Michael Jackson's album "Bad," now completing its 10th week in the marketplace, has established itself as a solid hit, but appears to stand little chance of catching "Thriller," the best-selling album of all time--if, indeed, that was ever a realistic goal.
But some industry insiders polled in a Times survey of local radio stations and retail chains noted that "Bad" could still join the blockbuster class of such recent LPs as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," Lionel Richie's "Can't Slow Down" and Prince's "Purple Rain"--which all sold more than 9 million in the States.
Sales of "Thriller," Jackson's previous album, have reached 20 million in this country and a reported 38.5 million worldwide since its release in 1982. Sales of "Bad" to date total 3.7 million in the United States and 9 million worldwide, according to CBS Records.
Two things, insiders noted, could turn "Bad" into a megahit: the start in March of the U.S. portion of Jackson's first solo tour and a continuation of the string of No. 1 singles from the album. After seeing the first two singles from "Bad" reach the top of the charts, Epic Records plans to release a third single--"The Way You Make Me Feel"--early next week.
On the down side, however, some radio programmers pointed out that those first two singles faded much faster than expected--and not just in Los Angeles.
The first single, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," has dropped off Billboard magazine's Hot 100 after just 14 weeks--the shortest chart run of any No. 1 hit in more than 12 years. And the follow-up single, "Bad," dropped out of the magazine's Top 10 after just five weeks.
Mitch Perliss, director of purchasing for Music Plus, noted that "Bad" sales have been up and down in that 50-store chain.
"It blew out the first week or two and then it slowed up a lot, to the point where it was somewhere between No. 30 and No. 35 in our Top 50," Perliss said. "It dropped that much. And two weeks ago it went back up to No. 10 or 12, and this past week it was up to No. 3. I really think the (U.S.) tour is going to make the difference between it really, really happening and just being a good hit record."
Stan Goman, Tower Records' senior vice president of retail operations, said that it would be unfair to label "Bad" a disappointment just because it isn't selling at the feverish pace that "Thriller" did.
"This is a good-selling, bona fide hit record, just like it should be," he said. "It's a tribute to him that he followed up a phenomenon with a good-selling record."
"Bad" is the fourth album in the past 13 months to be certified by the Recording Industry Assn. of America for U.S. sales of 3 million copies in their first two months of release. The others: Richie's "Dancing on the Ceiling," Boston's "Third Stage" and Springsteen's five-record set "Live/1975-1985."
But a fast start is no guarantee of long-term success. None of the other three instant hits has advanced to the 5 million certification level.
Howard Krumholtz, buyer for Tower Records' giant Sunset Strip store, said that "Bad" has been among the store's Top-5 sellers since it was released Aug 31. But he added that it hasn't caused the "frenzy" of Springsteen's five-record set last winter or the Beatles' compact discs this year.
About the "Bad" single, he added, "It just kind of came and went. That was really surprising. I thought that song would be a total smash like 'Billie Jean' or 'Thriller.' "
Jack Silver, music director at pop powerhouse KIIS-FM/AM, said that his station detected that quick burn-out in its research.
"Although the album and single sales have been huge, some of our internal research says that people aren't really blown away by the songs and that they seem to be tiring of them faster than I remember (being the case with) the songs on 'Thriller,' " he said.
Silver added that he's checked with stations in Atlanta, Baltimore, San Francisco and Chicago, which have noticed the same trend. "The records just seem to be burning a little quicker. Madonna's (hits have) stronger staying power right now. The fatigue factor on her music seems to be a lot lower than with Michael."
Still, Silver pointed out that interest in Jackson remains high. "We (had a contest where we) sent some kids down to Australia to see Michael, and that blew the phones off the hook. The guy is so huge: If he announced a series of concerts, he could probably play 10 nights at the Coliseum if he wanted to. I just think as it relates to radio, he might be getting a little tired."
Not everyone feels that way. Al Tavera, music director of the top-rated urban-dance-pop station KPWR-FM, said, "We're very happy with the album. It's retailing well. It pulls in good requests. I was pleasantly surprised. I came in with a very negative attitude about this record, but after a couple of listens (I've decided) it's very good."