Released today in 1987: It’s So Easy/Mr Brownstone

Geffen GEF22

Geffen GEF22

Ooh! A warning sticker. The concern about the debut single from Guns N’ Roses was strong language on both tracks on the double A-side, and some questionable sexual references on It’s So Easy. Well, the probability of dubious content from a band with a singer who called himself Axl Rosewas high.

The application of warning labels to music releases began in the mid-80s in America. A committee called Parents Music Resource Center was formed due to the members’ concerns about the volume of records in circulation with lyrics they considered inappropriate. In April 1985, they compiled a list of songs which they claimed illustrated the nature of the problem. It became known as the ‘Filthy Fifteen’, and the songs it featured could be broadly categorized under the following five headings:

Sex
AC/DC Let Me Put My Love Into You (1980, from the album Back In Black)
Cyndi Lauper She Bop (1984 single)
Judas Priest Eat Me Alive (1984, from the album Defenders of the Faith)
Madonna Dress You Up (1984, from the album Like A Virgin)
Mary Jane Girls In My House (1985 single)
Prince Darling Nikki (1984, from the album Purple Rain)
Sheena Easton Sugar Walls (1984 single; another Prince composition, under the pseudonym Alexander Nevermind)
Vanity Strap On ‘Robbie Baby (1984, from the album Wild Animal)

Violence
Mötley Crüe Bastard (1983, from the album Shout At The Devil)
Twisted Sister We’re Not Gonna Take It (1984 single)

Substance abuse
Black Sabbath Trashed (1983 single)
Def Leppard High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night) (1981, from album High and Dry)

Occult
Mercyful Fate Into The Coven (1983, from the album Melissa)
Venom Possessed (1985, from the album Possessed)

Taboo language
W.A.S.P. Animal (Fuck Like A Beast) (1984 single)

The committee’s proposed solution was to impose cinema-style classification to audio product in the same way films were given an age suitability rating.The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) rejected this idea in favour of general guidance indicating that the content might not be suitable for minors. A large number of companies signed up to this scheme, and after various experiments a standard format for the warning notification sticker was arrived at in 1993. So recognizable was it that by the end of the 90s some acts incorporated the Parental Advisory Label (as it had become known) into their album artwork, rather than have it as a removable sticker.

As with many such schemes, it became more of a marketing tool than a provider of guidance. It certainly didn’t dissuade artists from courting controversy. For some, it was a badge of honour; if the content wasn’t offensive then fans might have thought an act had lost its edge. Featuring on a list like the Filthy Fifteen certainly didn’t harm any of the artists. The inclusion of Madonna’s Dress You Up, with its barely suggestive lyrics, was as laughable then as it is now – the only offensive thing about it (“Feel the silky touch of my caresses”, “Let me cover you with velvet kisses”, etc) was the cliché – and one wonders if its inclusion on the list encouraged its release as a single in the summer of 1985. As always, any way to encourage sales is acceptable to the music industry and the suggestion of illicit content is an easy way to achieve them.

Another money-spinner the Parental Advisory Label generated was the issuing of material twice. In the 80s, a radio edit of a potentially offensive song, removing the controversial lyric, might be made available to DJs for airplay purposes, with the commercially available product containing the uncensored version. During the 1990s, many albums were issued in ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ versions – essentially the same content, but censored on one version, with some fans feeling obliged to buy both versions.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Jun. 8
1984
The ASSOCIATES Those First Impressions (WEA YZ6)
The SISTERS OF MERCY (Wayne Hussey) Body And Soul (Merciful Release MR029)
1987
Bob GELDOF I Cry Too (Mercury BOB103)
CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT Misfit [Re-issue] (Mercury CAT4)
GUNS N’ ROSES It’s So Easy (Geffen GEF22)
SEVENTH AVENUE (Big Fun) Armed Robbery (Nightmare MARES25)
SIMPLE MINDS (Jim Kerr) Promised You A Miracle [Live] (Virgin SM2)
ULTRAVOX (Midge Ure) All In One Day (Chrysalis UV6)

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