Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention


"The Mothers Of Prevention"

FZ with Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989, p. 261-262

One day in 1985, Tipper Gore, wife of the Democratic Senator from Tennessee, bought her eight-year-old daughter a copy of the soundtrack album to Prince's Purple Rain—an R-rated film which had already generated considerable controversy for its sexual content. For some reason, however, she was shocked when their daughter pointed out a reference to masturbation in a song called "Darling Nikki." Tipper rounded up a bunch of her Washington housewife friends, most of whom happened to be married to influential members of the U.S. Senate, and founded the PMRC.

On or about May 31, 1985, the PMRC sent a letter to Stanley Gortikov, then president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), accusing the record industry of exposing the youth of America to "sex, violence, and the glorification of drugs and alcohol." Maybe they hadn't been watching television lately. The letter went on to demand a rating system for rock records similar to the MPAA rating system for films. The signatories included Gore, Susan Baker (wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker), Pam Howar and Sally Nevius (wives of prominent Washington businessmen) and the wives of nine other U.S. Senators.


1. I Don't Even Care

Scott Thunes, March 19, 2001

"I Don't Even Care" is a sad affair. The basic track was a sound-check track that I loved playing on, and was very happy with the groove and all. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the bass channel on that recording, so Artie had to record a brand new bass part on the bassless groove. I HATED THAT. I was so excited that Frank decided to use that particular groove, as we so rarely used soundcheck tracks for permanent recorded artifacts. So that's that.

Different Edits

European LP (1986)/Rykodisc CD (1995) EMI CD (1990)/Understanding America (2012)
0:00-2:09 0:00-2:09
2:29-2:52 2:09-2:31
3:12-3:22 2:31-2:41
3:33-4:39 2:41-3:47


3. Little Beige Sambo


5. We're Turning Again

FZ, interviewed by John Swenson, Guitar World, March, 1982

It is just a comment on the fact that as we head into the Dark Ages again you will hear only ten songs for the rest of your life. And I think a little variety never hurt. [...]

It's a tribute to anybody who did anything in rock and roll that set the standards for what people are doing now, and often copying in a bad way. You know, to me the original stuff . . . it's just like the original rhythm and blues records. There's nothing like it. A lot of those same things are being re-recorded again and recorded cleaner and nicer and better and whatever, faster. But it's not the same. And it's really not New Wave and it's not improved anything. It's just today's freeze-dried version of the mannerisms of another form of music that already happened.

Dey looked like DONOVAN fans

Singin': "JIMI COME BACK!"

Steve Vai, interviewed by Tom Mulhern, Guitar Player, February, 1983

Like on "We're Turning Again" where I do Hendrix-style things—Adrian Belew rip-offs (laughs). Well, some nights it works, some nights it doesn't—just like Hendrix, I guess. As some magazine said about me, it's my never-ending quest to be more like Adrian Belew (laughs). No offense against Adrian—I love the way he plays.

Yo' HAZE was so PURPLE

It caused your AXIS to be BOLD AS LOVE

And set your stuff on FIRE

Through the canyons of your mind

WOOOH, we'll just jump in the bath-tub
With that other guy JIM
And make him be more careful

FZ, interviewed by John Swenson, Guitar World, March, 1982

I'm not even picking on Jim Morrison. I am talking about the machinery that takes anything and exaggerates it to the point where it's blown out of proportion and the public believes the inflated version of what the reality is. I am a realistic kind of a guy. I just try and look at things the way they are, take them for what they are, deal with them the way they are, and go on to the next case. But, Americans thrive on hype and bloated images and bloated everything, and anything that's realistic they turn away from. They want the candy gloss version of whatever it is. And Jim Morrison is only one example of that.


7. Yo Cats

Liner notes



Tommy Mars, interviewed by Axel W√ľnsch & Aad Hoogesteger, T'Mershie Duween, July-September, 1991

That's my style. "Yo Cats" is my style, definitely a Mars style.

Axel Wünsch, Aad Hoogesteger, Harald Hering and Achim Mänz, "Urban Leader: Ed Mann and Tommy Mars interviewed in Wuppertal 10.3.91," T'Mershi Duween, #18-19, April-May 1991

Q: How come your real name appears on 'Meets the Mothers of Prevention'?

T: Because I have publishing on that. In my publishing, I use my real name. For my family to make them feel proud. (To Ed) Did you ever get publishing on a tune pops?

E: No, you just caught him on a good moment.

