Retailers Push For Warnings On Prodigy LP

Radio reports few requests for song while retail chains work with label to sticker album.

While the controversy surrounding Prodigy's latest single,

"Smack My Bitch Up," (RealAudio excerpt) caused Wal-Mart and Kmart to pull the album from store shelves, other major retailers and alternative radio stations have yet to follow their lead.

Instead, some are waiting for further developments as they work with the label to get warning stickers added to the albums.

Brant Skogrand, spokesperson for Musicland Stores Corporation, which has 777 Musicland and Sam Goody stores operating primarily in shopping malls across the U.S., said that the retail chain was taking a wait-and-see approach. "Right now we are working with the label [Maverick, partially owned by Warner Bros. Records] to get the [parental advisory] sticker on the CD," he said. And if they don't? "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

In the meantime, Skogrand said representatives for the chain will remain in conversations with the label and the CD will continue to be for sale in stores.

The album is not set to immediately disappear from Target stores, either. In the Dec. 9 edition of USA Today, Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter said that the chain "will try to work with Time Warner Inc. [parent company of Warner Bros.] to see if they can put on a parental advisory label. If we can't," she continued, "We may decide to pull it."

Calls to Blockbuster Music, Tower Records and Virgin Megastore were not returned by press time.

Approximately 500,000 copies of a "clean" version of the album -- which still contains the unedited version of two songs, "Smack My Bitch Up" and "Funky Shit," but doesn't have the song titles completely spelled out -- have been ordered to date, Warner Bros. spokesperson Bob Merlis said.

Retailers have had a choice of which album they receive from day one, Merlis said on Tuesday. "They could order either one," Merlis said about albums featuring the song titles spelled out, or with the offending words completely covered up by the band's icon of an ant.

The Fat of the Land has shipped 2 million and sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan, although Merlis was unable to say how many of those shipped were clean versions. "I don't expect we'll get more orders for the clean ones since the stores that typically want that are not carrying the album anymore," he said of the band's breakthrough electronica-rock effort, which debuted at #1 in the U.S. on July 1.

Wal-Mart pulled The Fat of the Land off the shelves of their 2,337 stores on Dec. 5, and Kmart's 2,150 U.S. stores pulled their 7,000 copies of the album over the weekend. Meanwhile, as a promotional item, the label has mailed 3,000 posters with the song's lyrics to retail oulets, contributing to the controversy, the impetus for which was apparently born of an article by Chuck Phillips in last week's Los Angeles Times.

In the story, Phillips quoted a National Organization for Women spokesperson as saying that the song condones violence against women.

Radio also has been slow to show any sort of reaction to the controversy. Sky Daniels, alternative radio editor for the industry magazine Radio & Records said that he hasn't heard of too many stations adding or dropping "Smack My Bitch Up" since the controversy flared early this week. "Maybe one or two stations added it, but that's all," he said. "When it first came out, there were probably 15 stations playing it and there are about 30 stations playing it right now."

"From what I hear, they're only getting a little bit of negative reaction from radio listeners," Daniels continued. "That's the funny thing about it. You would expect a big outcry from the public, but there hasn't really been any until now. This will probably change now that there is this growing awareness of the song."

While Daniels said the small number of markets playing "Smack My Bitch Up" was disappointing, considering all the hype that the song has generated, some of the stations that are playing the single have yet to report a swelling of public outrage.

Golden Curtis, programming assistant at L.A.'s KROQ-FM, said that the station had been playing "Smack My Bitch Up" since its release and "hadn't heard any sort of complaints about it at all."

Daniels said that his discussions with program directors from coast to coast haven't produced any objections to the song's lyrics but rather to Prodigy's electronica-rock sound, which made its first real push in the States with The Fat of the Land.

"From the very beginning," he said, "These guys have been marketed as the outlaws of electronica and they still haven't gotten very much airplay. It's been interesting to me that they've gotten so much publicity for their songs, tours and the album and radio still hasn't played them."

"I can remember asking someone at a convention a while back about it," Daniels recalled. "And they just told me 'It's electronica, it's not worth it.' Right now, there just isn't the demand, but I'm expecting that to change in the light of this controversy."

Merlis' office has received "less than 10" complaints about the album since the controversy erupted last week, he said.

Asked why Maverick and parent company Warner Bros. decided not to sticker the album, Merlis suggested "ask Meredith Brooks the same question," referring to the singer's poppy hit-single "Bitch," which did not feature a warning sticker. "This song and album went through the same process as any album, like Neil Young's 'F*!#in' Up' " (off his 1990 album Ragged Glory, on which Young voluntarily deleted the offending word).

"In that context it's not sexual or excremental, just like this song isn't," Merlis continued. "Maverick talked to the group, they explained what they had in mind with the song, and it had nothing to do with violence or abusive behavior."

(ATN's Senior Writer Gil Kaufman contributed to this report.) [Tues., Dec. 9, 1997, 6 p.m. PST]