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

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 ."

"The infections were epidemic," he said by phone from his home in New York, describing the circumstances that led him to write his song. "Every other apartment I visited, somebody had (venereal-disease medication).

"The song is not really about me. It (the VD infection) didn't happen to me. I used myself as an example to give the song a comical twist. People pay attention to what they laugh at. Also, if you're trying to get a don't-do message across, usually it's better to use yourself."

West German officials have even adopted "Go See the Doctor" as the anthem of its national safe-sex campaign. The U.S. government apparently believes in safe-sex songs, too. The Agency for International Development, which assists other countries in controlling population, has earmarked $275,000 to develop a pop song whose translated title is "Wait." The song was recorded in Spanish and released more than a year ago in parts of Latin America, where it became a hit.

"The idea was to teach responsible parenting," said Bill Anthony, agency spokesman. "We think that it helped. When it was released, it was released with essay contests asking, 'What does this song mean to you?' It's difficult to say (yet) if there was a drop in high school promiscuity." However, the agency is studying the effect of "Wait" to determine whether it should expand the program.

KPWR's Jeff Wyatt doesn't feel an obligation to play safe-sex songs just because of their message.

"You put the record on the turntable," he said. "That's how you determine what you'll play. If it's an awful record with a wonderful message, I ain't gonna play it. This is a commercial endeavor. If the record sounds great and says, 'Let's Wait Awhile'--great! If the record sounds great and says, 'Come On Baby, Let's Do It Again'--then great!"

New York radio programmer Larry Berger of station WPLJ agrees with Wyatt about giving listeners what they want, not just messages. But he acknowledged he has reacted to the safe-sex issue.

"There's one song, 'So Many Men, So Little Time' that was a big dance-club record in 1983," Berger said by phone. "This was all before the AIDS epidemic. Recently, it came up in our rotation, but when I heard it, I took it off (our play list). It was a song that was valid (in 1983), but with the whole AIDS epidemic, it seemed out of context in 1987."

Mad Hatter, the on-air name of a program director and disc jockey at WGOK in Mobile, Ala., said he's aware of the safe-sex songs, but is equally aware of his listeners' tastes.

"Sex is a private thing that should be taught at home. You can't do it with a record. You can't leave that up to the radio. Instead of taking three minutes, let's take 30 minutes and talk about it on a public-affairs program."

LIVE ACTION: Tickets for Madonna's July 18 Anaheim Stadium concert go on sale today at 10 a.m. at Ticketmaster outlets and the Anaheim Convention Center box office. . . . Tickets go on sale Sunday for these Universal Amphitheatre shows: Grandmaster Flash (July 3), Club Nouveau (July 4), Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor (Aug. 8) and Santana (Aug. 15-16). . . . Motown greats Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Martha Reeves and Mary Wells will be at the Forum Concert Theater July 2.

Tickets will be available Monday for Liza Minnelli's Aug. 22 date at the Pacific Amphitheatre. . . . The Replacements will be at the Variety Arts Center June 26-27. . . . Tickets go on sale Sunday for the return of the Ratt-Poison bill July 18 at Irvine Meadows. They also play July 17 at Ventura County Fairgrounds. . . . Fishbone will play Fender's on Friday. . . . A fourth Run-D.M.C.-Beastie Boys show (June 24) has been added at the Greek.

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