Frank Zappa

Porn Wars

Song Review by

The year is 1985. The Parents' Music Resource Center (or PMRC), a lobby group of senators and congressmen's wives, pushed for a legislation to put a warning sticker on rock albums containing explicit lyrics. Frank Zappa vehemently opposed the idea, not only for its blatant disregard to freedom of speech, but also because he suspected the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) agreed to the "voluntary labeling" in order to favor their own pony, proposition H.R. 2911, the Blank Tape Tax (see "H.R. 2911" for more details).

Zappa testified before the Senate committee. Shortly after, he put together "Porn Wars," what could be described as a tape piece, a sound collage similar to the 1968 Lumpy Gravy with the addition of Synclavier parts, which makes it in turn a direct foreteller of Civilization Phaze III. Like both of these albums, the piece contains excerpts from the late-'60s "inside the piano" conversation sessions. But most of all, "Porn Wars" makes use of various excerpts from the hearings of the Senate committee. Zappa sums up the position of the PMRC, the general attitude of the Senators (who could hardly disagree with their colleagues' wives), and finally his own statement. Some parts are real dialogues taken straight from the official records, others contain manipulated vocal material sped up, edited, repeated, or transformed in any other way. The composer enhances some comments, makes fun of other ones, highlights relations of thoughts and ideas, and cynically repeats works like "sex" and quotes from some of the songs used as offending examples by the PMRC. Ike Willis makes a cameo as Thing-Fish, quoting a bit of monologue from the 1984 album (which incidentally contained Zappa's most sexually explicit material) while creating a conceptual link between the racist theme of that record and the right-wing politics at the center of this particular episode of the Ronald Reagan era.

"Porn Wars" is a political statement. Therefore it tends to age quickly, especially as people are now used to living with the warning stickers. But Zappa created a very interesting collage. The piece was not played live, but the rock vamp appearing two thirds into it was performed as a jam a couple of times during the 1988 tour. "Porn Wars" was only included on the American version of the original LP Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention (the European version contained three more tracks instead). Subsequent CD reissues included all material from both releases.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention 1985 Ryko Distribution 12:05