33 Years Ago: Dee Snider Spoke Out Against Censorship Before the Senate

September 21, 2018

It may not seem very long, on September 21st, 1985 Dee Snider of Twisted Sister was called to testify before the U.S. Senate against the proposition to have warning labels be placed on albums deemed "offensive" to listeners. To say that he was nervous would be an understatement.

Decked out in a cut-off vest, snakeskin boots and a little mascara Snider recalls being nervous the second he heard them call his name. Out of his element, Snider defended the stance that music, like any other art form is open to interpretation, and nobody's interpretation of art should prohibit one's freedom of speech.

Watch Snider's full testimony below:

The Senate hearing was organized by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), lead by wife of Al Gore, Tipper Gore, as well as Susan Baker, the wife of Treasure Secretary James Baker; Pam Howar, wife of Washington realtor Raymond Howar, and Sally Nevius, wife for former Washington City Council Chairman John Nevius.

The PMRC was originally formed after Al and Tipper Gore were listening to Prince's Purple Rain album with one of their daughters until they heard the song "Darling Nikki" where it references a female "sex friend" who was "masturbating with a magazine."

Offended by the graphic content in the song, and music in general, Tipper Gore contacted her friends to form the PMRC and compiled a list of fifteen songs that contained lyrics deemed inappropriate and unsuitable for children, which earned the name as "The Filthy 15". Because the first amendment protected artists' right to free expression, the PMRC proposed a rating system for music similar to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rates films R, PG-13, PG, and G.

The Filthy 15 songs were:
1. Prince - "Darling Nikki" (sex, masturbation)
2. Sheena Easton - "Sugar Walls" (sex)
3. Judas Priest - "Eat Me Alive" (sex)
4. Vanity - "Strap On 'Robbie Baby'" (sex)
5. Motley Crue - "Bastard" (violence, language)
6. AC/DC - "Let Me Put My Love Into You" (sex)
7. Twisted Sister - "We're Not Gonna Take It" (violence)
8. Madonna - "Dress You Up" (sex)
9. W.A.S.P. - "Animal (F*** Like a Beast)" (sex/language)
10. Def Leppard - "High n' Dry (Saturday Night)" (drug and alcohol use)
11. Mercyful Fate - "Into The Coven" (the occult)
12. Black Sabbath - "Trashed" (drug and alcohol use)
13. Mary Jane Girls - "In My House" (sex)
14. Venom - "Possesed" (the occult)
15. Cyndi Lauper - "She Bop" (sex. masturbation)

Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford said that misintepretations of their music put a target on their backs, making them to look like enemies of the public, even though it was more of a focus on the First Amendment.

It was no surprise that when the PMRC made their complaints public, the media coverage was enormous. The members of the PMRC turned from Washington wives to influential figures to the public.

Many musicians, including John Denver (whose testimony you can watch below) agreed that legislation of song lyrics would be ruled as censorship.

One of Snider's main complaints regarding the hearing was that it was an unlawful use of the Senate. Before the hearing even began, the PMRC and the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) agreed that "Parental Advisory" labels be put on albums that artists agreed to have stickered.

Aside from Snider and Denver, Frank Zappa also testified against the PMRC.

During his questioning of Snider, Al Gore made it abundantly clear that he was not fond of Twisted Sister's music and lyrics. He makes reference to the band's song "Under the Blade," which Tipper said was about bondage and sado-masochism, including lyrics like "It's not another party head, this time you cannot rise/Your hands are tied, your legs are strapped, a light shines in your eyes." Snider happily corrected Tipper saying that she misinterpreted the lyrics and the meaning of the song. It turns out that the song's lyrics were based on his guitarist's throat operation. 'I can't help it if Ms. Gore has a dirty mind," Snider said to Senator Gore.

When it came to the "Parental Advisory" sticker being placed on albums, there have been mixed testimonies regarding sales. Some believed that the sticker served as an incentive for listeners to want to buy the albums even more. Others like Snider say that that wasn't the case, saying that not only have the stickers reduced sales for artists, they've also resulted in some record stores to completely censor their records.

Upon the end of the hearing, a reporter asked Snider how we was feeling, to which he said "Dirty." Snider added "I'm not at all anti-American. I'm patriotic and I love my country. But politics is a dirty, ugly business and politicians are not better, smarter, or greater than any of us. If anything, they're not as good, they're not as smart, and they're anything but better. They've got agendas; they've got their own reasons for constituencies and trying to get things done that they wand done. Any they don't have our better interests at heart. It's sheer manipulation, and I went away feeling very disenchanted."

Record companies continue to add the "Parental Advisory" sticker to albums to this day.