In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, artists with upcoming releases moved quickly to change album artwork or content that might offend. The cover art for Oakland-based hip-hop act the Coup’s upcoming album, Party Music, was a shot of members Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress blowing up the Twin Towers. “It was supposed to be a metaphor for music destroying capitalism,” Riley says. “Who would’ve thought that this would happen? Our fans know that we do not advocate a violent overthrow of the system.” The cover was quickly changed to an image of a martini glass. Elektra prog-metal band Dream Theater had a cover depicting a New York skyline ablaze for its Live Scenes From New York album. The CD will be reissued with new art.
Other bands making changes include: Bush, who have changed the title of their new single from “Speed Kills” to “The People That We Love”; Jimmy Eat World, who changed their single’s title from “Bleed American” to “American”; and Sheryl Crow, who will replace several sensitive songs on her November album. Dave Matthews Band’s new single “When the World Ends” had been serviced to radio stations on August 31st, but in the wake of the events, RCA pulled all of its trade advertisements and changed the single to “Everyday.” “The song is about being so lost in passion of a love affair that the world sort of freezes,” says Matthews. “But right now, people will hear only the first line, and that’s not what they need to hear.” The Strokes pulled the song “New York City Cops” — which contains the line “She said, ‘New York City cops/They ain’t too smart'” — off their debut, Is This It. They rushed into the studio three days after the attacks to record a replacement track, “When It Started,” pushing back the album’s release date two weeks, until October 9th. “The words ‘New York City’ are on everybody’s lips,” says lead singer Julian Casablancas. “I still stand behind the song, but the timing is all wrong.”
“Lyrics matter now more than ever,” says Arista president and CEO L.A. Reid. “I don’t think record companies will shy away from controversy. But I’d like to think that in times like this, even the most controversial artist will have sensitivity and take responsibility, be smart enough to say the right things.” Label executives and managers point to videos as one area where they’ll have to be extra careful. The clip for Ozzy Osbourne’s new single “Gets Me Through” had to be re-edited because of tougher MTV standards. “There was a TV exploding and a ceiling collapsing,” says Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s wife and manager. “It’s not acceptable.”
With items such as Clear Channel’s list of questionable songs arriving in the wake of the Trade Center disaster, some worry about the level of control corporations and ultimately the government may exert in coming months. As a precaution, Mike Dreese, owner of Newbury Comics, a twenty-two store chain based in Boston, says retailers are pushing the Recording Industry Association of America to quickly adopt a ratings system akin to the movie industry’s. “I think the RIAA is open to it,” he says. “They realize Congress will be more involved. I never have had trouble with labeling. I have trouble with laws saying you can’t buy this.”
“There has to be a balance of being responsible and having freedom of speech,” adds Jim Guerinot, manager of No Doubt and the Offspring. “But if our civil liberties are infringed upon by hypersensitivity, then the terrorists will really have won.”