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POP EYE

Raffi Uses His Kiddie Clout to Rap CD Wrappers

June 03, 1990|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Here's a shocker.

With such politically correct pop activists as Sting, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne and the B-52's doing environmental benefits (and Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett actually playing a protest concert outside Exxon's New York headquarters this week), guess who's the first platinum-selling performer to actually make his record label junk the unwieldy, wildly unpopular long CD boxes that have become an industrywide ecological embarrassment?

Are you ready for . . . Raffi?

That's right. The soft-spoken Canadian singer, who's sold millions of albums aimed at pre-school children, signed a new contract with MCA Records last month, but only after the label agreed that it wouldn't "release cassettes or CDs in a long box or other excessive packaging." MCA execs believe it's the first time a major artist has ever put such specific anti-long box language in a record contract.

"This really makes him the icebreaker," said Island Records president Mike Bone, an outspoken environmental activist and CD long-box foe. "He may be a children's artist, but his records go platinum too. It's a big move. Hopefully, once someone takes a stand and shows that getting rid of the long box won't hurt their record sales, it'll give other artists the leverage to say, 'Hey, I want to do it too.' "

When MCA vice president of marketing Jeff Bywater heard that Raffi was leaving A&M Records and had recorded an album about environmental themes, he organized a lunch between the toddler idol and the MCA brass. He also had an ace up his sleeve--he invited Garrett De Bell, MCA's resident ecologist.

"I think having our ecologist at the table sent a clear message to Raffi that we were willing to do the job--and had the consciousness level to do it," Bywater said. "Big corporations rarely get credit for being in the vanguard of positive environmental statements.

"But this company has made a real across-the-board effort. I recycle all my memos in a separate box for paper, and have another box by the refrigerator for plastic cans and bottles. Everyone at the label does it. Our Styrofoam and plastic is all gone."

Bywater said that when he took Raffi's contract to MCA Music Entertainment Group Chairman Al Teller, he reminded him about the no-long box dictum. "Al said, 'I'm in.' " Bywater explained. "He was willing to roll the dice. Raffi and his manager, Linda Goldstein, know it could have an effect on their sales. But it's an important issue and you've got to start somewhere."

In a statement Wednesday, Raffi said: "I simply believe that the excessive packaging of cassettes and CDs can no longer be tolerated in a global environmental crisis. If there's enough pressure from artists and their audience, the buying public, I think record stores wil respond by eliminating the long box."

MCA's big challenge will be convincing record store owners, who are adamantly opposed to jettisoning the long box, to carry Raffi's tapes and CDs when his record, "Evergreen Everblue," is released this fall. Retailers have scorned proposals to switch over to different-sized display shelving (known in the industry as fixtures), saying the transition would cost record-store chains millions of dollars.

"It's obviously going to take a lot of discussions between record companies and retailers," said Bywater, who acknowledged that MCA still plans to distribute "some" Raffi tapes and CDs with recycled cardboard displays. "We're going to try to come up with some imaginative solutions to the dilemma by the time Raffi's album is released. This is just a first step, but at least it's a step in the right direction."

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