Q: Do you know about Tommy getting some credits?

E: Oh sure, I was there, kind of.

T: You were there. You were in the room when he came in, when we were working on it . . .

E: It was in the producer's studio.

T: Yeah and he . . . No no, when he told me I got credit for it was up at the house later that night. We came back up to the house later on at night . . .

E: Oh that's when we were rehearsing at eh . . .

T: Yeah and Frank was in the booth doing some work and suddenly he came out and said 'I really feel like I want to give you co-writing on this because you did a lot there . . . '

E: It was 'Yo Cats'.

T: Yeah, and I was real surprised; I didn't expect it. That's the weird thing about Frank. Things you just never expect happen and then when you expect something, it never happens. Weird.

Play some footballs on your hoe
Watch your watch, play a little flat
Make the session go overtime, that's where it's at

David Ocker, The David Ocker Internet Interview, 1994-1995

Play some "footballs"—slang for a "whole note" and by extension an "easy gig" as in "there was nothing to play but footballs". The suggestion that a player would intentionally play badly to send the session into overtime is, um, rather unkind.

Your Girl, Arlyn's, what's the diff
What's the service that you're with
So long as you can suck the butt
Of the contractor who calls you up

David Ocker, The David Ocker Internet Interview, 1994-1995

"Your Girl" and "Arlyns" were answering services particularly geared to service professional studio musicians—for example, a contractor, wanting to hire a list of people for a date, could simply give the list to the answering service who would then call all the musicians for him—or better yet, the service would keep a copy of the players schedule and accept or deny the job and then inform the player where and when to show up.

Staying in close contact with "the service" is important—the contractors won't wait for ever for a reply and calls for last minute jobs can be the most lucrative.

Arthur Barrow, Of Course I Said Yes!, 2016, p. 49

There were entities called answering services for which a small monthly fee was charged. There were two that were used specifically by musicians: "Your Girl" and "Arlyn's." If someone dialed a number connected to a service and got no answer after a number of rings, the service would pick up the line and take a message about the gig or whatever. The musician could check in with the service to see if any calls had come in. As I recall, they even acted as a go-between for musicians, keeping track of their calendars to some extent. It was almost like having a secretary.


8. What's New In Baltimore?


9. Porn Wars

The PMRC and the Senate Hearings

FZ, interviewed by Mitch Devine, The Long Beach Union, December 16-22, 1985

See, these ladies started off with a premise that is very unscientific, and that premise is that rock music causes suicide, murder, teenage pregnancy, rape, drug abuse and sympathy for the devil. [...]

The reason it got so much coverage is the media, especially television, saw a great chance to put these little news stories on the five o'clock news because of the existence of rock videos. They would take rock videos and chop up these colorful little bumpers and then the announcer would say, "You decide." Well, the fact that they put it on the air gives the impression that there is a problem, whereas there is not.

Kevin Fobbs, February 23, 2005

I was a Michigan coordinator of PMRC, and like millions of parents all across America was worried about the recording industry's seemingly unabashed effort at repeatedly targeting minors like my child.

I did a live broadcast with recording artist Frank Zappa who was joined on the phone from Hollywood. When I challenged his frayed and faulty logic concerning the harm to the children of America, instead of being an adult and reasonable he simply hung up on me on the air. Zappa was not trying to protect children but his right to make music. He wanted to expose children to the destabilizing influence of music, which glorified sex, emphasized drug use and violence, and promoted the decay of the family. That was his world and it was the world that Hollywood reflected as well.

FZ, interviewed by Don Menn & Matt Groening, "The Mother Of All Interviews, Act II," Zappa!, 1992, p. 51

DM: When you were at the Senate in '85, were you serious or funny?

I thought I was funny.

DM: Did they?

Well, the audience did. They kept telling the audience to shut up. The atmosphere there was really very strange, because the hearing itself was such a mongrelization. It took place in the Science, Commerce, and Transportation Committee—the least likely place in all of the U.S. government you'd think that the matter of rock lyrics should be brought up. The reason it was there was that five of the members of the committee had wives who had signed the original PMRC letter, and they were using it as a photo op, and it was wildly attended. There were 50 still photographers and something like 30 video teams. It was a big media event. And one of the senators said, "I've been on committees dealing with the MX, the budget, this thing, that thing, and I have never seen anything like this in my life." It was the hot ticket of 1985.

DM: What do you mean, he'd never seen anything like it?

