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Alternative rock takes the airplay

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Can parents and kids find new common ground in Top 40 music? Gangsta rap, hip-hop, and dance are giving way to alternative rock on many stations, producing a mini- revolution much like the one led by the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Parents who went through their own youthful revolution backed by this sort of soundtrack may welcome this trend-unless, of course, it inspires their own kids to rebel.


Artist: 10,000 Maniacs Who? PC New York combo led by Natalie Merchant, fading doyenne of the alternative scene, in her farewell performance with the band. Musical Style: Progressive folk rock with violins. What It’s About: An ode to nocturnal passion written by Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen and released by Smith in 1978. Sexual Content/ Language: The ultimate aspiring cyber-geek fantasy: Merchant insisting, ”Take me now! Take me now!” Subversive Message: It’s as if the ’80s never happened.

Artist: R. Kelly Who? Shaven-headed Robert Kelly, modern R&B bedroom crooner. Musical Style: Sultry rhythm ballad. What It’s About: The singer’s overly strenuous attempt to convince his loved one-and possibly himself-that a little sex isn’t wrong. Sexual Content/Language: Presents the sexual act mostly in terms of a service contract. Sample lyric: ”Girl you need someone, someone like me yeah/To satisfy your every need/I don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind I don’t see nothing wrong.” Subversive Message: Bump and grind is a time-honored euphemism for sex.

Artist: Us3 Who? Urban American rappers, reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest, assembled by English producers Mel Simpson and Geoff Wilkinson. Musical Style: Hip-hop bebop. What It’s About: Sampling of jazz pianist Herbie Hancock’s ”Cantaloupe Island” behind a rhythmic rap celebrating the salutatory effects of jazz. Sexual Content/ Language: Mostly in the grooves. Subversive Message: Remember, the word jazz is a pre-baby-boom euphemism for sexual activity.

Artist: Beck Who? Beck Hansen, new rage from the West Coast whose indie release of this song inspired a major-label bidding war. Musical Style: Anti-folk grunge rap. What It’s About: Early Dylanesque cynicism and verbiage minus idealism equals a new slacker anthem. Among his nihilistic messages: ”Savin’ all your food stamps we’re burning down the trailer park. My time is a piece of wax, fallin’ on a termite who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” Sexual Content/ Language: The singer is too obsessed, enraged, and antisocial to think much about sex. Subversive Message: Generation X comes of age, with no expectations.

Artist: Tom Petty Who? Classic folk-rocker considered alternative-a long time ago. Musical Style: That old-style folk rock. What It’s About: Escaping the cloying nature of small-town America through sex, drugs, and rock & roll. The video stars Kim Basinger as (inexplicably) a corpse. Sexual Content/ Language: Some hotel-room activity with Mary Jane. Subversive Message: In the ’60s and ’70s, Mary Jane was a code word for marijuana.

Artist: Crash Test Dummies Who? Winnipeg, Manitoba, band with a lead singer who sounds like a young Vaughn Monroe. Musical Style: Postmodern madrigal. What It’s About: Putting one’s tragic flaws in perspective. Sexual Content/Language: None. These lost souls are just trying to gain minimal acceptance, let alone get a date. Subversive Message: Parents are as screwed up as their kids-and screw kids up as much as other kids.

Artist: (Prince symbol appears here) Who? The Purple One, His Royal Badness, now known by a symbol, started out in life as Prince Rogers Nelson. Musical Style: Hip-hop harmony with ethereal falsetto and Sly & the Family Stone-style bass. What It’s Abou: An otherworldly tribute to fascinating womanhood; the song debuted during the evening-gown competition at this year’s Miss USA Pageant. Sexual Content/ Language: In his latest incarnation, Prince, whose new insignia/ moniker combines the symbols for male and female, airbrushes this tune of all hints of base sexuality. Subversive Message: Beauty transcends sex, love, race, and gender.

Artist: Counting Crows Who? Bay Area rockers who evoke Dylan, Springsteen, and Van Morrison in a single breath. Musical Style: Classic- rock redux. * What It’s About: Searching for love, meaning, and fame, not necessarily in that order: ”When everybody loves you, you can never be lonely. We all want to be big stars, but we don’t know why/and we don’t know how.” Sexual Content/Language: Lots of looking, but no touching. Subversive Message: Indicative of the mainstream’s sudden wholesale sensibility shift, this rock track is getting as much Top 40 airplay as the latest hits by Salt- N-Pepa and Snoop Doggy Dogg, despite the fact that it was never released as a single. Could that make it the ”Stairway to Heaven” of the ’90s?

Artist: All-4-One Who? L.A.-based R&B quartet. Musical Style: Classic doo-wop ballad, a la Boyz II Men-or Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. What It’s About: Glistening reflection of perfect love is the latest leading candidate for Wedding Song of the Year. Sexual Content/ Language: Revival of the 1963 smash by the Tymes is a throwback to a much (much!) more innocent time. Subversive Message: No matter how hip the new era, there are those who persist in being square.

Artist: Bruce Springsteen Who? The Boss. Musical Style: Oscar-winning folk-rock ballad from the movie Philadelphia. What It’s About: The ravaging mental and emotional changes caused by AIDS. One poignant lament: ”My clothes don’t fit me no more/I walked a thousand miles just to slip this skin.” Sexual Content/Language: None. Subversive Message: It’s once again possible to have a hit song with a cause attached.