In September 1985, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) formed out of concern for the dangers of music on the American public. The PMRC's founders identified the most offensive musicians and lyrics in the hopes of instituting a rating system for music, much like the one that existed for movies. The music censorship interest group believed that the material presented in popular music was poisoning the minds of America's youth, and the music industry needed to clean up its act before children were corrupted by the evils of rock and roll.
Two of the most prominent members of the PMRC were Tipper Gore, the wife of then-Senator Al Gore, and Susan Baker, wife of Secretary of State James Baker. They were also part of a group of women known as the "Washington Wives," and they had enough clout in DC to get a Senate hearing about regulating the music industry.
The PMRC is the reason parental advisory stickers are still found on some albums today. Before it got to that point, Congress listened to some of the so-called controversial musicians singled out by the PMRC. One of the controversial artists, rock star Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, faced off with the PMRC and broke down their arguments one-by-one in a public forum. Snider's speech to Congress didn't save rock and roll (or any other kind of music) from advisory labels, but he definitely made an impression and got in some good punches as he made it clear he wasn't going to take it anymore.
The other musicians who appeared before the Senate subcommittee in 1985 wore suits. While John Denver and Frank Zappa both sported professional attire, Dee Snider sat down to address the group in a stereotypical hair-metal look. Snider had on a black t-shirt cut off into a tank top and jeans. He didn't try to hide his wild rock and roll hair either. Snider's characteristic bleach-blond, wavy hair bounced around as he spoke to a captivated audience.
All three musicians delivered articulate speeches but, given his appearance, Snider's well-presented and meticulous response was a surprise, proving that neither the PMRC nor the committee should have expected an easy debate. He also pointed out he didn't drink, smoke, or do drugs of any kind.
In his testimony before the Senate, Snider directly addressed Tipper Gore's contention that Twisted Sister's song "Under the Blade" was sadomasochistic and about bondage. The song, according to Snider, was written for the band's guitar player, Eddie Ojeda, who was having surgery. Tipper Gore, however, claimed there was a sexual message in the lyrics:
Your hands are tied, your legs are strapped, a light shines in your eyes
You faintly see a razor's edge, you open your mouth to cry
Snider told the Committee "Ms. Gore was looking for sadomasochism and bondage and she found it," indicating the bondage was a metaphor for fear. Snider later wrote for the Huffington Post that he enjoyed the "raw hatred I saw in Al Gore's eyes when I said Tipper Gore had a dirty mind." Al Gore was also on the Senate subcommittee.
Snider later got Senator Gore to admit to liking John Denver and Frank Zappa, although he wasn't a Twisted Sister fan.
Twisted Sister's song "We're Not Gonna Take It" received a lot of attention from the PMRC, but, in a bit of a twist, the actions found in it – or at least in the video – mimicked cartoons. In his opening remarks to the Senate subcommittee, Snider stated the video 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."
Snider questioned whether the PMRC confused the lyrics with the video when it came to the intent of the song, pointing out that there was no actual violence mentioned.
Snider highlighted a statement from Tipper Gore where she accused Twisted Sister of selling twisted t-shirts, saying, "You look at even the t-shirts that kids wear and you see Twisted Sister and a woman in handcuffs sort of spread-eagled. "
Snider called her accusation an "outright lie" in his testimony, telling the committee Twisted Sister "never sold a shirt of this type; we have always taken great pains to steer clear of sexism in our merchandise, records, stage show, and personal lives. Furthermore, we have always promoted the belief that rock and roll should not be sexist, but should cater to males and females equally."
He challenged Tipper Gore to produce such a shirt and when asked about it again by Senator Al Gore, the congressman clarified for the record that "the word 't-shirts' was in plural, and one of them referred to Twisted Sister and the other referred to a woman in handcuffs." Snider stuck to his guns insisting Tipper was referring to Twisted Sister before Senator Gore changed the subject.