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I know there are ways to solve or prevent the problem: You can return the CD to the store, mail it back to the club, or go to one of several sites on the Web beforehand and listen to other cuts to see if you like them.
Fine. But in a recent case, this particular song was a catchy pop ballad that I might have paid little attention to had my 4-year-old daughter not picked up the words and started singing along whenever the song came on the radio. From a parental point of view, it was certainly just good clean fun. We'd even sing along together in the car.
So when my sister, who lives five hours away, asked what I wanted for my birthday, I suggested this CD, assuming that the other songs would be similarly catchy if not legendary works of recording art.
Not even close. First, I noticed the parental warning label, which had
never been a concern in the past. Then I played it.
The first cut is a street-talk introduction that includes a clear reference to a sex act. It's part of a message to teen-age listeners about how to prevent the spread of disease, if you get my drift, in terms that young people wouldn't confuse with parent- or teacher-talk.
It's actually a worthwhile message, and if that's what it takes to get that important point across, fine. I just don't want my 4-year-old or 6-year-old, both of whom have vacuum cleaners for ears, to hear that language and then blithely repeat it.
Much of the rest of the CD was of the dreaded rap genre, which falls well outside my musical taste.
OK, OK. I can hear you hep cats out there calling me out-of-touch and out-of-step and generally past the age of usefulness in the pop culture and every other respect.
But if you checked my CD collection, you'd find some of the latest modern and alternative rock music out there. I've also got hundreds of vinyl albums from the '60s, '70s, and '80s, and I love them. But since the 1990s, when CDs--and my kids--came along, I've continued to keep up with what I consider the best of the new.
But not rap. Some say it incites violence. Some say it degrades women. I oppose censorship, but rap gives me second thoughts. Whether it's performed by white guys or black guys, I just hate it.
What I really don't understand is why an artist would sandwich one nice pop tune among a dozen same-sounding, who-cares-what-he's-got-to-say rap numbers. But the same sort of thing happens a lot: nice song, rotten album.
The people who enjoy that particular tune on the radio, like me, are not going to enjoy the rest of the album. And I don't doubt that the people who enjoy rap music would have no use for a catchy, pop love ballad.
So what's going on here? I've ended up contributing to this guy's gold or platinum records, and I don't, for the most part, even like his music.
Is popular radio an unwitting dupe in a fraud on the listening public? Thanks to the payola scandal of the 1950s, radio listeners know that the relationship between record promoters and radio stations has not always been above board. How many copies of this particular CD will be sold to people like me who are anticipating more of what caught their ears on the radio in the first place? How many of those people won't bother, or won't be able, to return the CD?
Thanks to the availability of album clips on the Internet, I won't be making the same mistake again, even if it seems that an artist and his song on the radio seem as far away from rap as they could possibly be.
I challenge disc jockeys--as if this would ever happen--to tell listeners: Hey, this artist recorded this tune to get into the Top 40 and sell some records, but unless you like rap (or head-banging heavy metal, or polkas, or whatever), don't bother buying the CD.