In 1985, a committee led by Tipper Gore advocated for the labeling of albums that had “offensive” content. Essentially, if your record was too smutty, too violent, too druggy, or too in league with Satan, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) wanted to have a sticker slapped on it. In a similar approach to the MPAA’s film rating system, it was argued that albums should have warning stickers based on the record’s content. One of the stickers pitched as a warning was “O” for occult, which was an actual worry people had in the 1980s.
To demonstrate the non G-rated side of the popular music of the era, a Filthy Fifteen list was assembled showcasing 15 songs that could send your grandmother to the grave with a heart attack. Not only were metal and R&B acts corrupting innocent kids, but pop superstars were also tricking impressionable youths into becoming drug addicted murderers that like to masturbate in front of a pentagram and use foul language.
The recording industry eventually decided to go the “Explicit Lyrics” sticker advisory route, but the Filthy Fifteen still lives on as a snapshot of what had a chunk of America freaking out about the music of the day. We thought it might be fun to check in on these “filthy” tracks through our 2015 lens to see how nasty they are. We’ve brought a tarp, Wet Wipes, and some holy water just to be safe.
Prince – “Darling Nikki” (sex/masturbation)
A Prince tune with sexual content in it? WARN THE DEBUTANTES IN THE ROOM AT ONCE! Prince is a sexual dude. He’s like five feet of Minnesotan sex with a warehouse full of spare sex resting comfortably at Paisley Park. The Purple One was a natural target for a list like this and this Purple Rain cut was singled out for its naughtiness. Legend has it that Tipper Gore started the PRMC partially in response to overhearing her 11-year-old daughter listening to this classic tune. The Nikki Prince sings about is both a) a sex fiend and b) someone you might find masturbating with a magazine. Children of today are more likely to be shocked by the concept of someone still using print media. “So she bought a magazine? And she paid for it in public? Gross!” exclaims anyone born after 1997.
“Darling Nikki” isn’t something you’d want to blast at your nephew’s elementary school dance, but we also consider it cruel to try and restrict a kid’s access to Purple Rain. It’d be irresponsible not to study it in school. Plus you get to hear “Hello, how are you?/Fine fine ’cause I know that the Lord is coming soon/Coming, coming soon” if you play “Darling Nikki” backwards and that’s just plain wholesome.
Sheena Easton – “Sugar Walls” (sex)
Who could consider this rude? It’s a Prince-penned song about a home with a unique confectionary situati– Oh, it’s about a vagina, isn’t it? A real soft touch you have there, Sheena and Prince. The PRMC were somehow able to sort out this uncrackable code and plunked it on their list.
Judas Priest – “Eat Me Alive” (sex)
“GROAN IN THE PLEASURE ZONE” indeed. This leather-clad sex jam of Judas Priest’s was within the PRMC’s crosshairs for the Filthy Fifteen and it may cause some mild chafing. “Eat Me Alive” was considered objectionable thanks to Rob Halford singing about receiving oral sex from someone at gunpoint. AllMusic has said the track “comes off like an S&M-themed “Sex Farm” (albeit without the tasteful subtlety)” which should give you a clue on the tone.
“It was kind of tough, because we got attacked for something that was completely out of order,” said Halford in an interview with C103. “None of us that are on that list should have been there, because when you come see a band like Priest or my mate Dee [Snider] from Twisted Sister we wanna give you a good time, we wanna help you forget all the troubles and the worries in the world. We want you to come and enjoy yourself, have a few drinks, meet your mates, have a great metal experience, rock and roll experience. So, to be accused of that was pretty low, but we got through it and we battled on, and I think we had a win for everybody in that respect.”
Vanity – “Strap On ‘Robby Baby'” (sex)
Not to be confused for an instructional song on securing your infant into a Baby Bjorn, “Strap On ‘Robby Baby'” is all about (medical term) porking. A product of Vanity’s post-Prince output, the tune sounds a bit like ’80s battery commercial music you can engage in adult activities to. Opening with a D+ level “you want some candy little boy?” sexy come-on, Vanity pleads to be strapped in tight and gliding down a carnival ride before this thing is finished. Bonus points should be awarded for the ridiculous whip noises that have been splattered onto this cut. It doesn’t sound particularly nasty by 2015 standards, but the production and Vanity’s vocal style give this thing a healthy dollop of necessary filth. For what it’s worth, Vanity became a born-again Christian in the ’90s and has been a devoted evangelical for decades.
Mötley Crüe – “Bastard” (violence/language)
Noted burrito fuckers Mötley Crüe were tailormade for the role of bad boy metal dudes that has a committee in Washington D.C. on their ass. The song that landed the Crüe on the Filthy Fifteen? That’d be “Bastard” off 1983’s Shout at the Devil. The Sunset Strip goobers rawk out on a track that details killing some poor bastard with a knife, followed by lyrics contemplating shooting the dude in the head or maybe putting a noose around their neck. We imagine it was incredibly jarring in the mid-80s seeing as violence hadn’t been invented until 1989, but in 2015 “Bastard” seems like Snuggle the fabric softener bear next to your average rerun of Criminal Minds. Time’s weird like that.
AC/DC – “Let Me Put My Love Into You” (sex)
“Let Me Me Put My Love Into You,” eh? You’re such smooth operators, AC/DC. Actually, the money line in this Black in Black cut is “let me cut your cake with my knife” which is just The Grossest™. As you may have guessed, this tune was flagged for sex-type reasons. For a band that’s served as the soundtrack for a lot of duckwalky sexual congress, Brian Johnson era AC/DC aren’t a band you picture sexin’ shit up a bunch. We’re sure they’ve gone to the bone zone on a regular basis, but there’s a chance your dirty talk with these guys will be about formula one racing or maintaining a giant novelty cannon. VERY SEXY PURSUITS!
