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Michael Jackson's 'Dangerous' Is No 'Thriller' : * Pop music: Sales of 326,500 copies are well below first-week figures for Guns N' Roses and Metallica.

December 05, 1991|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Michael Jackson's much ballyhooed new "Dangerous" isn't thrilling the nation's record buyers. They have bought just 326,500 copies of the record since it hit stores on Nov. 26, according to industry sources.

That's enough to power "Dangerous" to the top of next week's Billboard pop chart, but the total falls well below first-week sales earlier this year for albums by rockers Guns N' Roses and Metallica. Indeed, Jackson's premiere-week sales just barely topped the debuts of country sensation Garth Brooks' "Ropin' the Wind" and hard-rock veteran Van Halen's "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge."

Unlike any of those records, however, "Dangerous" was launched with a multimillion-dollar publicity campaign that included a national network premiere of Jackson's 11-minute "Black or White" video, coast-to-coast news coverage and an entire weekend of Michaelmania on MTV.

Record industry officials, who as recently as last week were hoping that holiday sales of "Dangerous" would jump-start the recession-ravaged music business, downplayed the significance of the less-than-monumental first-week sales figures on Wednesday. They said they expect Jackson's record to continue selling strong into next year and not peak early and then trail off as have most of the other top records of the year.

"It's like that old expression: 'It's not where you start, it's where you end up.' I believe that Michael's album will ultimately end up doing very well," said Geoff Mayfield, associate director of retail research at the music trade journal Billboard. "The true test of the record is how it fares over the long run. Only Garth Brooks has consistently sold more than 200,000 copies for more than three weeks."

Since May, when weekly sales figures for pop albums became widely available, six records have broken the 300,000 mark in their premiere weeks. The year's No. 1 first week ranking went to Guns N' Roses' "Use Your Illusion II,' which sold a phenomenal 770,000 units when it hit the stores in October. Even more unusual, however, the No. 2 spot also belongs to GNR with the companion album "Use Your Illusion I." Released simultaneously with "Illusion II," it sold 685,000 copies. Metallica's "Metallica" sold 600,000 copies its first week out.

Jackson's 326,500 debut came during Thanksgiving holiday week, which means he lost one day of sales but also presumably benefited from the traditionally strong kickoff of the Christmas buying season.

Though many industry officials had speculated that the Jackson figure would be higher given his past sales history and the enormous publicity blitz accompanying its release, Glen Brunman, vice president of media and artist development at Epic Records, said his company is "very pleased" with Jackson's sales debut.

"Retailers are telling us that whereas the Guns N' Roses buyer came out to buy only Guns N' Roses albums, Michael's fans are also purchasing other artists' music," he said Wednesday. Jackson's 1983 "Thriller," which sold 21 million copies in the United States and is still the largest selling album in U.S. pop history, took off to a slow start.

Recession-pinched retailers--whose business was down 11% during the first six months of the year--had been looking for the album to help lure record fans back into the stores, and several on Wednesday said that "Dangerous" appears to be doing just that.

"This is a No. 1 record and there's no question about it," Russ Solomon, president of the 60-store Sacramento-based Tower Records, said Wednesday. "We didn't expect the same kind of turnout as for Guns N' Roses.

"Michael Jackson doesn't attract the same kind of hard-core rock fan. What happened with GNR only goes down once in a blue moon. It shot out of the box, but look at it now. Sales have dropped off. Everybody in the industry believes that Michael's album will have legs. We expect it will sell many copies well into the next year."

Retailers aren't the only ones anxiously monitoring the "Dangerous" sales. This is the first album by Jackson since the pop star signed an unprecedented $60-million contract with Sony, the Japanese conglomerate.

"Black or White," the single from the album, continues to be hot. The recording shot to No. 1 on the Billboard chart last week after three weeks in the stores, making it the fastest single to go to No. 1 since the Beatles' "Get Back" in 1969. It remains at No. 1 this week.

Top 5 Albums--1991 First-Week Sales

NO. ARTIST ALBUM LABEL SALES 1. Guns N' Roses "Use Your Illusion II" Geffen 770,000 2. Guns N' Roses "Use Your Illusion I" Geffen 685,000 3. Metallica "Metallica" Elektra 600,000 4. Michael Jackson "Dangerous" Epic 326,500 5. Garth Brooks "Ropin' the Wind" Capitol 300,000

Source: SoundScan, which began compiling its figures May 25.

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