The media zoo that sprang up around the issue. One of the stars of the hearing was Paula Hawkins, the Nancy Reagan lookalike from Florida—she had the reputation of being the least effective senator; she was really a disaster. Another one of her outstanding features was that all the Watergate burglars had found employment in her office in Florida. She was just this miserable thing. She wasn't a member of the committee, but she was having trouble getting re-elected, so Danforth, who was the chairman of the committee, did her a favor—one Republican to another—and allowed her to participate in the media circus, make some comments, and, you know, to grill me. She was the one who wanted to know what kind of toys my children had.

FZ, interviewed by Gerald Seligman, March 16, 1986

GS: Do you think the humour with which you filled your Congressional statement, and some of the others you've made since, in any way detracts from the seriousness with which your opponents may view what you're saying? Does it work against you?

FZ: Well, look at it in its proper perspective, okay. How can you persuade to my point of view a person who believes in dirty words and/or the devil? That isn't going to happen. And the people who already see my point of view probably have a sense of humour, so I would think I'm doing it the best way I know how. And I've done it in a lot of places where a person wouldn't normally go to sell this idea.

Johnny Guitar Watson: YEAH!

FZ, quoted by Paul Gilby, Sound On Sound, February, 1987

You know, when you look at individual frames of sound, each one has a microtonal pitch to it, and when they are played back really fast, it gives you the illusion that you are hearing a replica of the real instrument. A bit like movie film where you have 24 separate image frames per second to re-create the movement. It's like really tiny tuning discrepancies from frame to frame. So you can re-pitch the frames how you like. For example, you could choose to pitch them to the exact tuning of a keyboard so that when you hit a single note on the keyboard, instead of getting "Laah," which may sound like a real instrument, you get a "melismic" effect—a quick melody line. And since the Synclavier has four partials that you can stack this on, you can plan to have four different harmony parts which move in different directions resolving to something at the end. So, we call these things either "resolvers" or "evolvers."

Evolvers are timbres that start with one kind of a sound in re-synthesis, and you take a certain number of frames from that, and they cross-fade into another timbre. For example, a horn could fade into a clarinet and then into a string section over a pre-determined time.

Resolvers are a classification of sound which has some sort of melody line built into it, but all under control of one key on the keyboard. This is an example of the technique and it was derived from one sample of Johnny Guitar Watson's voice; I think he was originally saying "Yeah!."


Senator Hawkins: I'd be interested to see what toys your kids ever had.
FZ: Why would you be interested?
Senator Hawkins: Just as a point of interest in this . . .
FZ: Well, come on over to the house. I'll show 'em to you . . . Really!
Senator Hawkins: I . . . I might do that.

Tom Brown, quoted by Drew51, Zappateers, December 20, 2010

Somehow the conversation got around to the PMRC hearings which triggered Frank to tell us that he had actually invited Paula Hawkins over to the house several times.

John Swenson, "Frank Zappa—A Misunderstood Man," Register-Pajaronian, April 28, 1988

"I actually called her office later and said I'm serious, I'll give you a date, c'mon over. Her aides laughed about it, but Paula didn't have much of a sense of humor," Zappa said.

Senator Gore: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I found your statement very interesting and, ah, let me say although I disagree with some of the statements that you make and have made on other occasions, I have been a fan of your music, believe it or not. And I, I, ah, respect you as a true original and a tremendously talented musician.

Tom Brown, quoted by Drew51, Zappateers, December 20, 2010

[FZ] began to pontificate about Al Gore, who had also been present and one of the senators lording over the hearings. Referring to Al's statement, "I've been a big fan of your music," Frank took a long drag on his cigarette, raised an eyebrow and exhaled, "It makes a guy wonder. What was he listening to? Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Lumpy Gravy?", as we all enjoyed a good laugh at the expense of Al Gore.

John Swenson, "Frank Zappa—A Misunderstood Man," Register-Pajaronian, April 28, 1988

"I wonder what albums Albert Gore ever had," Zappa mused, "or what sort of activities he and Tipper were engaged in while they were listening to my records. "And what about the drum set in the basement? Tipper apparently used to be a drummer. So what if one of the Bangles were suddenly to get sick, would Tipper be a substitute Bangle? That would be some photo opportunity."


10. H.R. 2911

FZ, interviewed by Mitch Devine, The Long Beach Union, December 16-22, 1985

First of all, it's known under two names. It's also known as the Mathias Home Taping Bill. 2911 is the number in the House of Representatives and in the Senate it goes under the other name.

