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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Anti-Rock Music Hysteria

Racist religious tract, 1957
From the day rhythm & blues and country came together to form a brand new hybrid of pop music called Rock N' Roll that appealed to both young black and young white music fans, there was a problem....

Another racist anti-rock flyer, New Orleans, LA 1960
Older puritans hated ANYTHING with a backbeat. And the very thought of integrated black/white performing groups and audiences have always shocked and frightened social conservatives. Although their fear goes all the way back to the dawning of the Jazz age in the Roaring '20s, it began to really heat up especially as the Civil Rights movement was dawning and schools were required to become intergrated. Especially in the waning years of the Jim Crow era. 

Communism, Hypnotism and The Beatles by David A. Noebel, 1965
When the race card ultimately failed, they brought back other scary nemesis: Communism and the devil. Listening to The Beatles was surely a indoctrination and their records, audio Little Red Books, they alleged.

But The Beatles weren't exactly rationing their records away. And they were living pretty bourgeois lifestyles that Karl Marx probably wouldn't approve of. Besides, they were banned in The Soviet Union itself.

But religious conservatives latched onto a statement allegedly made by John Lennon. During an interview with Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave, Lennon remarked, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink ... We're more popular than Jesus now—I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity".

The comment went virtually unnoticed in England. But caused a viral massive public outrage in the US when quoted by an American magazine five months later. The furor that followed—burning of Beatles records and Ku Klux Klan threats against Lennon—contributed to the band's decision to stop touring.

"Well, before they can burn our records, they first have to buy them" - George Harrison
Amused by their supposed link to Communism by the American right-wing and religious fundamentalists. It's been said it was one of the reasons The Beatles recorded "Back In The USSR". Which shocked American ultra-conservatives speechless as their shaming of The Beatles backfired horribly on them.

Rhythm, Riots and Revolution by David A. Noebel, 1966
Rock N' Roll: The Devil's Diversion by Bob Larson, 1968
Rock & The Church by Bob Larson, 1971
But by the early '70s, the anti-rock hysteria had become a major tool of Christian evangelists to recruit impressionable young people. New acts such as Alice Cooper, The New York Dolls, Kiss and David Bowie were incorporating makeup and visuals into their performances, giving rock a more theatric flair. But to the religious right, they looked like black masses. But depending on who they were following, everything in pop culture at the time was a tool of the devil.   

Is it just me or are David A. Noebel and Bob Larson just not exactly the kind of guys you'd want to go out dancing with?

Backward Masking Unmasked by Jacob Aranza, 1983
But in the 1980s, with the popularity of heavy metal and new wave, came a flood of dire new books. The argument this time wasn't about race or Communism, but that rock directly promoted devil worship. And this time, they had proof...

Michael Mills "Hidden Satanic Messages in Rock Music" (1981) MP3

I had a friend named Rich who was a Born Again Christian who tried to convert me by playing the allegedly satanic lyrics of "Stairway To Heaven" Led Zeppelin backwards on his stereo turntable. "Can you hear it?" he said as he spun the record backwards "He (Robert Plant) just said 'My sweet Satan'! What do you think now?" All I knew was I had a really bad headache and a perfectly good Led Zeppelin record was needlessly ruined.... 

Why Knock Rock by Dan Peters & Steve Peters, (1984) This was also made into a video series that was shown at countless super lame Christian teen parties....
But in 1985, things got super ugly as the PMRC or Parent's Music Resource Center (or as we called them in high school, Pre-Menstruating Record Critics) was formed by senators wives Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, bringing potential legislation dangerously into this debate and rock n' roll was in for the fight of it's life.

Gore and Baker formed the group after Gore was listening to her daughter's cassette of Purple Rain by Prince and hearing the lyrics to the track "Darling Nikki", which specifically mentioned masturbation. Going through their kids music collections, they were 'shocked' to find many more albums with lyrics referencing violence and sex in even the most indirect way.

This included innocuous pop songs like "In My House" The Mary Jane Girls. And it could also include 85% of all pop music ever written in history. That was the disturbing thing about the PMRC. They thought the '50s and '60s were such a pure time musically and only since the 1980s did music get overtly sexual and mention gratuitous violence.

"My Girl's Pussy" Harry Roy & His Orchestra (1931)

"Butcher Pete (Parts 1&2)" Roy Brown (1950)

While many dismissed the PMRC as a group that was powerless against a by then well established music form, that wasn't entirely true. The very fact it actually made it to a senate hearing is proof of how dangerously close we were to actually legislating the end of free artistic expression in music.

And Frank Zappa knew what was at stake.

James Dobson & Susan Baker "Rock Music Lyrics" (1986) MP3

Zappa, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and John Denver appeared before congress and blasted the senate for the hearing and the thinly veiled attempt at censorship.

Dee Snider made an excellent remark regarding the Twisted Sister song "Under the Blade", a song Snider claimed was written about an impending surgery, that "the only sadomasochism, bondage, and rape in this song is in the mind of Ms. Gore." he stated, "Ms. Gore was looking for sadomasochism and bondage, and she found it. Someone looking for surgical references would have found it as well."

