The Story of Prince and Those 'Parental Advisory' Stickers

Apr 21, 2016

Prince, the legendary pop star who died Wednesday at 57, was known as a sex symbol. In fact, his provocative lyrics helped set off the national movement that led to the creation of the black-and-white "Parental Advisory" stickers on albums.

Vice President Al Gore's wife Elizabeth "Tipper" Gore first realized that some records could use disclaimers while listening to Prince's Purple Rain with her 11-year-old daughter, specifically these lyrics from "Darling Nikki": "I knew a girl named Nikki/ I guess you could say she was a sex fiend/ I met her in a hotel lobby/ Masturbating with a magazine."

As she later wrote in Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society (1987), "The vulgar lyrics embarrassed both of us. At first, I was stunned — then I got mad! Millions of Americans were buying Purple Rain with no idea what to expect!"

Prince performs at the Bottom Line on Feb. 15, 1980 in New York City.
Prince performs at the Bottom Line on Feb. 15, 1980 in New York City.Waring Abbott—Getty Images
Prince performs at the Bottom Line on Feb. 15, 1980 in New York City.
Prince performs on Saturday Night Live on Feb. 21, 1981.
Prince performs onstage at the Palladium on Dec. 2, 1981 in New York City.
Prince in 1982.
Prince attends the premiere of Purple Rain on July 26, 1984 in Hollywood, Calif.
Promotional still for Purple Rain.
Prince in Under the Cherry Moon, 1986.
Prince and the Revolution perform on Aug. 17, 1986 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Prince performs at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 5, 1991 in Los Angeles.
Prince Charles, right, talks with Prince, left, at the "Diamonds are Forever" celebration on June 9, 1999 in London.
Beyoncé, right, and Prince perform at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 8, 2004 in Los Angeles.
From left: Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison and Prince perform during The 19th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in New York City on March 15, 2004. Prince was inducted into the Hall of Fame that evening.
PRINCE DIPrince arrives with his former wife Manuela Testolini for the 77th Academy Awards on Feb. 27, 2005 in Los Angeles.
Prince performs during the American Idol Season 5 Finale on May 24, 2006 in Hollywood, Calif.
Prince performs during half-time at Super Bowl XLI on February 4, 2007 in Miami, Fla.
Prince performs during half-time at Super Bowl XLI on February 4, 2007 in Miami, Fla.
Sheila E and Prince perform on June 1, 2007 in Pasadena, Calif.
Prince with comedian Dave Chappelle at the 2007 NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 18, 2007 in Las Vegas.
Prince during the 2015 American Music Awards on Nov. 22, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Prince performs at the Bottom Line on Feb. 15, 1980 in New York City.
Waring Abbott—Getty Images
1 of 19

So in 1985, she formed the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) with the support of several political wives, such as Susan Baker (married to Treasury Secretary James Baker), who joined the cause after her seven-year-old daughter started quoting Madonna's "Like A Virgin" and asking what a virgin was. The PMRC released a "The Filthy Fifteen," a list of songs that should be banned or labeled, naturally featuring Prince and Madonna. Musicians John Denver, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and Frank Zappa testified at a Senate hearing about record labeling, an idea Zappa called "the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation."

Over the next decade, the Recording Industry Association of America started using different variations of "Parental Advisory." At one point, Walmart refused to carry records with such warnings. But the movement didn't hurt Prince. As Bob Cavallo, a former manager, put it, "Any time Prince got bad publicity, it helped him."

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.