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Safe-Sex Message Hits the Pop World : In the Age of AIDS, Has the Music Industry Found a New Social Consciousness?

June 06, 1987|BELMA JOHNSON | Belma Johnson is editor of the R&B Report, a music trade journal. and

Uh-uh, no, no casual sex.

That's something baby, you just better forget.

Uh-uh, no, no respectfully.

Just sleeping around don't interest me.

--From Carrie McDowell's hit "Casual Sex"

Sex sells records--from such blatant megahits as Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and Prince's "Do Me Baby" all the way through to George Michael's current and explicit "I Want Your Sex."

Still, the pop world is not immune to the dangers of casual sex in an age of AIDS and escalating teen-age pregnancies. The result is a new twist on the old theme: safe sex .

In the dance-club hit "Casual Sex," one of several records with a safe-sex theme, Carrie McDowell warns would-be lovers that she's not interested in just fooling around.

Rapper Kool Moe Dee advises listeners of the need to take precautions in his R&B hit "Go See the Doctor." RCA Records, which released the song, is even distributing "Go See the Doctor" condoms to the media as a promotional device.

In her recent No. 1 pop single, Janet Jackson pleads, "Let's Wait Awhile."

Teen dream Jermaine Stewart registered one of the biggest crossover hits of recent years when he reminded sexually awakening teens: "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off (To Have a Good Time.)"

Is there a new consciousness in pop?

Smokey Robinson, who has written love songs for three decades now, thinks so.

"Sexual promiscuity has been going on since the beginning of time, but with the advent of diseases like AIDS, people are taking a closer look at themselves," Robinson said. "No one wants to die for it."

Robinson may even have inadvertently come up with a safe-sex anthem of his own. One of the tracks on his new album is a play on his smash '61 single "Shop Around." Its title: "It's Time to Stop Shopping Around."

The Parents Music Resource Center--the Virginia-based group that has been calling for warning stickers on sexually explicit albums--is obviously pleased by what is happening.

"I think the music industry is starting to understand the tremendous impact that it has on its younger audience," said Jennifer Norwood, PMRC president.

But not everyone sees the new "safe sex" songs as any social breakthrough.

"Those records have been there all the time," said Jeff Wyatt, program director for KPWR-FM in Los Angeles. "It's just that now they have a new meaning. What you're seeing is music reflecting society. (There's an) awareness that it's not healthy to be free sexually."

What about the effect of these songs? Does the message really get through to fans?

Customers this week at Tower Records in West Hollywood said they've noticed the rise of "safe sex" tunes, but none said that they would buy a record just because of the theme. The important thing, they agreed, is still the beat.

"I think (these themes) are great," said Tony Johnson, 19. "But I just listen because of the song. I wouldn't (buy a record) just because of what it says."

Willie Hutch, who wrote "Casual Sex" for Carrie McDowell, said he wanted the tune to be thought-provoking.

During a recent break at Motown's Hitsville recording studio in Hollywood, Hutch said, "I have a teen-age daughter and I felt it was time to make a statement . . . (something to) hit it right on the head: 'If you're not thinking, start thinking.' "

He originally planned to title the song "Mr. Promiscuity," but Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, suggested the new title.

"Casual sex is out," Gordy said, when asked about the new sexual consciousness in pop. "Willie impressed me when he said, 'This is the most important song I've written. I can't cure AIDS. But I can try to create a hit song to make people conscious of it.' I like to help people achieve their goals."

Gordy, who stopped by the session, said he had seen the safe-sex theme developing in songwriting for some time. But he wasn't satisfied.

"The other (songs) are flirting with the idea. Willie wanted to hit home with the song. He's got kids. He said the song was more important than (just the money). . . . It's a record the world needs. (Willie) said, 'I want to save lives with this.' "

Grammy winner Jimmy (Jam) Harris, who co-wrote "Let's Wait Awhile" and co-produced Jackson's "Control" album, believes the rise of safe-sex songs is simply another case of songwriters relying on events of the day for themes.

"Songwriters tend to take current events and turn them into songs," he said by phone from his studio in Minneapolis. "And with this AIDS thing going around, this is on everybody's mind.

"The theme of the song ('Let's Wait Awhile') was Janet's idea. She's not a preachy person. She's not telling people how to live their lives. All she's doing is offering an opinion."

Far from the melodious, romantic mood of "Let's Wait Awhile," rap-meister Kool Moe Dee (real name: Mohandas DeWese) delivers his views on safe sex with bluntness, satire and a beat-box boom.

He's equally forceful when talking about his hit, which includes these lines:

As I turned around to receive my injections

I said, "Next time, I'll use some protection ."

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