A black and white 60-second television commercial for Captain Beefheart’s latest album on Straight/Reprise, Lick My Decals Off, Baby, was refused recently by KTTV in Los Angeles for airing on any of the station’s programs.
When asked by the record company as to reasons for not accepting the spot, KTTV station manager Charles Young said, “I just don’t like it. I think it’s crude and don’t want it on my air.” [His air?!] “Let’s say I find the commercial unacceptable and let it go at that.” When asked for a specific reason, Young declared the album title is “obscene.”
Time had been scheduled with KTI’V for one Sunday night’s Creature Features, Monday’s edition of George Putnam and the News, and a Tuesday airing of The David Frost Show. Television advertising of Lick My Decals Off Baby was to be a first for the record company, and a kick-off for Captain Beefheart’s six-week national tour.
The commercial was conceived and written by Captain Beefheart, and film makers Larry Secrest and Jon Fizdali followed his concept down the tine “The only thing we added,” stated Warner Bros. Merchandising Director Hal Halverstadt, “was a shot of the album cover at the end, with a voice over reading the title.”
In the eyes of Warner/Reprise, the commercial is anything but obscene “We knew the station might not under stand what we were doing, but we didn’t suspect they’d turn us down cold,” continues Halverstadt. “Because the spot’s really different, it does everything a commercial is supposed to do. It begins with a cigarette flipping through the air in slow motion several times with Beefheart singing ‘Woe-is-a-me-bop.’ There are long silences, Beefheart finally appears doing his famed Hand and Toe Investment. Rockette Morton, one of the guys in Beefheart’s Magic Band, crosses the screen with a black sack over his head working an egg beater. The Captain kicks over a bowl of white paint in slow motion. It is non sequitur stuff that’s funny, attention getting, and pure Beefheart. It’s unfortunate that the station should be so frightened by it.”
After refusal by Metromedia, Warner/Reprise took the spot to the National Association of Broadcasters, who also nixed the spot for airing on any of their member stations, citing the General Program Standards section of the NAB’s Code Authority: “Program materials should enlarge the horizons of the viewer, provide him with wholesome entertainment, afford helpful stimulation, and remind him of the responsibilities which the citizen has towards his society…”. The spot had also been scheduled for airing on Metromedia’s Creature Features and David Frost Show in New York, just before Beefheart’s appearances there, but Warner/Reprise had no idea at press time if the East Coast would be more responsive to the company’s video efforts.
“The thing that seems wrong, stated WB Creative Services Director Stan Cornyn, “is that a single individual can make an arbitrary judgment as to whether or not a television commercial is acceptable. And this seems to be the case. The man probably knows nothing about what’s happening in contemporary music. We tried to make a spot that is valid artistically as well as from an advertising point of view, and we were kicked out. I’d like to make this an issue and take it directly to the FCC.”
In the meantime, Warner/Reprise screened its “banned in Los Angeles” commercial for press and radio representatives at a party on the eve of Beefheart’s tour. There was also talk of taking the spot to Los Angeles’ Channel 13, which is not a member of the NAB, but no decision on that as yet.