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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

Big Names Should Keep '96 Rookie Crop at Bay

June 02, 1996|Steve Hochman

A year ago, Alanis Morissette was an unknown Canadian singer who hadn't released her U.S. debut album. Now that debut has sold more than 9 million copies.

Who's going to be this year's Morissette?

"I couldn't make a prediction like that," says KROQ-FM music director Lisa Worden.

"If I had that crystal ball, I'd be in the record business," says Scott Becker, publisher of the alternative music magazine Option.

They were two of the radio programmers, record retailers and other music industry watchers willing to give Pop Eye their predictions for the big hits of the summer season. The consensus: It'll be tough for any rookie to break through the big-name sure things.

* Metallica's "Load" is the top choice for the biggest summer smash. "The big acts are going to be the traditional rock acts," says Carey Curlop, program director of traditional hard-rock haven KLOS-FM. Metallica is now being embraced as an alternative-rock icon as well as heavy metal, with the headlining slot on Lollapalooza and airplay on KROQ.

"We're keeping a eye on it closely," Worden says. "On one hand we're upsetting core listeners who don't like that kind of music, but lots of other people love it, and think it's compatible with Alice in Chains, White Zombie and other hard-rock bands we play."

Just-released albums by Soundgarden (also on Lollapalooza) and Rage Against the Machine also lead the hard-rock/alternative alliance, but they could be eclipsed by longtime mainstream successes Tom Petty and Bryan Adams. Adams' "18 'Til I Die" is geared toward reestablishing him as a good-time rocker, but its fortunes may rely on another movie ballad, "Star,", which will be used in the Robin Williams vehicle "Jack." A movie tie-in gives Petty's "She's the One" an added dimension, with several songs written for the new film by Ed Burns of "The Brothers McMullen" fame.

* New Edition's long-anticipated (and long-delayed) reunion, due XX on MCA, has the potential to be one of the top summer hits, but it also comes with some big question marks, since the former teen sensations have been off the scene for some time--both as a unit and in such splinters as Bell Biv DeVoe and Bobby Brown.

"The first single is one of the up-tempo tracks, which we'll get within a month," says KPWR-FM music director Bruce St. James. "But it will be the ballads that will really take off."

Toni Braxton's follow-up to her 8-million-selling debut is also seen as a sure thing in the urban and pop markets, while Westside Connection, the coalition of Ice Cube, Mack 10 and WC & the Madd Circle, is the biggest hip-hop album coming up. The debut album from El Monte high schooler Lina Santiago is expected to lead the national dance-music charts.

* Of the rising rookie artists with albums already out, Tracy Bonham is picked as the one with the biggest breakthrough potential. Her "Mother Mother" is earning comparisons to Morissette--generally favorable ones.

Two other acts that are already major hits are seen as candidates for reaching the stratosphere. The Fugees, whose "The Score" has already been a No. 1 album, is just starting to make a crossover to alternative stations and adult-alternative outlets (including KSCA-FM) with its version of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry."

Meanwhile, Orange County new wave/ska band No Doubt is poised to cross in the other direction, from alternative sensation to mainstream pop hit, with the planned single release of the ballad "Don't Speak," which KPWR's St. James compares to Madonna's "La Isla Bonita."

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