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Pop music buyers love a winner

Interest in Norah Jones' 'Come Away With Me' has spiked after her rare Grammys feat. It's poised for No. 1 and 500,000 weekly sales.

February 28, 2003|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

On March 3, 2002, the debut album by an obscure chanteuse from Texas named Norah Jones debuted on the nation's pop chart at No. 139 with modest sales of 9,700 copies.

Now, after her Grammy sweep on Sunday, Jones' "Come Away With Me" is poised to claim No. 1 on the chart by selling more than 500,000 copies in a single week. The CBS telecast of the 45th annual Grammys, where the honey-voiced Jones won five awards, including best album, has spurred a wave of curious consumers to scoop up her CD.

The sales tracked since Sunday suggest that when the new chart comes out Wednesday, Jones will have had her biggest week of sales -- enough to pass R. Kelly, 50 Cent and other top sellers for the No. 1 spot.

"The Grammys are having a huge effect on sales," said Bob Bell, a music buyer for the Wherehouse chain. "With her Grammy sweep, she's really reaching a whole different audience that may not be regular music consumers. There's the whole crowd that maybe buys one album a year. Now this is that album for them. This happens every couple of years, where someone just jumps out and gets the attention."

The Grammys drew nearly 25 million viewers this year, an increase of 6 million over 2002 that was due in part to the gala's move from its customary midweek staging to Sunday, a night when audiences are typically larger.

In past years, performers such as Bonnie Raitt, Alicia Keys, Ricky Martin and Santana saw major sales spikes after high-profile wins or performances on the Grammys.

Retailers report that sales are also up for familiar artists who performed on the show, such as Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks and No Doubt, as well as relative newcomers, such as John Mayer and the 23-year-old Jones.

"Come Away With Me" has now sold 3.6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, but its single best week was 257,000 in the days before Christmas. Last month, the album finally hit No. 1 and logged three weeks there.

Jones became only the second artist in Grammy history to win best new artist, best record and best album on the same night (Christopher Cross did it in 1980). Her album's ubiquitous hit, "Don't Know Why," earned the song of the year Grammy for its writer, Jesse Harris. Jones' record producer, Arif Mardin, was named producer of the year.

To capture some of the heat created by Jones and her Grammy night, her label, Blue Note Records, has also rushed 200,000 copies of a concert DVD into stores. The hourlong "Live in New Orleans" is priced between $9.99 and $14.98 at most stores and features Jones singing her own material, unreleased songs and versions of "Tennessee Waltz" and the Band's "Bessie Smith."

Blue Note has not advertised the DVD heavily, but Bell says that will hardly matter.

"New people are flooding into the stores looking to find out what Norah is all about, and if they see it, they'll buy it," he said.

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