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Soundtrack to 'Titanic' Rises to No. 1

Pop music: The collection of almost solely orchestral compositions is thought to be the fastest-selling album of a film score since 'Star Wars.'

January 15, 1998|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's not enough that "Titanic" has dominated the box office since its Dec. 19 release. Now, the soundtrack from the film has hit the top of the national sales chart--a rarity for movie music.

The album has crashed into the No. 1 slot this week with sales of about 243,000 and a three-week total of 550,000. And though it knocks Celine Dion's "Let's Talk About Love" to No. 2, with sales of 227,000, the chanteuse can take credit for a daily double, since her performance of the "Titanic" love theme "My Heart Will Go On" is on both albums.

Other soundtrack albums have been big hits in recent years, but they are usually collections of songs by current artists ("Space Jam" or "Romeo & Juliet") or feel-good nostalgia sets ("Dirty Dancing," "Forrest Gump").

The unusual thing about "Music From the Motion Picture 'Titanic' " is that, except for the Dion performance, it consists entirely of James Horner's orchestral music.

"Titanic" is believed to be the fastest-selling album of a movie score since "Star Wars" in 1977--and that never reached No. 1. The only scores to reach the top of the chart are "Doctor Zhivago" in 1966, "The Sting" in 1974 and "Chariots of Fire" in 1982. "Titanic" is certainly the fastest-selling score since the advent in 1991 of the SoundScan system for tracking record sales.

And no one is expecting it to slow down--Sony Music received reorders for 500,000 copies nationwide on Monday, a record day for the company.

"It's simply exploded," says Gary Arnold, vice president of marketing for the Best Buy chain. "This is one of those rare occasions where you see all the components of success line up and you get a No. 1 record and a No. 1 film."

The components in play are threefold. First is the obvious.

"People just love the movie," says Glen Brunman, executive vice president of Sony Music Soundtrax, which released the album via Sony Classical. "I feel like an idiot stating something so simple, but people have just been taken by the movie, and the music is a part of that."

The second element is the Celtic tone of the music, carried by such traditional instruments as uillean pipes and Irish whistles and the ethereal, wordless vocals of Norwegian singer Sissel. As Enya and "Riverdance" have shown, Celtic music seems to strike a responsive chord in a wide variety of people.

"The Celtic phenomenon has really seeded itself in the U.S.," says Best Buy's Arnold. "People really respond to the sound and it's fairly new to many of them."

Randy Gerston, music supervisor for "Titanic," says that a Celtic flavor, which Horner also tapped in the Scottish-themed "Braveheart," came naturally to this project.

"[Director] Jim Cameron was actually listening to Enya when he wrote the script," he says. "And he and I identified that we wanted Celtic elements to be part of the score.

"He always wanted that music to represent the passengers down in steerage, and James Horner felt the same. And when he also brought that to the orchestral score, something very earthy and emotional happens when you put those sounds with a big string section."

The third element is Dion, who in the last few years has risen to commercial supremacy among mainstream pop singers. Brunman had seen Dion's impact on movie audiences before, having helped place her on the hit "Sleepless in Seattle" soundtrack and bringing her in to record "Because You Loved Me" for "Up Close and Personal."

No one can say how much Dion's presence means for the "Titanic" album. With her own album now having passed 3 million units in less than two months, it's unlikely that anyone who is more interested in her performance than in the score music doesn't already own her collection.

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