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POP EYE

The Sunday Showdown: Summer's Winners, Losers

September 04, 1994|Steve Hochman

So which bands won at the Woodstock mud fights?

Is there no place on the charts for a nice rap act like Arrested Development?

If Meat Loaf can come back strong after all these years, why couldn't another relic--Boston?

Pop Eye will aim for answers in the Sunday Showdown, a periodic feature that will turn to retailers, radio executives and other industry insiders to help pinpoint the ups and downs of pop fortunes. This edition looks at this summer:

The Winners

* Woodstock mud--Of the dozens of acts that played the Woodstock '94 festival last month, the two that emerged with the biggest commercial momentum were the two that got down and dirty, literally: Nine Inch Nails and Green Day.

NIN's mud-covered leader Trent Reznor and mud-slinging Green Day certainly made for the most compelling media illustrations of bands that were seizing--and defining--the Woodstock moment for the '90s. And even though both bands were already hot, record sales for both have increased since the festival, with NIN's "The Downward Spiral" album moving from No. 45 on Billboard's album chart pre-Woodstock to No. 23 last week and "Dookie" by Green Day (whose performance was marked by a mud battle with the audience and a fight with security guards) from No. 13 to No. 4.

"Green Day was on fire anyway," says Jeff Pollack, president of his own media consulting firm. "But this (mud scuffle) gave them a shove. They got substantially more record sales, and all it cost (singer Billie Joe) was a few teeth."

* Soundtrack albums--"The Lion King" and "Forrest Gump" have held the top two chart spots for nearly two months, with other expected movie tie-in hits coming, including "Natural Born Killers," "Pulp Fiction" and "Fresh."

Our panelists pointed to last year's "Sleepless in Seattle" as the trend-setter, showing record and movie executives that there's more to movie-related albums than just a collection of songs. "It's much more of an art form than it used to be," says Pollack. "They used to make them half-assed, but films like 'Sleepless in Seattle' made it part of the movie's mood from the start."

* R. Kelly--His own "12 Play" album is still hot (No. 57 after 42 weeks with more than 3 million sold), his protegee Aaliyah's "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number" is even hotter (No. 25), and his "Stroke You Up" by Changing Faces is the No. 2 single. While on the surface his biggest selling point is sex--"All the songs are about sex," says Wherehouse Records new-release buyer Bob Bell--Kelly's seen as a major future force.

"He's an awesome talent as a writer, performer and producer who has the potential of becoming another Babyface in terms of his impact," says Ken Barnes, editor of the Radio & Records trade publication.

* Mazzy Star--It's still far from the Top 10, but the L.A. band's dreamy "So Tonight That I May See" even being in the Top 50--and rising--makes it the dark horse of the summer. It was released a year ago and languished beneath the Top 200 until MTV started playing the video for "Fade Into You" last month.

Our panelists congratulate Capitol Records executives for sticking with the record and giving it a second chance to find, as one says, "the yuppie alternative demographic out here that this is perfect for."

The Losers

* Spin Doctors--This band was the Mazzy Star of 1992, its "Pocketful of Kryptonite" album becoming a 3-million-selling hit only after going unnoticed by the pop world for a full year. The early performance of the new "Turn It Upside Down," though, makes it look as if the group has lost its super powers. It's wallowing at No. 70 with sales of less than 300,000 after 11 weeks of release.

Several panelists are not ready to bury the album, but think that the band and Epic Records made a perhaps insurmountable mistake in releasing the "real radio-unfriendly" song "Cleopatra" as the first single.

"It's the kind of song that I call a center divider--it's so bad that you have to avoid hitting the center divider when it comes on the car radio," says one contributor.

* Sir Mix-A-Lot--The Seattle rapper's ode to les derrieres , "Baby Got Back," was the No. 1 single of 1992. But his new paean to breasts, "Put 'em on the Glass," hasn't even pushed the current album, "Chief Boot Knocka," any higher than No. 69 in the pop chart. (It was at No. 150 last week.)

Live by the novelty hit, die by the novelty hit, say our experts: "I don't know how far you can go with rapping about different body parts."

* Boston--Comparisons to Meat Loaf are inevitable given both acts' '70s identification and current affiliation with MCA Records. But even with many years between releases, Boston had maintained a better profile than Mr. Loaf--all three of its albums, including the last, 1986's "Third Stage"--were multimillion-selling smashes. So when Meat Loaf's comeback last year sold more than 4 million, many expected Boston's fourth album, "Walk On," to follow suit.

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