"Watch out sister, watch out brother, Watch our children as they kill each other, with a gun they bought at the Wal-Mart discount stores."
— Lyric from "Love is a Good Thing" by Sheryl Crow.
Has Sheryl Crow shot herself in the foot with a new song criticizing the retail giant Wal-Mart for selling guns?
Some industry watchers say Wal-Mart's decision to not carry the album could cost Crow sales of hundreds of thousands of copies, and upwards of a million dollars in profits. Her new self-titled collection of songs is due in stores Sept. 24. But others suggest the ban is already working in Crow's favor, improving the popster's credibility as a serious artist and (pardon the expression) straight shooter.
"Imagewise, all this fuss works hand in hand with the rougher, rootsier quality to her new music," said Paul Heine, an editor of the music industry trade magazine, Friday Morning Quarterback. "Plus, it's clearly bringing a lot more attention to the work than it otherwise would have gotten."
On the down side is the significant clout that Wal-Mart has in the music marketplace.
"The chain accounts for 7 or 8 percent of all the records sold in America," said Billboard magazine's retail columnist Ed Christman. "And on a hit product, Wal-Mart and the equally big K Mart chain can collectively account for as much as 25 to 40 percent of an album's sales.
" Wal-Mart customers were responsible for "approximately 400,000 of the five million domestic sales of Crow's very successful debut album `Tuesday Night Music Club,"' noted another industry watcher.
"The thing is, a lot of those buyers won't go searching out the new album at other stores, if they can't find it at Wal-Mart," the industry watcher continued. "Records are intrinsically an impulse item. Sure, you've got people who rush out the first day to buy a specific record, but they'll go to a Tower, Sam Goody or Best Buy kind of music store.
"The people who buy albums at Wal-Mart are what's called `the aftermarket.' After a record is going well, people will find it at Wal-Mart while they're buying diapers or a garden hose. If it's not there, they'll buy something else."
Also, the source said, "It's Wal-Mart's style, particularly in the Midwest, to open in remote locations. So, often they're the only show in town." Alerted to the controversial lyrics by music reviewers who work for its wholesale suppliers, Wal-Mart executives demanded that the offending lines be struck "from every copy of the album shipped, not just those that were intended for its own stores," Christman said.
The chain censors "10 to 15 albums a month, for lyrical or album art reasons. More often than not, they'll be happy to sell a sanitized version, and the record company will comply with a second, special edition," Christman said.
Wal-Mart spokesman Dale Ingram said that Crow's line about selling guns to children and allowing them to "kill each other" is "an unfair, untrue and totally irresponsible comment" and that the company "complies with all state and federal laws regarding the sale and purchase of firearms."
Although rifles are readily available at Wal-Mart, the company no longer sells handguns over the counter _ just through its mail order catalogue.
A&M Records chairman Al Cafaro characterized Wal-Mart's moves as "de-facto censorship" adding that "there was never any question that Sheryl Crow or A&M Records would bow to this ... Everyday in America, children are dying by guns bought illegally ... Wal-Mart chose to pre-empt the dialogue by banning music which may provoke a discussion. I believe that Wal-Mart's decision is wrong, very wrong."
As a relatively new artist signed to a multi-album deal, Crow is estimated to be making about $1 per disc or cassette copy sold, plus whatever she earns in song publishing royalties for album sales and radio play, sources said.
The first, non-controversial single from her new set, "If It Makes You Happy," is performing quite well, Heine said. It's already no. 12 on the Friday Morning Quarterback's modern rock chart, 17 on their Rock 25-44 chart and 7 on the progressive/adult alternative album chart.
- Jonathan Takiff