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The devilish history of the explicit lyrics sticker

Heavy metal versus the USA.

The explicit lyrics sticker is one of the most recognizable images in American music. Its placement on an album cover signifies that you’re going to hear something for adult ears only, and it’s an image we often take for granted. The story behind how we got that sticker is wild, to say the least.

The very public discussion around the advisory label in the 1980s involved the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) — a group led by the wives of Washington politicians — and a few musicians, including Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver.

While the PMRC’s involvement was allegedly sparked by some raunchy lyrics from Prince’s 1984 album Purple Rain, the debate over rock lyrics had been infiltrating American culture and politics for a decade. The driving force behind that debate was the rise of heavy metal, a genre that saw explosive popularity with the launch of MTV in 1981 and the growing influence of the religious right, who saw rock music as a powerful threat to Christianity.

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