In 1985 the spouses of two well-known Washington figures, Susan Baker, wife of Secretary of State-designate James Baker, and Tipper Gore, wife of Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., founded a group to alert parents to objectionable lyrics in rock music. Three years later, how are they doing? Not well.

Though falsely accused of "censorship," the Parents' Music Resource Center does not seek any government action. It merely asks the major recording companies to label the album covers of rock records that contain violent, sexually explicit or drug-oriented lyrics. Such agreements are to be purely voluntary, like the well-established rating codes of the movie industry.Some 22 record companies say they have accepted this idea. But Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Gore now report that in fact "most have not complied, or when they have, the warning labels are too small to be noticed or are hidden in the artwork."

In recent decades, consumer information has become an accepted business principle, especially for products that could threaten the well-being of children. Why should rock records be an exception?