John Denver, whom the PMRC wives and the more conservative senators thought would side with them were in for a big surprise. And Denver should know something about getting censored; In the early '70s, his song "Rocky Mountain High" was banned off many radio stations due to the FCC's ban on songs that promoted drug use and some record shops refused to stock the song. He knew exactly what Snider, Zappa and the acts targeted by the PMRC were up against.     
But the most passionate speaker was Frank Zappa.

Naturally, the religious right were milking this for all they could get. In 1985, an avalanche of anti-rock books and local groups of religious and socially conservative people began appearing on daytime TV talk shows to denounce contemporary rock music.
More Rock, Country & Backward Masking Unmasked by Jacob Aranza (1985) Not even country music was safe. But the author hit a nerve with country artists and fans with this book, as country fans tend to be more religious and conservative. But not like this. This was going too far. And country artists and fans soon began joining the rockers when they realized their music was in the crosshairs as well. 
Rock's Hidden Persuader: The Truth About Backmasking by Dan and Steve Peters (1985) Brothers Dan and Steve Peters were the type of Christians who would blame your bad day on a Thin Lizzy song you stumbled over on some Classic Rock station while scanning the radio dial. They argued satanic messages could be subliminally understood whether a record was played backward or forward...
The Devil's Disciples: The Truth About Rock by Jeff Godwin (1985) Unquestionably the most ludicrous of all the ludicrous books ever written on this immaterial subject. Even Christian rock and pop was a tool of the devil according to Jeff Godwin.
On December 23, 1985. James Vance and Raymond Belknap, after hours of drinking beer, smoking marijuana and allegedly listening to a cassette of Judas Priest's 1978 album Stained Glass, went to a playground in Sparks, NV with a 12-gauge shotgun to end their lives. Belknap was the first to place the shotgun under his chin. He died instantly after pulling the trigger. Vance then shot himself but survived, suffering severe facial injuries. Following numerous complications, Vance too passed away in 1988, three years after the suicide pact.

Vance and Belknap's parents sued Judas Priest, claiming the lyrics to "Better By You Better Than Me" (which was a cover of a 1969 song about a someone ending a romantic relationship through a third party from Spooky Tooth) prompted Vance and Belknap to their suicide attempts. A note written by Vance after the shooting was submitted as evidence as well as an "audio expert" who could discern evil in any record provided his example, claiming a subliminal message, saying "Do it" was repeated several times during the song.

(I personally heard that song many times before this tragedy and after, in both the Judas Priest and Spooky Tooth versions and both sober and drunk and high and not even once have I ever heard the words "Do it" in "Better By You Better Than Me". Nor have I ever felt the need to end my life over a song.)

Although the case was eventually dismissed in 1990, it further put rock music under the public microscope.

And the fear continued. In 1986, Wal-Mart stores (even then, a powerful and expanding empire) stopped carrying albums with explicit lyrics stickers and banned all rock magazines, including Rolling Stone from it's shelves. All albums for sale at Wal-Mart to this very day MUST be censored, clean versions.

And 1985/86 were rough years for Frank Zappa. He appeared on CNN's Crossfire program and staunchly defended artistic freedom....

.....And lampooned the PMRC controversy on his 1985 album Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers of Prevention

Warning sticker from Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers of Prevention.
Eventually, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) caved in November of 1985 and allowed for labels and retailers to voluntarily sticker their albums with a uniform Parental Advisory warning sticker to parents.

Donny Osmond (of all people) was vehemently opposed to Parental Advisory stickering. He predicted that teenagers would find a way to get an uncensored copy of the album regardless and that would negatively impact artists album sales as well with unsold and unmarketable "clean" copies of albums that would have sold without the Parental Advisory stickers. Osmond also argued that artists that did not make explicit music would be forced to do so to remain marketable. His predictions were proven correct in the early '90s as "clean" versions of popular gangsta rap albums were vastly outsold by the uncensored versions and mainstream pop/rock acts of the time such as Madonna and Kiss made their most explicit records then.   
Frank Zappa also released his album Jazz From Hell in 1986. And the album immediately was given an Parental Advisory sticker by the Pacific Northwest Fred Meyer department store chain. One of the very first to receive one.

Jazz From Hell was an entirely instrumental jazz album.

The Parental Advisory stickers did exactly the opposite of what was intended. They designated the "cool" albums - especially in the emerging hip-hop scene and it's sub-genre, gangsta rap. NWA, Ice-T, Snoop Dogg and others proudly and prominently displayed their Parental Advisory warnings not as stickers, but as an actual part of their album covers..

As hip-hop rose to prominence in the late 1980s, a Miami rap group called 2 Live Crew released their debut album The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are in 1986. Featuring shocking and sexually explicit lyrics, including the singles "We Want Some Pussy" and "Throw The Dick". In 1987, a Florida store clerk was acquitted of felony charges for selling the album to a 14 year old girl.

