Recently I made up a list here on Lunch that I dubbed “These are a few of my least favorite things”. For the most part this was kind of a fun list but one of the items that I put near the top of my list was “explicit lyrics”. I have precious little tolerance for most of this stuff and I have always been baffled by those who listen to this garbage and find it entertaining. And while I positively detest this music I would never attempt to legislate it out of existence. I just wish that people would vote with their pocketbooks and not support the artists and record companies who produce this tasteless and vulgar music. Perhaps then the vast majority of this “so-called” music would simply fade away. I should live so long!
I am a lifelong student of American popular music and so I am fully aware that sexual innuendo has been a part of the history of our recorded music since at least the 1920’s. Examples of this can be found in the vintage jazz of the 1920’s and 1930’s and in R&B recordings of the 1940’s and 1950’s. I don’t have a major problem with this and I thoroughly enjoy lots of these tunes. These lyrics were quite innocuous compared to what we see today. Somewhere along the way the boundaries of good taste were crossed and over the years it has gotten steadily worse. I guess the problem that I am talking about really began to emerge with heavy metal music in the 1970’s. No longer were most of these tunes about the traditional themes of love and relationships. Rather, many of these groups celebrated violence and glorified evil. And they just kept pushing the envelope farther and farther. To illustrate “One study revealed that of the 700 most popular songs of "heavy metal," 50% speak of killings, 35% of satanism and 7% about suicide. Sheila Davis, professor of lyric writing at New York University, is convinced that "better give serious attention to the content of pop songs and to evaluate not only what lyrics are saying to society but, more important, what they may be doing to it" (USA Today, October 11, 1985, p. 10). Unfortunately lots of this stuff was extremely popular and the record companies just looked the other way and failed to police its own product while raking in the cash. Thus we began to head down the slippery slope that has led us to the rather unfortunate position we find ourselves in today.
Newton’s Law states that “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” Such was the case in the 1980’s as vast numbers of the American people became extremely concerned about the music that their children were listening to. Tipper Gore, wife of the former Vice President held very strong views about this and was instrumental in the formation of a group called the Parents Music Resource Center. This group lobbied the record companies to prominently label record covers of releases featuring profane language, most especially in the heavy metal and rap genres. Furthermore, the PMRC suggested a voluntary move by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the music industry to develop "guidelines and/or a rating system" similar to the MPAA film rating system. As a result albums began to be labeled for "explicit lyrics" in 1985 and this practice continues to the present day. But just how effective these policies have been is open to considerable debate.
These days it appears that music featuring explicit language remains extremely popular among our young people. Whether it is hip-hop, rap, pop or rock much of the popular music aimed at teens continues to contain sexual overtones. But for me what is even more frightening are the songs that feature lyrics that glorify guns, violence and killing people, degrade women or are clearly racist or anti-Semetic. Perhaps it’s a generational thing but I always thought the purpose of music was to entertain and uplift. I simply cannot understand why anyone listens to this stuff or what they get out of it. In putting the “Music Matters” community together for Lunch I was quite surprised and deeply saddened by the number of new albums that are released each week that are offered in both “explicit” and “clean” versions. It tells me an awful lot about the quality of the music being released and helps to explain why record sales are in the toilet. There simply isn’t a whole lot of quality stuff out there to buy.
It is awfully funny how things work in America these days. It is certainly a far different country from the one that I grew up in. Those of us who are truly offended by the filth we find all around us in music, television, motion pictures and the art world have absolutely no recourse available to us. The ACLU certainly has no interest in what we think so we are forced to grin and bear it. In the meantime religious symbols, traditional Christmas carols and displays and demonstrations of patriotism are banned from the public square. It is a very strange world in which we live! If you are somebody who would like to defend this music for any reason other than the obvious “freedom of speech” I would definitely love to hear your arguments. But I for one am disgusted by it all and would definitely think less of someone who I know listens to it. Definitely not recommended!
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Parental Advisory is a message affixed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to audio and recordings in the United States containing excessive use of profane language. Albums began to be labeled for "explicit lyrics" in 1985, after pressure from the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). In 2000, the PMRC worked with the RIAA to standardize the label, creating the now-familiar black and white design. The first albums to receive the label in its new form included Danzig's self-titled album, Soundgarden's Louder Than Love, Guns N Roses's Appetite For Destruction, and 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be and had the label in the form of a sticker on the cellophane wrap. The first hip hop album that received the label is Ice-T's debut album Rhyme Pays, released in 1987, whose lyrics were associated with gangsta rap, and popularized the genre. Later pressings of Danzig's self-titled, as well as many new albums with the label after 1992, had the label printed onto the artwork. To some, it has become known as the "Tipper sticker" because of Tipper Gore's visible role in the PMRC.
Some retailers (such as Wal-Mart) refuse to sell albums containing the label, and many others limit the sale of such albums to adults only, although, most stores have settled on an age limit of 17 in order to buy an album containing the label. In some countries, however, such as the United Kingdom, albums displaying the sticker are ...