As it does every year, Labor Day weekend marks the return of an age-old North American rite of passage: young boys having unclean thoughts about their teachers.
In the summer of 1984, Van Halen were enjoying their biggest commercial success to date. The riotous hard-rock band’s sixth album, 1984, had already scored one No. 1 hit (‘Jump’) and two other smash singles by the time another song from the album entered heavy rotation on the fledgling MTV.
The song was called ‘Hot for Teacher.’ What little the lyrics left to the imagination was pretty much revealed in the racy video. Janet Jones, the future Mrs. Wayne Gretzky, played a teacher who thrilled a young classroom (fifth grade?) by stripping down to a skimpy bikini and strutting runway-style across the desktops. The boys, led by pint-sized versions of the Van Halen members, cheered her on.
“I brought my pen-cil!” hollered David Lee Roth, giving new meaning to the first-day jitters. Meanwhile, poor Waldo, a bespectacled kid with slicked-down hair, was thrown into a situation he was to young to handle.
“I’m nervous and my socks are too loose,” said the character, voiced like a miniature John Wayne by the late ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast member Phil Hartman. The line became an instant catchphrase.
Around this time, Tipper Gore, wife of then-Sen. Al Gore, was listening innocently to Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ album with her young children. Appalled at the lyrical content of ‘Darling Nikki,’ Gore began watching videos, looking for more inappropriate titillation. She found it in, among others, ‘Hot for Teacher.’
“The images frightened my children,” she said. “They frightened me! The graphic sex and the violence were too much for us to handle.” By May 1985, Gore would form the Parents Music Resource Center, which lobbied the recording industry to create a ratings system apprising buyers of explicit content.
It was the ‘Hot for Teacher’ video, not the song alone, that shocked Gore and her colleagues. When the PMRC released its list of the “Filthy Fifteen,” it included songs by Madonna, AC/DC and Sheena Easton but not Van Halen.
But when the Senate agreed to hold a hearing on so-called “porn rock,” Exhibit A was the Van Halen video. Florida Sen. Paula Hawkins also presented the Twisted Sister video for ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and album covers from Def Leppard, W.A.S.P and Wendy O. Williams. “Much has changed since Elvis’ seemingly innocent times,” said Hawkins.
Opposing the drive to get the recording industry to censor itself were musicians Frank Zappa and Dee Snider. In a surprise, the wholesome singer John Denver also spoke against the lobbyists, suggesting that music, such as his song ‘Rocky Mountain High,’ can be easily misinterpreted. Forbidding certain thoughts, he argued, can often backfire.
“That which is denied becomes that which is most desired,” he told the hearing committee.
After the hearing, the Parental Guidance stickers became commonplace. Zappa cut a collage track, featuring some of the testimony, called ‘Porn Wars.’ Strangely, his album ‘Jazz From Hell’ — all instrumental — earned a warning sticker.
The ‘Hot for Teacher’ video would go down as one of the most popular fixtures of the early years of MTV. Ending the footage, the members of Van Halen envisioned future lives for their grade-school alter-egos. Roth would become a game show host; Michael Anthony would be a sumo wrestler; Eddie Van Halen would end up “relaxing” in a psychiatric institution.
And little Alex Van Halen would grow up to be a gynecologist.