent Washington insiders. The founding members were Tipper Gore (whose husband, Al Gore, was then a Senator and, of course, later went on to become Vice President), Susan Baker (whose husband, James Baker, was the Secretary of the Treasury), Pam Howar (whose husband, Raymond Howar, was a prominent Washington D.C. realtor) and Sally Nevius (whose husband, John Nevius, was the the Chairman of the Washington City Council).
The goals of the PMRC were multifold, but probably their most famous goal (mostly because it was actually achieved) was to have record companies place warning labels on albums that had explicit lyrics. The “parental advisory” sticker remains a mainstay in record stores today.
Iconoclast musican Frank Zappa (composer and performer of all different types of music – rock, jazz, electronic, orchestral – all sorts of stuff) appeared to testify at a Senate hearing in 1985 on the subject of labeling albums.
Zappa read the following prepared statement:
The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal’s design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC’s demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation … The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral quality control programs based on things certain Christians do not like. What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow “J” on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?
In any event, the labels came into being and they are still around today.
One story that had made the rounds is that Frank Zappa’s 1986 Jazz from Hell album was given the dreaded “Parental Advisory” warning. The catch is, of course, that the albums is entirely instrumental!
So, is that for real or is it just a good joke about how lame the people who do censoring are?
Well, as it turns out, it WAS for real – just not in the way you might expect.
In 1990, the album DID get the sticker on it, however, it was NOT at the behest of the PMRC or any other organization. No, it was done purely on the retail side of the market, as The Meyer Music Markets (a record retail chain in the Pacific Northwest) decided on their own to put the sticker on the album.
So yes, an instrumental album by Frank Zappa DID get Parental Advisory stickers placed on it, but it was by a retailer, not any parent’s group or corporate decision-maker.
The legend is…
STATUS: True, with a Major Caveat
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