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Show Business: Sex Rock

4 minute read

While television cameras rolled, the Rev. Charlie Boykin of Tallahassee, Fla., set fire to $2,000 worth of rock records. He did the same thing a month ago after learning that a poll of North Florida high schools revealed 984 of the 1,000 unmarried girls sampled had become pregnant listening to pop songs —during fornication, of course. Next month he plans to take his protest to Pansey, Ala. Actually, he might just as well burn the air waves. Just a twist of the AM dial demonstrates how far things have gone. On the average, 15% of air time is devoted to songs like Do It Any Way You Wanna, Let’s Do It Again, That’s the Way I Like It and I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You. Radio’s hottest song right now is also the most lubricous: Love to Love You Baby, Donna Summer’s marathon of 22 orgasms.

Yummy Yummy. Boston-born Donna, a former singer in the German production of Hair, who has been singing and modeling in Europe for the past eight years, wrote the lyrics herself. They are stunningly simple—mostly five words repeated 28 times. Donna’s message is best conveyed in grunts and groans and languishing moans. Her goal is to make an album “for people to take home and fantasize in their minds.” First she fantasized all alone in a dark studio, listening to the song’s prerecorded track. “I let go long enough to show all the things I’ve been told since childhood to keep secret.” She and her promoter, Neil Bogart, the president of Casablanca Records (previous hits: Chewy, Chewy and Yummy Yummy Yummy, I’ve Got Love in My Tummy), are being hailed as the sex rock pioneers.

Their profits can only grow. Radio’s electronic orgasmatron shows no signs of exhaustion. Only nine years ago, the Rolling Stones had trouble getting Let’s Spend the Night Together on the air. But that was before radio became the billion-dollar record industry’s top sales force. Once dormant FM stations now compete for AM’s vast audience, who are mostly disc-hungry teen-agers with money to burn. Orgasmic rock, which flourishes on singles, does not outsell everything else; the top records are soft, romantic rock albums. But when a company wants to launch an unknown or bolster a flagging group, the trick is to slip into an album a throbbing rhythm-and-blues number that can be made into a single for repeated Top 40 AM airings.

So far, the FCC has kept mum on sex rock. In 1971, when there were complaints about such suspect drug songs as White Rabbit, Puff the Magic Dragon “and One Toke Over the Line, the FCC drew up guidelines on the airing of dope lyrics. The agency is impotent about sex, however. Explains Jason Shrinsky, the lawyer who represents 200 radio stations before the FCC: “Sex is so subjective. The FCC doesn’t know what standard to use.”

The stations do. “People just want to dance and get it on,” says Tom Yates of L.A.’s KLOS-FM, an opinion confirmed by market researchers employed by the largest stations. Still, nothing can be left to chance. At Preview House in Los Angeles, new songs are tested before a demographically selected group of 400 teenagers. As each number is played, the kids turn their dials between Very Dull and Very Good. Some seats are equipped with “basal skin response sensors,” to measure the involuntary spasms of the nervous system. “An orgasm sound never fails to produce a sharp spike in the BSR response,” says Larry Heller, music director of Preview House. TV viewers need not feel jealous. They can get their own kick every time a Bic ballpoint pen commercial comes on with its “Flick my Bic” punch line.

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