The game had been upped. Now record store owners and employees were facing prosecution for selling controversial albums to minors. Particularly 2 Live Crew's albums. Realizing what they were facing without retail sales, the group offered clean versions of their later albums. The move actually helped them because they became more accessible to radio and Miami radio station WPOW "Power 96" began playing 2 Live Crew's toned down offerings. But the group always made explicit records and a record store owner in Alexander City, Alabama, was cited for selling an explicit copy of their next album Move Somethin' to an undercover police officer in 1988. 

It was the first time in the United States that a record store owner was held liable for obscenity over music. The charges were dropped after a jury found the record store not guilty. But a chill was placed on American independent retail record shops. Especially in the Bible Belt and the Deep South.

However when 2 Live Crew's 1989 LP As Nasty As They Wanna Be was released, the shit hit the fan. Lawyers for the religious conservative group American Family Association met with Florida's governor at the time to see if the album met the state's definition of 'obscene'.

(To this day, outside of child pornography, very few things, if anything else, ever met mutually in any definition of obscene on a federal level. One person's obscenity is another's art. Even the Supreme Court allowed plenty of ambiguity in obscenity cases and left them up to the states in which these suits were being contested.)

The Broward County sheriff warned area record store owners that selling the album could be prosecutable after a county circuit court judge ruled there may be probable cause for obscenity violations. 2 Live Crew sued the sheriff and in June of 1989, a US district court judge ruled the album was obscene and two days later, a local record store clerk was arrested two days later, after selling a copy to an undercover police officer.

A few days later, members of 2 Live Crew was arrested for performing songs from the album at a nightclub in Hollywood, FL. The arrests and obscenity trials became international news and the group also received support from several rock and heavy metal artists. The memories of their earlier hassles with the PMRC were still painfully fresh.

Eventually, their convictions on obscenity were overruled.  

And somehow, the same old prudes that got their pantaloons in a twist over 2 Live Crew's albums completely ignored this classic from 1980.

In 1988, Poison released Open Up and Say... Ahh! While there was nothing controversial about the music itself, some people who overthink too much saw the cover model's Gene Simmons-like tongue and immediately wanted it banned.  

The "clean" cover of Open Up and Say... Ahh!

The obscenity threats also extended to rock album covers. And it had been for a very long time. But I'll save that for a future post.

In the mid '90s, gangsta rap reached saturation and began to fade. In it's place was a new musical threat to conservative and religious ideals. A hard rock group from Florida named Marilyn Manson emerged and at first glance, it was hard to see what they were upset about. It was a band that put a lot of theatrics in their shows, not unlike anything Alice Cooper and Kiss did 20 years before. But the rumour that Marilyn Manson was allegedly a priest in the Church of Satan (as well as the title of his 1996 LP was Antichrist Superstar) led to even more gruesome - and totally ludicrous stories, such as onstage human sacrifices, rapes and torture.

Marilyn Manson
But what made the allegations different was they were being spread by the internet, which was new and had virtually no rules in it's beginnings. But malicious lies and slander could be spread across the nation in virtually seconds and totally anonymously back then. And spread even farther and to others that much more quickly. By word of mouth alone, it took months to years at the fastest that they could be spread. 

And the band's leader/namesake Marilyn Manson had to fight back a daily barrage of unfounded and increasingly outrageous statements against him. And he did and took legal action against the sources of these statements. And they quickly ceased. Manson's music was also criticized after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO as the shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, were fans of Marilyn Manson. And suddenly, Manson found himself in the same ugly national spotlight as Judas Priest and 2 Live Crew had a decade earlier. While no legal action was taken against Marilyn Manson, having to go through that experience alone is pretty traumatic.  

In the 2000s, a Detroit based hip-hop duo called Insane Clown Posse made hot lyrics a part of their act since their mid 1980s beginnings and after years of music industry rejection and the obsessiveness of their fans (known as 'Juggalos') of their beloved duo had came to a cult-like hero status outside of the mainstream had recently earned them another status - federally recognized criminal gang. 

Insane Clown Posse
In 2011, the FBI put the Juggalos alongside such notorious criminal gangs such as the Bloods, Crips, Surenos, Latin Kings and MS-13. They cited certain examples of assaults and vandalism allegedly involving Juggalos, which Insane Clown Posse vehemently condemned and questioned. The band recently filed a lawsuit against the FBI and lost. But Insane Clown Posse plan to continue the legal fight against the classification. 

While most rock/pop stars realize a certain amount of urban legends are actually helpful to their careers. When the myths begin to overtake the facts, it's time to draw a line. Books like the ones illustrated above would never be allowed to be published unchallenged by the artists the books are making reference to today.

Maybe what some people forget is it's pop/rock and hip-hop music's role to challenge the status quo. If rock had never evolved beyond the '50s, it would never have survived. And each generation brings changes. Some of them marvelous, others not so much.

Maybe sometimes the most outrageous acts that come along are just a generational gimmick to attract disenfranchised youth. Sometimes, they work. And sometimes, they don't. 

Or maybe no matter what you call it, it's only rock n' roll. But we like it.


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  2. I found your this post while searching for some related information on blog search...Its a good post..keep posting and update the information. rock music


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