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Will Jackson Make Chart HIStory?

June 18, 1995|Steve Hochman

How many albums does Michael Jackson have to sell in the first week of release to live up to his self-proclaimed title of King of Pop?

Would you believe a million ?

That's what executives at the major record companies are saying--at least the ones who aren't part of the Sony family, which releases Jackson's albums.

That would make "HIStory . . .," due in stores on Tuesday, well, historical. It would be an unprecedented achievement, especially considering the weighty $32.98 list price for the two-CD package combining greatest hits and new material.

That's more than the biggest debut of the SoundScan era, which began in 1991: Pearl Jam's "Vs.," which sold 950,000 in November, 1993. And that was a conventional single album.

Since Jackson's is a double album, sales of a million would be far more discs than the combined 1.3 million sold by Guns N' Roses' two volumes of "Use Your Illusion" when they were released simultaneously in 1991.

"For what they're doing promotionally, it has to break a record," says one executive, who asked to remain anonymous. He's referring to the reported $30-million promotional budget that Sony is putting behind the release.

Another says even that might not be enough: "They've got to do well over a million to even put a little smile on their faces," he says. "If they want to start laughing they've got to do north of 1.3 million."

But what do the execs think it will actually sell?

About half that much.

That's where the betting is running in the industry . . . literally. Top-level staff at UNI, which includes MCA and Geffen Records, are anteing up $20 a pop in a pool to guess how much "HIStory" will sell in the U.S. during the first week, with the median guess running about 500,000 copies.

For most people, that would still be phenomenal. In recent weeks, it's often taken just a little more than 100,000 in sales to make an album No. 1. But standards for Jackson are higher than for anyone else. Remember: He's the one who reportedly taped the words 100 million to his bathroom mirror before the 1987 release of "Bad," expressing his goal of selling more than four times the then-record total held by his "Thriller."

Perhaps with that in mind, Sony execs are said to be low-balling their own expectations, saying behind closed doors that they expect the album to sell about 250,000 the first week--a figure that Jackson should have no trouble exceeding, but one which would leave the album far behind the all-time leaders.

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