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A 'Monster' Hit by R.E.M. Kicks Off Promising Quarter : Pop music: The band's album debuts at No. 1; Streisand's 'The Concert' enters at No. 10. Retailers expect big year-end sales.


R.E.M.'s new "Monster" sold a whopping 344,000 copies during its first week in the stores--kicking off what retailers anticipate will be the most profitable fourth quarter of the '90s.

"R.E.M. came in miles ahead of everybody at our stores--hands down," said Lew Garrett, vice president of purchasing at the 410-outlet, North Canton, Ohio-based Camelot Music chain. "It really was no contest. Their fans just came out en masse."

"Monster" is the band's best first-week sales performance and dwarfed the competition in a week where total album sales totaled an estimated $133 million. Boyz II Men's "II" sold 161,000 copies last week to capture the No. 2 position, while Eric Clapton's "From the Cradle" finished third with 128,000 units. Next in line: Anita Baker's "Rhythm of Love" at 109,000 copies and Luther Vandross' "Songs" at 108,000 units.

Another high-profile release, Barbra Streisand's "The Concert," sold 89,000 copies, entering the charts at No. 10. Recorded live at Madison Square Garden, the double CD captures Streisand singing classics with a 64-piece orchestra at the peak of her triumphant summer tour. Her last album, "Back to Broadway," has sold more than 2 million copies.

Record retailers--who have sold an estimated $5.1-billion worth of albums since January--are expecting shoppers to spend an additional $1.7 billion before New Year's Day.

"I'm very optimistic about a strong sales finish this year," said Russ Solomon, president of the 87-outlet, Sacramento-based Tower Records, whose sales are already up 7% over last year. "It's not like it was a few years ago. Business is buoyant."

Here are some of the albums that retailers are counting on to beef up profits during the last quarter:

* Pearl Jam's "Vitalogy": Due in November, this is the Seattle quintet's highly anticipated follow-up to last year's "Vs." album, which sold 950,000 copies during its first week out. "Vs." and the 1992 debut album, "Ten," have sold more than 12 million copies in the United States and are still in the Top 50.

* Madonna's "Bedtime Stories": This collection, due Oct. 25, will test the singer's popularity. Her last album, "Erotica," did not sell as well as expected, but retailers are not counting out the drawing power of pop's most controversial vamp.

* The Eagles' "Hell Freezes Over": This live collection, due next month, is the Southern California band's first album in 15 years. Sales could be affected by this week's postponement of the remaining dates on the group's much-touted reunion tour because of a gastrointestinal disorder that has struck member Glenn Frey.

* Michael Jackson's "His Story": Expected to be released in December, this 30-track, double-CD collection will feature Jackson's greatest hits plus eight new songs. Despite Jackson's recent settlement of a civil suit over charges of sexual molestation, retailers expect the album to do at least as well as his 1991 "Dangerous" album, which sold 6 million copies in the United States, plus an additional 14 million copies overseas.

These albums will face competition from a variety of strong contenders: Slayer's "Divine Intervention" (which sold 93,000 copies last week and entered the charts at No. 8; Megadeth's "Youthanasia"; Tom Petty's "Wildflowers"; Gloria Estefan's "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me"; Smashing Pumpkins' just-released "Pisces Iscariot"; Clint Black's "One Emotion," and Christmas collections from Kenny G, Neil Diamond and Donna Summer.

In addition, retailers are optimistic about the continued sales punch of newcomers Counting Crows, Offspring (after 18 weeks on the chart, No. 7 with 97,000 copies sold last week), Green Day (sold 92,000 units in its 33rd week, good for No. 9), Stone Temple Pilots, Sheryl Crow and Candlebox, as well as such soundtrack smashes as "Forrest Gump," "The Lion King" (at No. 6, with 107,000 units sold in its 17th week) and "Natural Born Killers."

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