One sign of how well Prince’s music has stood the test of time is that, even to a jaded listener in 2016, his songs about sex can still sound utterly, joyously filthy. And there is perhaps no greater tribute to the power of the man’s dirty talk than the fact that, back in the 1980s, it helped lead to the creation of the “parental advisory” label, those little black stickers that signaled to teenagers which albums would be the most fun to listen to all through the CD era.
As the story goes, Al and Tipper Gore were listening to Purple Rain with their 11-year-old daughter when they found themselves awkwardly ambushed by “Darling Nikki,” Prince’s somewhat strange but rollicking ode to getting it on with a sexually adventurous young woman. It begins:
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
She said, “How’d you like to waste some time?”
And I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind
Tipper was not pleased. The experience eventually led her to form the Parents Music Resource Center with a group of other “Washington wives.” Together, they lobbied to create a music rating system like the one used for movies and released a list of especially objectionable songs known as the “Filthy Fifteen.” (“Darling Nikki,” of course, topped it.) Their efforts culminated in a Senate hearing, during which the unexpected trio of John Denver, Frank Zappa, and the shockingly articulate Dee Snider of Twisted Sister all joined together to testify on behalf of artists’ First Amendment rights.
The PMRC did not, in the end, get its full rating system. But record companies did volunteer to start affixing the now familiar parental advisory stickers to records with explicit lyrics. This eventually become a bit of a pain for artists when stores such as Walmart started refusing to carry CDs that earned the labels and helped lead to parent-friendly innovations like “clean” versions of raunchy albums. Prince, in fact, released a “clean” version of his 1992 Love Symbol Album, which featured a radio-friendly version of “Sexy MF.” It’s almost just as sexy as the original.