Music Article

Not So Lonely at the Top

''Billboard'''s crowded album chart -- With so many big artists releasing records, they can't all be number 1

Getting into the top 10 of Billboard's album chart may be every musician's dream, but now it's becoming a nightmare. The problem: Too many superstars are releasing albums at the same time — and they can't all be in the top 10. Given that Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Garth Brooks, Mariah Carey, Mötley Crüe, Prince, Public Enemy, and Bryan Adams are already taking up all the slots — with GN'R's Use Your Illusion selfishly claiming two — what can we expect by the end of November, when stores will be uncrating over a dozen more albums by artists who regularly top the charts? Joining the current biggies — and otherwise likely prospects Dire Straits, Tesla, and Karyn White — will be U2, Genesis (with Phil Collins), Hammer, John Mellencamp, Paul Simon (his Central Park concert), Richard Marx, Lisa Stansfield, INXS, Poison, Linda Ronstadt, and Keith Sweat, all of whom scored mightily last time out. And then there's Michael Jackson. Toss in the Barbra Streisand boxed set (obviously every kid's gift to his parents this Christmas) and the likelihood of plenty more hit singles from Michael Bolton, Bob Seger, and Paula Abdul to propel their albums into the top 10 again — and the mix gets even murkier.

According to Billboard's chart columnist Paul Grein, artists most likely to suffer won't be superstars like GN'R, Streisand, or U2, but those ''a rung down'' in terms of fan loyalty. Take singer Richard Marx, whose last album actually went to No. 1. ''If his new album goes to No. 5 but sells as many copies as the last one did, I don't think anybody's going to be too upset,'' Grein says. ''But it's more likely that in a very crowded field, competing head to head with John Mellencamp and Bryan Adams, that it won't be able to sell as well as his last one. That's the issue really, more than how high it goes.''

Maybe. But not to everybody. Charlie Springer, VP of national sales at Warner Bros. Records, recalls a conversation with one band at his label: ''I asked them if they'd rather have a record that sold 10,000 copies a week that was No. 5, or 5,000 copies a week that was No. 1. And they said, 'Five thousand a week (at) No. 1.''' Adds Springer: ''Hey, I'm in sales — I'd rather have the 10,000.'' Tell that to Richard Marx, Mariah Carey, U2, and Mötley Crüe — whose last albums hit No. 1, whose new ones will duke it out with Guns N' Roses, and who likely get chills whenever they hear the words ''disappointing follow-up.''

To the record industry, which saw shipments take an 11 percent nosedive in the first half of 1991, the coming quarter couldn't be more promising. To retailers, already excited about Use Your Illusion's spectacular sales (5.5 million copies in its first three weeks) it's a dream come true. But to artists who've gotten used to sitting pretty at the top — it's going to get ugly out there.

Originally posted Oct 18, 1991 Published in issue #88 Oct 18, 1991 Order article reprints