3. ROCK THE LONGBOX

 
 

To be provocative right from the start, I’m going to make this claim right here: I think the most politically important album of all-time is R.E.M.’s  “Out of Time.” 

And it actually has nothing to do with the music. It has to do with how the CD was originally packaged and how that CD packaging made voter registration more accessible for hundreds of millions of voters in the United States.

Back in 1985: The pop charts were full of Prince and Sheena Easton and the youth of America are being corrupted. Four women, led by Tipper Gore decided to form the “Parents Music Resource Center” (PMRC). Their mission was to put pressure on the creators and distributors of music they found objectionable. Musicians and labels called this censorship, there were Senate hearings about this, and eventually those little black and white Parental Advisory stickers you see on albums come out of this.

Out of this political climate, record executive Jeff Ayeroff formed a little group called Rock the Vote as a way to hold politicians accountable to young people who cared about music.

"Yeah, it was that simple," Ayeroff says. "It was the idea if you put kids in the game, the game becomes different. Politicians can no longer scapegoat music, they can’t keep using us as an excuse. The idea was, it was very blatant, it was use young culture to scare old culture into voting a particular way.

At the same time another record executive, Jeff Gold, was working on the  problem of early 90’s CD packaging. Before the jewel case that we all learned to know and love (before we ditched CDs for mp3s), there was the CD longbox. It was a 6 inch by 12 inch cardboard box that existed for no other reason than to hold the smaller case that held the CD.

In 1991, when R.E.M. released the album "Out of Time" this extraneous piece of cardboard became a petition to the U.S. Senate...and changed federal voter registration laws.

How important was that voter registration law? What was the effect of the album petition? If I registered to vote at a DMV, was R.E.M. to thank for that? Tweet @hearpitch and let us know!

 

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