Sony's Stickering Plans Come Unglued

Zappa Calls a Halt to Warning Tags on His Release

By Jim Bessman

Billboard, March 22, 1986

NEW YORK Rock iconoclast Frank Zappa has balked at Sony Video Software's intention to distribute his concert video, "Does Humor Belong In Music?" with a ratings sticker.

Instead, the 57minute, $24.95 Picture Music International release has been issued label-free under the MPI Video distribution logo. Thus Zappa, who has become one of the most vocal opponents of record ratings legislation, has been spared the embarrassment of having his own product so rated.

According to Zappa, at the height of last fall's Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC)/U.S. Senate record ratings hearings, PMI informed him that Sony "had cold feet and wanted an X rating" on his tape.

Says Zappa, "The Sony guys were that conservative since the record industry was running scared from all the old ladies. But why should I be the only one in the market with an X rating ?"

Zappa says that he talks "the way I normally talk" throughout the videocassette. He adds that the only segments that could "conceivably be questioned" are a pair of interviews about President Reagan and "Republicans in general," and newsroom interview footage where the camera pans to a window through which a young female Zappa fan is seen acting out his song "Titties And Beer."

Sony had previously stickered its Duran Duran Video 45 "Girls On Film," which contains nudity, with a sticker to that effect. But, says Zappa, his agreement did not give Sony the right to do that with "Does Humor Belong In Music?"

The Zappa/Sony fallout, says the artist, is but the latest in a series of lapses which have held back domestic release of the videocassette. "Humor" was released in Europe three months ago, although it was originally slated for release in late 1984 to support Zappa's Capitol-distributed Barking Pumpkin album "Them Or Us."

Outside the U.S., Zappa is an EMI recording artist. That label pact binds him to PMI, which has first refusal on longform video product, with Sony as U.S. distributor.

Zappa explains that he and PMI were partners in the production of the video, the concert portions of which were recorded at his August 1984 show at Pier 84 here. Zappa says that PMI was to release the video in the fall of that year, in order to coincide with his ongoing U.S. and European tour, as well as the album's release in both markets.

As a result of "a bunch of disasters with PMI" – including a major management change – a numbered breakdown of the 40 hours of master tapes still hadn't been completed by the time Zappa concluded his tour. So, he did the work himself last January, and the finished product appeared just at the time when Zappa had "turned into a politician for four months" in heated opposition to the PMRC campaign.

After the Sony imbroglio, continues Zappa, PMI brought the title over to Chicago-based MPI Video, which wanted to have it out in time for Christmas. But, says Zappa, "PMI was lax in delivering the master videotape, and there was another delay in artwork of the Sony logo. See what happens when you're not Duran Duran ?"

Zappa, while expressing "dismay" over the "mentality" of Sony's video distribution branch, nevertheless praises his longterm business relationship with the pro audio division of the company, whose digital recording equipment he uses and endorses.

Both Sony and PMI declined to comment on Zappa's remarks. However, Waleed Ali, president of MPI Video is happy to have the package, his third music-related videocassette (with the Beatles' feature "A Hard Day's Night" and the Chicago Bears' "Super Bowl Shuffle ").

Ali says that promotion of the Zappa video will first target traditional record stores, then will tie in with a June release of the soundtrack on Compact Disc via Rykodisk. If the video is successful, Zappa hopes that MPI will consider kicking in "cutting time" expenses on other unfinished video projects. These include a Zappa "fetishist's dream" documentary of his 1982 tour of "obscure European places," with and a "comedy documentary" on the record ratings controversy, said to include "very funny stuff" from TV newscasts and out-takes. "I've got some real doozies," says Zappa.

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