In pop music so far this year, the right man for the job is--a woman.

Although an occasional Madonna, Olivia Newton-John or Tina Turner has jumped into the annual race for most popular album artist of the year, the competition has been generally dominated by men.

That’s why this year’s album-sales sweepstakes shapes up as a dramatic turnaround. At the one-third mark in 1986, women are setting the pace.

In fact, separate albums by Heart (the veteran rock band led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson), Sade, Whitney Houston and Barbra Streisand have topped the Billboard national sales charts for 11 of the last 15 weeks.


Streisand’s “The Broadway Album,” which has sold more than 2 million copies since it was released last fall, went to No. 1 on Jan. 25. It held onto the top spot until Sade’s “Promise” LP--also past 2 million in sales--took over on Feb. 15.

The streak was broken the week of March 1 when an album by a male rock group--one appropriately titled Mr. Mister--was declared the nation’s best seller. But Whitney Houston’s debut collection--which has sold more than 4 million since its release early last year--moved into No. 1 the following week, where it stayed almost two months.

The interesting sidelight is that it’s not just female artists who are enjoying unusual success on the charts, but a certain style of female artist.

While Heart deals in harder, mainstream rock textures, Streisand, Sade and Houston all work, to varying degrees, within more traditional adult pop boundaries.


The Streisand album is built around such Broadway standards as “Somewhere” and “Send In the Clowns,” while Sade’s music has a cool, jazz-accented tone. Houston’s music is a classy mix of pop and R&B.; All three enjoy success on easy-listening and “adult contemporary” radio stations as well as Top 40.

Because record companies do not routinely release sales figures the way film studios do, weekly trade publications such as Billboard are looked to in the industry as the measure of sales performance.

Here are the year’s most popular albums through the May 3 issue of Billboard--based on a formula that awards 10 points for every week at No. 1 on the chart, nine for every week at No. 2 and so forth. An asterisk indicates that the record is still in the Billboard Top 10.

1. Heart’s “Heart"--122 points.*


2. Sade’s “Promise"--120.*

3. Whitney Houston’s “Whitney Houston"--111.*

4. Barbra Streisand’s “The Broadway Album"--98.

5. John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow"--92.


6. Mr. Mister’s “Welcome to the Real World"--72.

7. Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms"--59.

8. “Miami Vice” sound track--45.

9. Starship’s “Knee Deep in the Hoopla"--32.


10. ZZ Top’s “Afterburner"--27.

With both the Heart and Sade albums about to fall out of the Billboard weekly Top 10, the Houston LP--still No. 2--could pick up enough points in coming weeks to move past them in terms of cumulative total.

But the biggest challenge may come from Prince, whose “Parade” album has just begun what looks like a long Top 10 stay in Billboard. And: Michael Jackson’s follow-up to “Thriller” is still due this year.

In the singles competition, Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For” holds a one-point lead over Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie.” Warwick was joined on the benefit recording (proceeds go to AIDS research) by Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.


Here are 1986’s most successful singles, according to Billboard:

1. Dionne Warwick and Friends’ “That’s What Friends Are For"--55.

2. Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie"--54.

3. Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” and Prince’s “Kiss"*--tied with 52.


5. Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know"--49.

6. Starship’s “Sara"--48.

7. Heart’s “These Dreams"--42.

8. Survivor’s “Burning Heart"--39.


9. Atlantic Starr’s “Secret Lovers"--38.

10. Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me” and John Cougar Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K in the U.S.A."--tied with 34.

In this competition, Prince seems a cinch to move into the top spot because “Kiss” is still No. 3 in this week’s Billboard chart. It can fall as low as No. 7 next week (thus picking up four points) and still move past “Friends” in the race for most 1986 points.

LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Monday for several Pacific Amphitheatre shows, including Jeffrey Osborne July 11 and the Beach Boys July 16. . . . Also available Monday will be tickets for John Prine’s May 25 date at the Beverly Theatre. . . . Pacific Amphitheatre has added a second Bob Dylan-Tom Petty show June 17; tickets are on sale now. . . . Depeche Mode will play the Forum July 13, and A Flock of Seagulls comes to the Palace May 23. . . . Tickets for Peter Allen’s Universal Amphitheatre concerts June 14-15 go on sale Sunday, as do tickets for a second Siouxsie & the Banshees show June 7 at the Hollywood Palladium. . . . Chuck Berry will be at the Righteous Brothers’ new Lakewood Hop on May 5.