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Nothin' but a She Thang

September 06, 1997|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ready for the Three Divas?

It's not another mega-teaming a la the operatic Three Tenors. Rather, it's a battle that is likely to dominate the interest of the music world as Christmas approaches.

Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Janet Jackson each have albums coming, and they're expected to fight it out for supremacy during the busy holiday. Also in the sales fight will be new releases by such other major acts as the Rolling Stones, Babyface, Elton John, Will Smith, Jane's Addiction and Green Day.

A lot is at stake for record companies and retailers because the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's normally account for as much as a quarter of its $12-billion annual take.

The big three in the year-end race:

* Janet Jackson

"The Velvet Rope," due Oct. 7, follows 1993's "janet.," which sold more than 6 million copies. Advance buzz on the album, on which she again teams with production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, is strong. The first single, "Got 'Til It's Gone," features a sample from Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi."

* Celine Dion

The French Canadian singer enters the fray Nov. 18 with her as-yet-untitled follow-up to last year's hugely successful "Falling Into You." That gives the others a head start in the sales race, but mid-November is just the time "Falling" started to break big. Sales continued strongly through its album of the year Grammy victory and her performance (in Barbra Streisand's place) on the Oscar telecast. The album is now nearing 9 million. But this one offers added attractions. Streisand duets with Dion on one track, and another includes Luciano Pavarotti.

* Maria Carey

"Butterfly," due Sept. 16 from Columbia, is a big stepping-out for the singer--and not just because it follows her much-discussed split with Sony Music Entertainment President Tommy Mottola, whose domain includes Carey's label. The album--which moves her further into hip-hop (including production help by the omnipresent Sean "Puffy" Combs) without abandoning her ballad side--is being widely viewed as Carey's bid to be taken seriously as an artist, not just a voice.

In any case, her track record for delivering huge hits that crest in the middle of the holiday rush makes her a retailer favorite. Carey's last album, "Daydream," spent six weeks at No. 1 in the fall of 1995 on its way to more than 8 million sales.

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