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Stanley M. Gortikov, 85; Record Industry Executive

June 28, 2004|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Stanley M. Gortikov, a former head of Capitol Records who served as president of the Recording Industry Assn. of America during a time when record companies, responding to outside pressure, agreed to print warning labels on rock albums containing explicit or suggestive lyrics, has died. He was 85.

Gortikov, who died of natural causes Thursday at his home in Brentwood, served as president of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, the industry's main trade organization, from 1972 to 1987.

In 1985, he and his organization were forced to address the concerns of the Parents Music Resource Center, an organization spearheaded by Tipper Gore (wife of then-Tennessee Sen. Al Gore), Sandy Baker (wife of then-Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III) and other well-connected Washington, D.C., wives and mothers.

The group requested that albums with questionable lyrics be rated and marked and those with offensive lyrics or graphics not be displayed. They also asked that music videos showing graphic sex or violence not be released.

Their concerns touched off a national debate. Artists and record companies protested that the requests were akin to censorship. The group's efforts also spurred the Senate subcommittee on communications, chaired by Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), to hold hearings on the subject of song lyrics.

As RIAA president, Gortikov issued a 10-page response to the parent group's concerns, in which he rejected most of their objectives as being either unworkable, unfair to the music industry or contrary to the rights of free expression and free enterprise.

Instead of condemning the music industry, Gortikov argued, the parents should applaud the overwhelming majority of songs that promote positive values. As examples, he cited the "USA for Africa" and "Live Aid" projects.

For years, he wrote in his letter, songwriters from Cole Porter to the Beatles have drawn complaints about the content of their lyrics.

"In short, history is telling us it would be unrealistic for us to expect to attain any level of 'purity' that can satisfy all those who choose to critique music," he wrote.

Gortikov complained that the parents group was unfairly singling out the recording industry, ignoring "powerful forces impacting the environment of those same children," such as television, movies, radio, billboards, magazine advertisements, books and observable personal behavior.

Gortikov rejected as impractical a movie-style centralized ratings system for the industry, which releases thousands of albums a year. But after he consulted with the heads of the major record companies, they agreed to take the unprecedented step of printing warning labels on the jackets of records containing explicit or potentially objectionable lyrics.

In November 1985, 22 companies -- producers of 80% of the nation's recorded music -- came to what Gortikov called a "mutually acceptable agreement" that would enable parents to identify music that glorified sex, violence and drugs: They agreed to either print the phrase "Explicit Lyrics -- Parental Advisory" on the lower portion of an album's back cover, or print the actual lyrics to the songs in that same spot.

In 1986, the RIAA moved from New York to Washington, D.C., as part of a plan to bolster the industry's clout. It also announced that it was hiring a "prestigious political specialist" to run the organization. Gortikov remained with the RIAA as board chairman until 1988.

Industry leaders, according to a 1986 Los Angeles Times story, had been unhappy with the RIAA's low-key approach to the charges of sex- and drug-filled lyrics, pointing to the "far more effectual and high-profile" leadership of Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

Gortikov defended what The Times article characterized as "the RIAA's stance of quiet diplomacy," maintaining that the organization had "actively" responded to industry attacks, particularly the Washington group's record-rating controversy.

"If there was any distress about our actions on the part of the industry leaders, it wasn't communicated to me," Gortikov told The Times.

"We've commented on many issues, but the problem is that our critics don't really listen to our response."

During his time as RIAA president, Gortikov spearheaded efforts to promote blacks into executive positions within the recording industry. He was also on the Black Music Assn.'s board of directors.

A Los Angeles native who graduated from Fairfax High School, where he was editor of the school paper, Gortikov attended USC on a four-year scholarship and served as editor of the Daily Trojan.

After graduating in 1941, he entered the Army. During World War II, he served in the Engineering Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division in Europe and, at the age of 25, attained the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Gortikov worked as an advertising copywriter and executive before joining Capitol Records in 1960 as director of corporate development.

He served as president of Capitol Records from 1968 to 1969 and as president and chief executive of Capitol Industries from 1969 to 1971.

After retiring in 1991, he was a volunteer with Executive Service Corps.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; children Jane Bachrach, Jim and Scott; stepchildren Jaxi Rothman and Johanna Duprey; seven grandchildren, and step-grandchildren.

Services will be private.

Instead of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to Human Rights Watch.

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