Glenn Danzig was already an underground hero as frontman for horror-punk pioneers, the Misfits. But in 1993, he achieved mainstream success with “Mother ’93.”
The original “Mother” had been released in 1988 to little notice. But the 1993 remix achieved heavy MTV airplay in the thick of the alt-boom, reaching #43 on the Billboard Hot 100.
As seminal rock critics Beavis and Butthead explain, “this song is so good they had to do it twice.”
So who was the titular mother from Danzig’s biggest hit?
Former Second Lady of the United States, Tipper Gore, of course.
But why was Danzig so mad at her? For the answer to that question, we have to go back to 1984, a time when Prince ruled the land.
When Tipper Met Prince
In 1984, Al Gore was a Senator from Tennessee, his wife Tipper was a stay-at-home mom, and Prince’s Purple Rain was funking up the whole world. With hits like “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and the transcendent title track, Prince was suddenly everywhere, including inside the otherwise unfunky Gore household.
Though Purple Rain is the album that launched Prince into the stratosphere, it was actually his 6th full-length LP. The Minneapolis native had already established himself as a provocative performer and a sex-positive lyricist.
Tipper Turns Purple
Bending to the will of the masses, Tipper purchased Purple Rain for her 11-year-old daughter. They decided to screen the record together.
All was well…until Track 5. On “Darling Nikki,” Prince reminisces that he met Nikki in the lobby of a hotel, “masturbating with a magazine.”
Tipper was horrified by the idea of masturbation. She immediately launched into research mode. (Editor’s Note: We assume this first involved some investigation into how one might ‘masturbate with a magazine’–guessing Vanity Fair.)
What we do know is that Tipper watched a few hours of MTV and was absolutely horrified by what she saw. Of Motley Crue and Van Halen’s latest hits, she said “the images frightened my children, they frightened me.” (Ok, so apparently, she was still screening stuff with her kids in the room. Seriously, lady?)
Tipper Takes Action
Tipper reached out to other Washington wives with literally nothing else to do. They formed the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which immediately went to work pressuring record companies and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to rid themselves of sex, violence, Satanism and all the other things that make rock music awesome.
The concerned mothers also arbitrarily identified the PMRC’s ‘Filthy Fifteen,’ the most offensive songs they could find and the reasons they were pretty sure they were offensive.
In addition to “Darling Nikki,” the list included Cyndi Lauper’s self-love themed “She Bop,” AC/DC’s self-explanatory “Let Me Put My Love Into You” and Madonna’s deeply incendiary (apparently) “Dress You Up In My Love.”
The record companies told the PMRC where they could shove their list, so they demanded that Congress take up the issue. As they were collectively married to Congress, they succeeded in landing a 1985 Capitol hearing.
Zappa Sticks It To Tipper
The end goal of the hearing was to pressure record companies into self-regulation. The PMRC sought internal industry censorship and a parent-targeted rating system. The plan was to trot out a few incoherent, drug-addled musicians to defend the industry.
The musicians would buckle under a McCarthyesque interrogation about obscenity. The embarrassment would build public support in favor of censorship.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, they got the power trio of John Denver, Dee Snider and Frank Zappa. The musicians collectively beat the intellectual tar out of Congress and the PMRC.
Zappa, in particular (and owing at least partially to the fact that he often sang about fellatio and human defecation), shocked the members of Congress and the PMRC with his articulate testimony. Zappa pointed out that “the proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes on the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years with the interpretational problems inherent in the proposal’s design.”
And Zappa should know. He was the greatest Mother of them all. According to Tom Larson’s History of Rock and Roll, Zappa anointed his band the Mothers on Mother’s Day 1965.
Ironically (as long as we’re on the subject of censorship), the band eventually became the Mothers of Invention under record company pressure. Executives feared that fans might otherwise secretly call them Frank Zappa and the Motherfuckers.
To an extent, Zappa would come out on top. Congress was forced to side with the unlikely triad of musicians instead of their own wives. In the end, the PMRC scaled back its demands considerably, settling for a mandatory parental advisory label.
The Parental Advisory Sticker
Though the PMRC was forced to compromise, they ended up with a pretty big consolation prize. Any record containing “explicit content” would be branded with the new Parental Advisory sticker.
While the sticker was meant to warn parents of potentially offensive albums, it also served as a deterrent for more conservative music retailers. This would impede dramatically on sales for certain artists–especially those in the punk, heavy metal and hip-hop communities.
On the bright side, cool record shops were not deterred by the parental advisory sticker. It always helped me pick out vulgar records when I was a kid.
Danzig included his own hot take on the issue–“Mother”–on his 1988 self-titled solo debut. And thanks to songs like “Evil Thing,” “Possession,” and “Am I Demon,” Danzig proudly bears its own parental advisory label to this day.
Though the PMRC failed in its broader mission, its advisory stickers were enough to get Walmart onboard. To date, the top retailer of CDs will not sell advisory-stickered music.
Danzig Is Still Pretty Mad About the Whole Thing
In a recent article from Metal Injection, Danzig explains that “Al Gore wanted to tell people what they could listen to and what they couldn’t, what they could record. It was basically coming down to the idea that he wouldn’t let anybody record any music that he didn’t think you should be doing. There was going to be an organization that would tell you what you could and couldn’t record. And certainly if you couldn’t record it, you couldn’t put it out. It was really fascist.”
Danzig gets most of the historical details wrong here. And his remarks are followed by an angry non-sequitur rant about Obama. However, he does have a point. He just makes that point far more eloquently on his definitive hit.
Many thanks to the PMRC for compiling a list of the so-called “Filthy Fifteen.” It makes it a lot easier to jam maximum profanity into one hour of listening.