Can you ever take the drugs out of rock and roll? A top policeman thinks so

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The Independent Online
Pop stars should be banned from using lyrics that glorify drugs and encourage people to take illegal substances, one of Britain's senior police officers has urged.

Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire and the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman on drug issues, wants the music industry to introduce a code of practice for what he describes as the "obscene" lionising of drug use.

His initiative follows a number of high-profile cases in which pop stars have sung about the joys of taking drugs. In one case, a cover of a single, "Sorted for Es and Wizz", by the band Pulp, showed how to make a wrap, or envelope, to hold drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and speed.

Song writers have always taken an unhealthy interest in drug taking, although most, such as the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" - which is a reference to LSD - have used hidden references. More recently, lyrics such as those by the rave group the Shamen's chart-topping "Ebeneezer Goode" - "Es [ecstasy] are good" - seemed explicitly to extol the benefits of drugs.

Mr Hellawell said: "The music industry is clearly churning out a lot of records, some of which glorify drug-taking. Some of which even tell young people how to prepare drugs and take them.

"It's almost a subliminal drip on the culture of young people."

He added he was concerned about songs that "encourage children to take drugs. I think that is obscene".

"I'm hoping that we can develop with the music industry some protocols which they can self-police.

"[This could include] developing a code of practice that they would not purchase, produce or sell records that glorify the benefits of drugs."

"I would like to think they could go only so far and not glorify drugs and will children to get involved."

He stressed that he did not want to stop all references to drugs, just those that encourage abuse.

He added: "I know drugs have played a part throughout the ages with art."

Mr Hellawell ruled out setting up a regulatory body, and instead hopes to meet representatives from the music industry to discuss the issue.

But the record industry yesterday rebuffed the idea. Sarah Roberts, press officer of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which represents almost all of the record companies in the UK, said: "We support drug education but we also support an artist's rights of expression.

"I don't think you would get any music company adopting that line because they will want to guard the artist's freedom of expression. The music industry is all about artistic expression."

She said the BPI already operates a voluntary code of practice for records that contain obscene language, under which the industry places a label on offending products saying "For Parental Guidance".

Melissa Thompson, press officer for Pulp, said: "It would be a form of censorship. Also I can't think of many bands or songs that encourage the use of drugs."

In September 1995, Jarvis Cocker, Pulp's singer, changed the graphics on "Sorted for Es and Wizz" after complaints about their including instructions on the sleeve on how to make a wrap for drugs.

Drugs have long been a source of inspiration for writers and had star billing - often unknowingly to parents - in some of the most famous songs ever recorded.

"Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones dealt with inter-racial sex and touched on Mexican heroin. In "Purple Haze", Jimi Hendrix made his excuses and kissed the sky - a typically psychedelic reference in a song full of drug imagery.

David Bowie discussed drug addiction through his music. "Ashes to Ashes" featured Bowie's alter ego Major Tom who is friendless and alone, trapped in space and addicted to heroin.

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