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'Vitalogy' Makes for a Real Pearl Jam of a Seller : Pop music: The album sold 877,000 copies in its first week. Kenny G drops to No. 2 and the Beatles two-disc set sells a surprising 360,000.

December 15, 1994|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

During its first seven days in record stores, Pearl Jam's new "Vitalogy" album made the second-biggest opening week splash since SoundScan began computerized sales monitoring in 1991.

The only band Pearl Jam couldn't beat? Pearl Jam.

"Vitalogy" sold a massive 877,000 copies, second only to the first-week record of 950,000 set by the Seattle band's 1993 album, "Vs." The new album got off to a strong start, selling a whopping 250,000 copies on its first day. This despite the absence of an MTV video, considered an essential marketing tool in rock.

The showing by Pearl Jam--which has sold more than 13 million albums in the past three years--surpassed the competition in a lucrative week in which total sales exceeded an estimated $266 million--up almost 9% over the comparable period last year.

"Pearl Jam is a monster," said Russ Solomon, president of the 90-unit Sacramento-based Tower Records chain. "We've been waiting for something to come along to lead the holiday charge, and 'Vitalogy' gave the business a good swift kick. It broke out like a dam in a flood."

The runners-up for the week were Kenny G's "Miracle" holiday album, at 553,000 copies, and the Beatles' "Live at the BBC," a two-disc set that sold a surprising 360,000 copies--about a third of that number on the first day.

"Everybody here pretty much expected Pearl Jam to go through the roof, but the overwhelming response to the Beatles album kind of shocked us," said Mike Greene, vice president and general merchandise manager of Blockbuster Music, the 530-outlet chain based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. "It's like the '60s all over again, the way these babies are flying out the door. We've had to reorder already."

The nation's largest record retailers are anticipating their most profitable holiday season ever. Record merchants have sold an estimated $6.7 billion in albums since January, and they expect holiday shoppers will boost that amount by $1 billion before Jan. 8.

Besides the three leaders, retailers are expecting heavy sales for two other new packages: Garth Brooks' "The Hits," which includes 18 of the country sensation's best-selling singles; and "The Unplugged Collection, Vol. 1," a selection of acoustic MTV performances by artists such as Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Lenny Kravitz.

The rest of last week's Top 10: Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas" (311,000 copies), Boyz II Men's "II" (299,000), the Eagles' "Hell Freezes Over" (285,000), Green Day's "Dookie" (183,000), Nirvana's "Unplugged in New York," (178,000), "The Lion King" soundtrack (171,000) and Offspring's "Smash" (168,000).

Other albums expected to generate brisk holiday sales, according to retailers, are Tom Petty's "Wildflowers," Frank Sinatra's "Duets II," Madonna's "Bedtime Stories"; the greatest-hits packages from Sting, Sade and Doug Stone, and the soundtracks from "Pulp Fiction" and "Murder Was the Case."

Store owners estimate that the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's week accounts for about one-fourth of their annual $10 billion in music and video sales. With new works by Michael Jackson and Van Halen due in January, retailers are optimistic that the year-end sales spurt could continue into 1995.

"It looks like we're going to ring in the New Year with a bang," said Lew Garrett, vice president of purchasing at Camelot Music, a 400-store chain based in North Canton, Ohio. "Stores are jammed, and consumers are in the mood to shop. I predict this holiday season will set a high mark in record retail, and we're very optimistic about 1995."

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