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Hey, hey, it's the Monkeys!

January 29, 2006|Chris Lee | Special to the Times

IT'S the kind of problem surrounding a new album that any band would love to face, especially a group most people have never heard of. The Arctic Monkeys' debut CD, "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not," has been selling so fast in Britain that record stores are having trouble keeping it in stock. Demand has outstripped even the most optimistic projections of the U.K. quartet's record company, forcing the label to rush-press more copies to keep up.

"They're well on their way to having the first million-selling album of 2006," Phil Penman, head of Britain's HMV music chain, told "If it continues to sell at this rate, there's even a danger shops could sell out by the end of the week."

Released Jan. 23, "Whatever" sold 120,000 copies in its first day, a pace that may turn it into the quickest-selling rock debut since chart records have been kept in Britain. (Trivia note: the current record holder? Boy band Hear*Say, which sold 306,000 copies its first week in stores five years ago.)

Hyperventilating British fans even voted the album ahead of the Clash's "London Calling" and the Beatles' "Revolver" in an NME magazine poll of the 20 greatest British albums ever.

"There has been a great vibe around the Arctic Monkeys for quite a few months now, but it usually takes much longer for a band to develop mainstream appeal and the commercial success to come with it," chart expert Gennaro Castaldo told NME. "It's amazing how much impact they have had in such a short time."

Formed in Sheffield, England, the likable lads -- all of whom are under 21 -- played their first gig in 2003. The group was signed to Domino Records, the indie home of Scottish alt-rockers Franz Ferdinand, after handing out demos to fans who posted them on a website.

"Contrary to all the rumors and myths and panics about the record industry going into meltdown because of music online, it has had the opposite effect" for the Monkeys, NME's Malik Meer told Reuters.

The Monkeys' "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and "When the Sun Goes Down" have both gone to No. 1 on the U.K. pop singles chart, both hitting No. 1 without an album release.

Call it the first breakthrough act of the download era -- and this despite the band members' admission in interviews that their computer skills extend only as far as sending e-mail.

Musically, the group shares a jittery, rough-around-the-edges wittiness with such Brit bands as the Libertines and Franz Ferdinand. The Monkeys' influences include Brit-rock stalwarts such as the Smiths and the Jam but also rappers Roots Manuva and Pharaoh Monch -- which may explain the danceable undercurrent in the Sheffielders' best-known songs.

"Whatever" hits U.S. stores Feb. 21. And Southland fans will be able to judge if all the hype is justified when the Arctic Monkeys tour here in March.


A little touch of Harry

A new documentary from the team behind the Grammy-nominated "Beautiful Dreamer -- Brian Wilson and the Story of 'Smile' " and the critically acclaimed Rodney Bingenheimer doc "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" explores the career of singer, songwriter and drinking buddy to rock royalty, Harry Nilsson.

"Who Is Harry Nilsson and Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him?" will have its world-premiere screening on Saturday at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Unlike many documentaries on subjects who have died, this one features significant portions narrated by Nilsson himself, thanks to a recently discovered oral autobiography he recorded before his death Jan. 15, 1994, after a heart attack.

The two-time Grammy-winning singer is best known for his version of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'," but even before that song catapulted him to fame after being highlighted in the film "Midnight Cowboy," Nilsson was championed by no less than the Beatles, and early on he recorded an entire album of Randy Newman's music.

He infamously accompanied John Lennon on a notoriously drunken night in 1974 during which he and the ex-Beatle, who was then living in Los Angeles while estranged from Yoko Ono, were ejected from the Troubadour for rowdy behavior during a Smothers Brothers show.

In later years, Nilsson quit drinking and became an advocate of gun-control legislation in the aftermath of Lennon's death in 1980.


A warm-up 'Run'

A key concert by Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band on the eve of the release of the "Born to Run" album will be issued Feb. 28 on CD as a two-disc set. "Hammersmith Odeon, Live '75" captures the band's Nov. 18, 1975, performance in London. It first surfaced last fall on DVD with the 30th anniversary "Born to Run" reissue package.

The CD, the first complete Springsteen/E Street Band concert released on CD, includes six "Born to Run" songs along with such earlier concert staples as "Spirit In the Night," "Rosalita" and the group's show-closing version of Gary U.S. Bonds' "Quarter to Three."

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