Number 21 / February 1985:

Rick Alley's wife liked Prince's hit "1999" so much that she went out and bought the album. As she and her husband sat listening to it in their Cincinnati home, they were shocked at the explicit lyrics of "Let's Pretend We're Married" and rushed to turn down the volume before their 12-year-old daughter or 7-year-old son could pick up on the words. Later the Alleys went to the Delshire Elementary School PTA and proposed that some type of warnings, or ratings, be placed on album covers to alert buyers to the contents. In June 1984 the PTA's national convention passed a resolution calling on the record industry to rate and label material containing "profanity, sex, violence, or vulgarity." In October the PTA's national office issued a press release to that effect and proposed setting up a ratings panel of industry representatives and consumers.

We share the Alleys' concern over adolescents rushing headlong into an adult world permeated by sex and violence. But shielding our children from images of sex and violence will only warp their outlook and make them ill-equipped to deal with the real world. If the PTA is successful in implementing its plan, any ratings panel will be dominated by Moral Majority types, because they're the only ones already organized around such issues. Such a panel will only reinforce the idea that morality equals a lack of sexual references, a ludicrous formulation in a world on the brink of nuclear holocaust, and in which hundreds of millions are hungry or illiterate.

If a ratings system comes into existence, children will be "protected" from a lot more than Prince's often puerile view of sex. A record like Cold Blooded by Rick James will be censored despite its moving plea for world unity because it also contains a proposal for a menage a trois. Don Henley's all- too-appropriate "Johnny Can't Read" will never make it past the censors because it shares album space with "You Better Hang Up," a song about a married woman who's "hotter than an oven just to fill your loving cup." Bruce Cockburn's "If I had a Rocket Launcher" will be rated X, while Sammy Hagar's Voice of America will get the green light. You may need to show ID to buy records that make any meaningful commentary on the world.

What is the recording industry doing to stop this nonsense? Not much. Witness the response of Bob Merlis, vice-president for publicity at Warner Bros. to the PTA proposal: "The function of rock and roll is to annoy parents. This just proves that nothing changes." This idiotic statement (the Alleys say they really like all of 1999) will only make the PTA's thought control plan easier to put in place.

The crisis in education has brought the PTA an increase in membership after twenty years of decline. But we don't believe that parents are coming into the organization because they want to become record censors. They're joining because they're desperate to improve the education their kids receive. In times like these we need to insure that both education and pop music reach the broadest number of people-- children and adults alike.

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