The bill in the Senate has among its endorsers, Senator Gore, Cranston, Kennedy . . . I don't have the bill here, but those are a few of the names of the cosponsors that I recall from the bill. You'll also note that as of September 19, the date of the hearings, Senator Gore—whose wife, Tipper, is a PMRC founder—was not a cosponsor of the bill. As of October 30, when they had the first hearing of the Mathias Bill in the senate committee, he was a cosponsor.

Originally, when the first PMRC letter that went to the RIAA was delivered there were sixteen signatures on it. Most of the signatures of these women were over the names of husbands who sat on committees that affected the life or death of this legislation for the record industry. So it was a matter of implied extortion.

Speaking from the PMRC standpoint, it was like, "If you don't do what we ask, then your bill may experience an untimely demise in my husband's committee."

[...] At least that's the way the RIAA perceived it because I had discussions with [Stanley] Gortikov about this months and months ago. Gortikov, in fact, was the one who told me that one of the original PMRC signers was Mrs. Strom Thurmond. Ultimately, this legislation has to go through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Strom Thurmond. So there was an awareness at the RIAA of what the implications of that PMRC letter were.

If this bill that they are so concerned about passes, it will put 200 to 250 million dollars a year more money in the pockets of the record industry just like a special tax.

[...] I'm not the only one who has said negative things about it. Every manufacturer of blank tape and every manufacturer of home recording machinery, they all hate the thing.

What the bill requires is that all of these manufacturers first obtain a compulsory license from the Registrar of Copyrights. Without this license they're not allowed to sell the goods in the United States. And prior to selling your licensed goods, the manufacturer has to pay into the Registrar of Copyrights a royalty. So they have to pay it. It ties up their capital.

So do you think that they're not going to attach a little premium on top of this surcharge in order to compensate them for the loss of interest on that capital? Because, if the bill itself requires a surcharge of one cent per minute on all blank tape, do you think that that's all that's going to get passed along to a consumer? No way.

The other thing that you ought to consider is that in the case of the Mathias Bill, the surcharge on a single recording device is 5%. On a double recording device, which is any double cassette machine or a combination of a turntable and a cassette machine, it's 25%. Do you think that the manufacturers, if forced to do this, will just add 5% and 25%? No way.

The other thing that people don't understand about the way the bill works is the wording of it is kinda tricky. In the Mathias bill it talks about the extra income going to the copyright holders. Now, when people think of copyrights, they think of the little © in a circle. That © with the circle is the copyright for the music.

There's another thing on the record, though. It's a "p" with a circle and that is the copyright for the performance. And guess who owns that? The record company.

Gortikov has talked to me twice in the last month or so about the blank tape tax because he doesn't want me to say bad things about it. The last conversation I had with him, was him trying to explain what the record industry's point of view is on the tax, just so that I wouldn't hurt or embarrass anybody by saying things that other people in the industry would really hate to have me say.

So I listened to him and I took notes and I'll give you the benefit of a few of those notes. He's the one who gave me the estimate of between 200 and 250 million dollars a year in revenue.

When I questioned him about the "p" copyright, he says, well, the division of the money that comes in—even though the bill doesn't specify the division—if you look at it on paper it doesn't tell where the money goes. But he said that he expected that the pool of funds would be divided up in the same proportion that the profits from a record album would be divided up.

Let me tell you what that means in plain English: the "p" copyright holder gets 90% and the "c" copyright holder gets 10%. So this bill is of major benefit to the record companies and of much smaller benefit to the recording artist.

Then I said, "Well, in the terms of the 10% that goes to the recording artist, how is that divided up?" And he said, "Well, that's probably going to be based on actual record sales."

Guess what that means?

The big winners would be Prince, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen—all the guys that are already selling millions of units. So the bill really does little or nothing to help a lower- or mid-echelon sales artist. It just means extra compensation for those people who already sell millions of units, based on the theory of "they sold it, they earned it," which I can agree with because any other kind of division would start to smell like Communism.

But we have to say that if a guy has already sold 30 million albums—say, in the case of Michael Jackson—how many people did not buy a Michael Jackson album and taped it from a friend? Obviously, he did okay.

So for all the guys that are already selling large numbers of albums, are you trying to tell me that there is an equal number of people who didn't buy the record and just taped it from their next-door neighbor?



Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
Original provocation by Vladimir Sovetov
This page updated: 2019-08-09