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Labeling The Hits And Misses Of 1985

January 05, 1986|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

How did the music industry do in '85? It's probably still too early to tell for sure, although one key indicator--the number of platinum and gold record certifications--was up across the board. However, it's a little easier to follow the trends at individual record companies. Using chart positions, sales figures and interviews with industry experts, Pop Eye takes a look at how 14 major labels performed last year (with chart assistance from Billboard's Paul Grein).

A&M: One of the smaller big labels in the industry, A&M still managed several key successes, most notably Sting's debut solo album, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles," which is nearing 2 million, and Bryan Adams' "Reckless" album, which is at about 3.8 million and still climbing. There were strong showings from ex-Time guitarist Jesse Johnson, the "Breakfast Club" sound track, Amy Grant and revived British popsters OMD. But there was little success with several highly touted projects, including a Billy Crystal record and a Squeeze reunion album, which flopped--as did the Supertramp album, which never cracked the Top 20.

ARISTA: Though the subject of numerous corporate-merger rumors, Arista managed an impressive year, thanks to a series of major pop hits from its strong black roster. Arista broke both Whitney Houston, whose current LP is nearing the 2.5-million mark, and Billy Ocean, whose "Suddenly" album has passed the 2-million level. It also landed Aretha Franklin her first platinum album, and established rap act Whodini. Biggest disappointments: the Thompson Twins, whose LP hasn't cracked the Top 20; Ray Parker Jr., who released a lackluster album before leaving the label; Air Supply; the Alan Parsons Project, and the "Perfect" sound track.

ATLANTIC: It's hard to have a bad year with a hit machine like Phil Collins. Atlantic scored a total of five No. 1 singles, three from Collins, whose "No Jacket Required" album sold more than 4 million. Other No. 1 hits came from John Paar ("St. Elmo's Fire") and Foreigner ("I Want to Know What Love Is"). The heavy-metal contingent performed well, but Atlantic's aging rockers turned in disappointing showings. The much-ballyhooed Firm (with Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers) couldn't crack the Top 15, while Robert Plant failed to hit the Top 10 for the first time in his career. The label's new Stevie Nicks album is sizzling, but its Roger Daltrey and Laura Branigan records were major flops.

CAPITOL: This company in transition climaxed its topsy-turvy year with a stunning, chart-topping comeback from Heart, a band once given up for dead. Impressive showings came from Duran Duran spinoff groups the Power Station and Arcadia, and a pair of new artists: Freddie Jackson, whose debut is approaching 2 million, and Katrina & the Waves, who scored a Top 10 single. Biggest flops: the Motels, the Tubes and George Clinton. Capitol also fumbled a pair of sound tracks, "View to a Kill" and "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome." Each had a huge hit single, but barely inched onto the Top 40 album charts.

COLUMBIA: The industry giant had hefty '85 sales from a pair of 1984 records, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," which has passed 10 million, and Wham!'s "Make It Big," which is nearing 3.5 million. The label also established several young artists, including Paul Young, Philip Bailey, the Hooters and Eddie Murphy, and revived the career of Loverboy, which had a platinum comeback album. Speaking of revived recording careers, label veteran Barbra Streisand is having her best showing in five years with "The Broadway Album," No. 4 on the chart. The label also suffered some expensive disappointments, most notably its "Goonies" sound track and its inability to break highly touted young rockers Cock Robin. Other bombs included new albums from Men at Work, Kenny Loggins and Maurice White.

ELEKTRA/ASYLUM: A lackluster year that did little to defuse rumors that the label may eventually be absorbed into Atlantic Records. Elektra had a major hit with its Motley Crue album, which is nearing sales of 2 million, as well as respectable showings from Howard Jones, Midnight Star, Dokken and the Cars. Otherwise, it was a lean year, with disappointing outings from Chain Reaction and Graham Parker, which the company spent considerable money trying to establish.

EMI/AMERICA: It was a rebuilding year for this label, which went through several executive changes, overhauled its A&R department and jettisoned many artists. The company really didn't have a major hit, though a Sheena Easton album from 1984 sold well (thanks to its notorious hit, "Sugar Walls") and Corey Hart had considerable success. The label also won some credibility for Kate Bush, but John Waite, Kim Carnes, Greg Kihn and Phantom, Rocker & Slick were flops.

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