Twisted Sister – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (violence)
Arguably the silliest song to single out in the bunch, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” made the list for violence because… um, we’re not sure why. Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider pointed out at a PRMC senate hearing that the organization were tying the song in with the goofy cartoon violence depicted in its accompanying video.
“You will note from the lyrics before you that there is absolutely no violence of any type either sung about or implied anywhere in the song. Now, it strikes me that the PMRC may have confused our video presentation for this song with the meaning of the lyrics,” said Snider. “t is no secret that the videos often depict storylines completely unrelated to the lyrics of the song they accompany. The video “Were Not Gonna Take It” was simply meant to be a cartoon with human actors playing variations on the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote theme, Each stunt was selected from my extensive personal collection of cartoons. You will note when you watch the entire video that after each catastrophe our villain suffers through, in the next sequence he reappears unharmed by any previous attack, no worse for the wear.”
The song wasn’t all that menacing at the time outside of Snider’s makeup and it’s still incredibly weird to see on this list today. Y’know, provided you’re not hellbent on outlawing videos that show bodily harm happening to Mark Metcalf.
Madonna – “Dress You Up” (sex)
Oh no! Madonna’s here and she’s going to get sex all over your well-maintained upholstery. “Dress You Up” contained the scandalous device of using dressing up as a vehicle for sex talk. OUTRAGEOUS! Of all the Madonna songs to peg as being naughty, “Dress You Up” registers as a weird choice. Madge’s bag of tricks can be an X-rated one and you go with a song that was destined for use in Gap ads during Ally McBeal? That’s some strange cherrypicking. Compared to Selena Gomez’s controversy-free “Good For You,” “Dress You Up” comes across like something from Amy Grant.
To reiterate: The Filthy Fifteen can be remarkably silly.
W.A.S.P. – “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)” (sex/language)
If you’d like to fuck like trusted scientist Hank McCoy, you’ve come to the right metal anthem. W.A.S.P.’s sleazy sex ode allows the listener (lucky you!) to hear how horny our narrator is and how he’s in heat LIKE A BEAST! Dropping a hard F plunked this W.A.S.P. track on the Filthy Fifteen for rude language and the whole fuck like a beast thing ticked the sex box. Blackie Lawless eventually gave up singing the song (LIKE A BEAST) when he became a born-again Christian.
Def Leppard – “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)” (drugs/alcohol)
UK glam rock arena-fillers Def Leppard could have been namechecked for their disgusting disregard for proper sugar preservation on “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” but it was the 1981 track “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night) that earned the wrath of the PRMC. You may be stunned to discover this based off the “Dry” portion of the title, but this track features a healthy bit of booze talk. Joe Elliott singing about whiskey and wine seems to be the objectionable bit, which leads one to wonder if the PRMC would turn to dust if they ever came across country music. “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)” is your typical “I’ve got a drink and a date” blast of dad rock and that doesn’t seem all that threatening. It’s industry standard for bands of this vintage to have liquory nonsense coursing through their very being. That’s just the deal.
Mercyful Fate – “Into The Coven” and “Venom – Possessed” (occult)
Holy shit was America terrified of Satan in the ’80s. Being terrified by the prospect of the occult was en vogue for a good chunk of the decade and that meant Mercyful Fate and Venom were hoisted up as examples of the devil massaging the recording industry with his sinister hooves of evil. “Into The Coven” and “Possessed” both made the Filthy Fifteen for their occult themes which is something you’d expect from 17th century America rather than a push from just 30 years ago, but here we are. “Suck the blood from this unholy knife/Say after me: my soul belongs to Satan” read the lyrics of “Into The Coven” which should be cited by a health inspector instead. (Do not cut things with an unholy knife. The unholiness could include harmful bacteria.) Black metal pioneers Venom fail to outline if they’re using any unholy knives in their wheelings and dealings, but they do brag about drinking the vomit of the priests and sit at “Lord Satan’s left hand.” We prefer chugging Fruitopia on a futon, so we might not be headed to any Venom potlucks any time soon.
Black Sabbath – “Trashed” (alcohol)
As Def Leppard learned in the ’80s, the PRMC had a few issues with songs that put booze in the spotlight. Black Sabbath would discover this too when the Ian Gillan era cut “Trashed” was pointed to as an example of liquor-fueled inappropriateness. “Trashed” mixed cars and drinking for a song that either champions or condemns the messed up state our hero’s in as he flies around the track. Lyrics about Mr. Miracle rescuing the driver from serious pain are yours to analyze. Oddly enough, Black Sabbath’s original singer would become America’s favourite TV dad 16 years later while being completely out of it. Exciting!
Mary Jane Girls – “In My House” (sex)
The thunderbolt of accessible R&B sexiness known as “In My House” was handcuffed to this list for its bump and grind offer to keep a lover satisfied. As far as ’80s hits go, this Mary Jane Girls gem ranks pretty low on the obscenity scale. Is it about adult-on-adult genital stuff? Without question. Is it framed in a non-disgusting way. Mostly. That’s all you can hope for from your dancefloor fillers and to get that from a collection of Rick James proteges? All the better.
Cyndi Lauper – “She Bop” (masturbation)
With the Cold War still in effect, teens of the ’80s needed to be in a catlike state of readiness for the Soviets and masturbating non-stop would leave America vulnerable for attack. Um, at least that’s our theory why Cyndi Lauper’s self-serve anthem “She Bop” would cause such a freak out. Cyndi’s sex positive jam about messing with her danger zone melted brains at the time, but now it comes across like something cooked up by an arts school to make Sex Ed seem less frightening. Imagine the hysteria she would have caused if the lyrics mentioned a Satanically shaped vibrator.