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YEAR IN REVIEW / 1996 | In the World of

Pop Music

December 29, 1996

SETBACKS IN THE WAR ON DRUGS: For the first half of the year, the music world's war on drugs was mired in a war of words between recording academy President Mike Greene, who spearheaded a drive for industrywide cooperation, and record company executives, who accused Greene of "grandstanding." But the July 12 overdose death of Smashing Pumpkins sideman Jonathan Melvoin--son of former academy head Mike Melvoin--brought the problem home to many, and at year's end, the divisiveness of the issue seems to have waned somewhat.

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ER, WHERE IS THE MUSIC IN MUSIC TELEVISION?: Just as Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's slightest pronouncements send shock waves through Wall Street, MTV head Judy McGrath's words reverberate throughout the music industry. So when she recently revealed plans to "adjust" the cable channel's programming, lessening the presence of alternative rock in favor of more traditional pop (a la Celine Dion) and neo-dance music, some record execs had to reassess the makeup of their rosters. Others, though, scoffed that MTV, by focusing lately on such non-music programming as the game show "Singled Out," had already ceased to be an important force in shaping music trends.

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LIFE BEYOND DEATH ROW: The controversial label seemed determined to prove its vocal critics right--top artist Tupac Shakur gunned down gangland-style in Las Vegas, label President Marion "Suge" Knight in jail for violating parole from a prior assault conviction and Snoop Doggy Dogg tried for murder (though acquitted). But none of that has slowed sales. A posthumous Shakur album (under the pseudonym Makaveli) and Snoop's "Tha Doggfather" are big sellers defying the current sales doldrums, and a "Greatest Hits" anthology and even a label Christmas collection are selling well--the latter, believe it or not, mostly eschewing profanity and gangsta violence.

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FAMILY VALUES, 1996: Single mom Madonna and expecting lesbian couple Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher seem ready, willing and able to prove that nontraditional families can be as strong as any others, with Michael Jackson and pregnant bride Debbie Rowe left to hold up the traditional end of things. It's the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon's nightmare come true.

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FADED STARS AND THE DEATH OF ALTERNATIVE: New albums by Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and Nirvana have all sold disappointingly. Are we at the end of a pop music cycle? Does the growing renown of such newer acts as Cake, Tool, Korn and 311 herald the arrival of a new generation? Perhaps, but those bands have yet to show any real star power. Can you name a single member of them?

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LONG MAY THEY RUN: Give KISS and the Sex Pistols credit: They didn't try to justify reliving their glory days with talk of doing it for art or to renew good group vibes as, say, the Eagles did a couple of years ago. They were in this for the money. KISS was back in makeup, but the group didn't exactly kiss and make up. And heck, the Pistols even called their tour and subsequent live album "Filthy Lucre" and talked openly about still disliking one another, though not as much as they loathed late member Sid Vicious. And speaking of acrimony, how about that Van Halen, which canned not just Sammy Hagar but the guy he originally replaced, David Lee Roth, after a brief reunion of their own. After watching that WWF outtake, no wonder Motley Crue is trying to find a way to keep newly returned Vince Neil and the guy who replaced him, Jon Corabi, happy campers.

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