War Triggers Latest Hit Parade

As the war continues in the Persian Gulf, the music industry is mobilizing its own forces: A number of songs, either directly or indirectly related to the crisis, are coming to prominence on radio airwaves.

In addition to the Sean Lennon/Lenny Kravitz all-star remake of John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” radio stations are reporting massive phone response to older songs by Styx, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

“Peace” producer Danny Schechter of Global Vision says the tide of war-related songs is just beginning. “As the conflict wears on, there’s a fall-off of the initial euphoria and other questions begin to be asked,” he said. “I think we’ll start seeing more artists start to sing and speak out about it.”

The most notable so far has been Styx’ “Show Me The Way.” A huge act in the ’70s, Styx broke up in ’84. Most of its members reunited for last year’s “Edge Of The Century” album on A& M, which went nowhere.

But the lyrics to “Show Me The Way” – tackling peace, hatred and the news – caught the attention of Ray Edwards, morning deejay /assistant program director at WOKI-FM Knoxville, Tenn. Edwards inserted sound bites from news broadcasts about the Iraqi conflict into the song.

“We had played the song when it first came out, and during the first couple of weeks we had a total of two requests for it,” says WOKI’s operations manager/program director Clay Gish. However, after the “Desert Shield Mix” appeared, “We immediately had about 20 phone calls wanting to know what the song was, and it was our No. 1 requested song by the end of the night.”

Within three days, the Styx tune was receiving nearly twice as many requests as Vanilla Ice’s “Play That Funky Music,” formerly the station’s most-requested song.

Gish contacted A& M and sent along copies to senior v.p. of promotion, Charlie Minor and v.p. of promotion Rick Stone. “We touched up the quality a little bit and overnighted it to a lot of other radio stations,” says Stone.

WAVA-FM Washington, D.C., did its own version with snatches of the Congressional debate included; in its first week, the song hit No. 23, rising to 16 the week after. WAVA music director Chris Taylor reports over 500 calls a day to the station, including requests from congressional leaders.

A& M’s Stone says there are no plans to make any of the remixes available to the public at this time, “though that’s subject to change.” The single has broken into the top 40, and VH-1 is airing the original video, which Stone says will not be reworked to capitalize on the Iraqi angle.

The situation is a pretty unusual one. While past hits like Starship’s “We Built This City” saw some programmers inserting station call letters into the mix, this is the first time anyone can remember local deejays and programmers going so far.

“Radio is always doing parodies of something for the sake of entertainment,” Stone says, “but what we have here is radio reaching out to its listeners and using this song as a vehicle to stir some emotions, to think seriously about what’s going on.”

Similarly, some programmers have been dubbing news reports and speeches by George Bush and Saddam Hussein onto Johnny Cash’s new single, “Goin’ By The Book” – part of the”Mystery Of Life” album, set for Feb. 11 release on Polygram.

Diskeries are rush-releasing several other relevant singles, including Waylon Jennings’ “The Eagle,” originally a cut on his 1989 like-titled album.

Epic spokesman Fletcher Foster says the song was being played on some country stations to begin with; when the war broke out, the decision was made to rush out a single. Within two days, 60 stations had added the record; Epic reports heavy requests continuing in such markets as Washington, D.C., Nashville, Pittsburgh and New York.

Hank Williams Jr.’s “Don’t Give Us A Reason,” a fairly jingoistic attack on Hussein written in August, didn’t make much of an impact during its initial release last fall, but now it is picking up airplay, according to a spokesman at the Curb label.

Randy Newman, perhaps inspired by his participation in the “Give Peace A Chance” project, wrote a song directly relating to the gulf situation, “Lines In The Sand,” on Jan. 11. The song was recorded on Jan. 13 and released by Warner Bros. last week.

Meanwhile, “Give Peace A Chance,” set to be released by Virgin as a cassette single Jan. 28, will be released on homevideo soon, along with a “making-of sequence. Sources say A-Vision is the likely distributor.

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