Remember the good ol' days, when the only sort of words pop fans had to worry about were the ones rumored to be in "Louie Louie"?
That, of course, was long before 2 Live Crew's "Nasty as They Wanna Be" and Madonna's "Sex." Years, even, before Tipper Gore made up her first "Parental Advisory" sticker. Back then, even stuff like "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" was considered shocking.
Not anymore. These days, pop fans are more likely to be appalled by performers who won't curse than those who do. Just look at how quickly being a nice girl torpedoed Debbie Gibson's career.
To be honest, this has never much bothered me. Granted, I don't have much use for overtly offensive material, but if a group wants to slip an occasional #! or*%! into its lyrics, that's no skin off my teeth. Better a bad word than a bum note, I always say.
Or used to. I'm beginning to reconsider. Because right now, the biggest trouble with bad language in pop music isn't what's in zTC the lyrics, but what they call the #! songs. Or the %! bands. Or the #! groups.
That's the kind of problem that hits music critics where we live, because most newspaper editors won't tolerate language like that. In print, that is. Consequently, I find myself unable to review an increasing number of new albums.
Take, for example, the new album by the rap group Onyx. Because the album includes "Throw Ya Gunz," which recently topped the rap singles chart in Billboard, it would seem a logical candidate for review, save for one thing -- its title is unprintable.
Not totally unprintable, since part of it would be suitable for general audiences. In fact, the offending portion doesn't even constitute a whole dirty word. But what's there is more than enough to keep Onyx out of the paper.
Then there's Apache, a rapper who had a big hit last winter with the tune "Gangsta Bitch." A decade ago, that would have been deemed rude enough to give any editor reservations about reviewing Apache, but times change. Nowadays, the word Barbara Bush described as "rhymes with witch" is perfectly printable, if a tad tasteless.
The title of Apache's album is another matter entirely. Although the cover is coy about admitting it, Apache's debut is called "Apache Ain't*%!" -- except Apache uses the actual expletive. That pretty much precludes a review in these pages (though I'll give you a hint: Apache may not be, but his album certainly is).
Hip-hop hardly has a monopoly on unprintable titles, as there are plenty of alternative and underground bands that could easily out-bleep any rap act. In 1987, for instance, a handful of alternative bands decided to show their indignation over the issue of record labeling by releasing albums with protest titles. So Leaving Trains issued "#!," Overkill came up with "#! You," and Big Black delivered "Songs About #!" All three titles remain in print.
Why dwell in the past, though, when there are so many contemporary unprintables to contend with? Let's start with a little group we in the newspaper business refer to as the B. Surfers. Actually, there's more to that name than just "B" -- seven letters more, to be exact. But because the full name makes a rather rude reference to a rather private part of the average reader's anatomy, you won't find it here; you'll have to watch for it on MTV, like everybody else.
Or how about everybody's favorite industrial dance band, the Revolting [Genital Reference]s? As if the combo's blush-inducing moniker weren't bad enough on its own, its back catalog includes the crowd-pleasing "You##! Son of a Bitch." Ask for it by name.
Why do bands stoop to such vulgarity? Who knows? You might think they mean to shock, but most of their audience is too jaded to be impressed by toilet talk. Neither do these acts worry much about being denied radio play, since few stations play rap or underground rock in the first place. As for retailers, considering that simply having a "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" sticker on the cover is enough to get an album banned by some stores, an unprintable song title verges on overkill.
Consequently, the only people inconvenienced by such things are daily-paper reviewers like myself. And if you think we pull any weight with the music industry, think again.
Still, some artists do seem to be changing their ways. Take Tim Dog, who made a splash two years back with an anti-gangsta rap song. It was nice, but because it was called "#! Compton," you didn't read about it here. Fortunately, the single off his current album, "Do or Die," is graced with the catchy -- and printable -- title, "I Get Wrecked." As such, you can expect to see a review of the album in these pages any day now. Just as soon as I figure out how to avoid mentioning the opening #F number, "I Don't Give a #!"