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'Little Pill': Potent and Long-Lasting

Pop music: Alanis Morissette's debut, having surpassed Hootie, is heading into rarefied sales territory.

August 21, 1996|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bye bye, Hootie. Look out, Boston.

It seemed like only yesterday that music industry insiders all agreed that Hootie & the Blowfish's "Cracked Rear View" album was on its way to surpassing Boston's 20-year-old self-titled album as the best-selling major-label debut ever.

Now, though, "Cracked" has itself already been surpassed as the best-selling major-label debut in recent history.

Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill" has quietly left it in the dust--and isn't slowing down to look back.

With 9.5 million copies already sold in the United States since its release in June 1995, according to SoundScan, "Pill" is still selling at a pace of more than 100,000 a week. In fact, the album's 120,000 sales last week returned it to the No. 1 spot on the nation's album chart.

(Though Morissette, 22, released two dance-oriented albums in her native Canada as a teenager, they were never released in this country, thus qualifying "Pill" as a debut.)

Meanwhile, "Cracked Rear View," which was released a year before "Pill," has stalled at 9.1 million. (The band's follow-up album, "Fairweather Johnson," has sold 1.7 million copies since its release in April.)

Record retailers and radio programmers predict that "Pill" will continue at its current pace through the rest of the year even though Morissette's record label, Maverick, won't release any more singles or videos from the collection and there's a glut of superstar albums on the way. Among acts who'll compete with "Pill" for sales: R.E.M., U2, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow and Nirvana (a live album).

"It will absolutely still be one of the top hits around Christmas time," says Bob Bell, new release buyer for the Wherehouse stores chain. "Even without more videos or singles, it will not slow down."

Maverick predicts that worldwide sales of "Pill" could reach 20 million by the end of the year as Morissette continues a marathon tour that will take her to South America, Asia and Australia this fall after the U.S. leg of the trek ends Oct. 2 in New Orleans.

And another big sales boost is expected by many in February, when Morissette seems a certain candidate for several high-profile Grammy Awards from the singles released during the current eligibility period. After her four-Grammy triumph and impressive performance on the 1996 telecast, Morissette's "Pill" sales jumped to more than 200,000 a week for five weeks.

*

It's not unreasonable that domestic sales for this album could vault over such landmarks as "The Bodyguard" soundtrack and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" (both with 15 million, according to RIAA), "Led Zeppelin IV" (16 million) and even Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" (17 million).

That would make it the third biggest-selling album ever in the United States, trailing only Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (24 million) and "The Eagles--Their Greatest Hits" (22 million).

(Before SoundScan began monitoring sales in 1991, less precise figures were supplied by the Recording Industry Assn. of America. Unlike SoundScan, the RIAA numbers reflect albums shipped to stores, not actual over-the-counter sales. RIAA, for instance, reports that 11 million copies of "Pill" have been shipped, versus 14 million for "Cracked Rear View" and 15 million for "Boston," which is the debut leader. The biggest-selling debut by a female artist, according to RIAA, is Whitney Houston's 1985 self-titled package, which shipped 12 million copies.)

A sign of Morissette's continuing appeal is that some radio programmers have already moved on to another song from the album, "Head Over Feet," with strong results, even while "You Learn," the last of the album's four singles, is still hot on radio and MTV.

"This is the fifth song of hers we've played and she's as strong as ever for us," says Lisa Worden, music director of KROQ-FM (106.7). "And we could play many more of the songs."

At the same time, Morissette's fan base seems to be broadening. With her songs already staples of alternative-rock, adult alternative and mainstream pop radio formats, at least one urban-oriented station is finding success with "You Learn," though the ballad is hardly the traditional hit for that kind of station.

"I have no business playing that song," says Michelle Santosuosso, program director of San Francisco's KMEL-FM. "But I do anyway and people here love it."

Is there nothing that will slow this down?

"How many people are there in the country?" jokes Mike Morrison, program director of L.A.'s KSCA-FM (101.9) adult alternative outlet. "There has to be an upper limit, doesn't there? Maybe if the record keeps selling to the point that people are saying, 'Enough already.' That's what happened with Hootie. But it hasn't happened yet."

That's exactly the reason that Morissette and Maverick decided to cool the promotional jets a bit and not release more singles.

"We didn't want to burn people out," says Scott Welch, Morissette's Los Angeles-based manager. "If people want to play other songs, great. We're not complaining. But in terms of working a single, the thing is that she has so much more to say in her future that I don't want people to get tired of her."

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