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‘For Sale’ Signs at A&M; Records?

It’s the hottest rumor in the music industry: A&M; Records, the label that brought you Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, the Carpenters, Peter Frampton, the Police and Janet Jackson, is supposedly for sale.

The reported asking price: $500 million--not including A&M;'s extensive real estate holdings in Hollywood or its Almo/Irving music publishing division.

The rumor mill has even produced a potential buyer: Fujisankei, the Japanese communications conglomerate that releases A&M; product in Japan through its Pony Canyon subsidiary.

Industry scuttlebutt notwithstanding, A&M; chairman Jerry Moss insists that the label isn’t for sale--at least not now.

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“The company is not imminently for sale, and I’m convinced all these rumors are just spread by our competition,” he told Pop Eye. “They constantly put our people on edge, confuse our artists and affect my negotiations. It’s terrible. They’re unfounded.”

Moss acknowledged that his use of words like “imminently” and “for the time being” makes his denial seem qualified, but he said, “I can only speak for now.”

Moss did say, however, that in a general, philosophical way, he and his partner Herb Alpert have begun to see the day when they’d like to step down from the company that they founded in 1962.

“But I think if that time came it would be under the best circumstances for our people, where they would have an opportunity to perform at a higher level in every way with our artists,” Moss said. “If that kind of a situation came about, an offer that was so unbelievable, obviously (we’d have to consider it).

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“But I think the way the company is set up at the present time gives me the latitude to do the kind of things I like to do. I’m not in a big hurry to change it. I’m still having a good time.”

A&M;'s poor showing on the national sales charts this year has helped fuel the speculation about a sale. The label has just two albums in Billboard magazine’s top 100 this week--LPs by the Neville Brothers and soap opera star Michael Damian (the latter through a distribution deal with Cypress Records). At one point in April, A&M; had just one album in the top 100, a woeful performance for a major company.

Like all record companies, A&M; has had lean years before--most recently in 1984--and it has always bounced back. In 1985 and 1986, for example, A&M; rebounded with smash albums by Janet Jackson, Bryan Adams and Sting. A&M; could bounce back again: Jackson’s final album under her current A&M; contract, “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation,” is due this fall, along with albums by Adams, Suzanne Vega, Brenda Russell and Squeeze.

The rumors about A&M; come just two months after Thorne-EMI acquired a 50% interest in Chrysalis Records, and amid much speculation about an imminent sale of Island Records.

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“You’re seeing an incredible shrinking of the record business,” said David Geffen, whose Geffen Records has in the past two years surpassed A&M; as the industry’s most successful independently owned record company.

The reason for the buying spree, Geffen said, is that the major record distributors need volume to make the system work.

“Volume is everything for RCA, PolyGram, MCA and Capitol, and they can’t seem to get it any other way than acquiring these other companies,” he said. “It seems to me that by the end of next year, the only independently owned record company of any size left will be mine because I have no intentions of selling.”

One reason for the A&M; rumors is that Alpert and Moss declined to comment on them for several weeks. Moss acknowledged that the silence probably fueled the flames.

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“Yeah, but it’s hard to stand up on a soapbox every week or so and say ‘I’m not for sale,’ ” he said. “Pretty soon you just get tired of it. And in all fairness, I like to talk to the press as much as I like to go into a gorilla cage.”

LONE STAR: Gloria Estefan has achieved a nifty feat on her fast-rising hit “I Don’t Wanna Lose You.” The lead singer for Miami Sound Machine receives solo billing even though she hasn’t left that group.

Estefan continues to be backed by the Miami Sound Machine musicians--including her husband, Emilio. The upgraded billing is said to simply reflect the way that she has become the star of the act in the eyes of the public and the media.

“It just makes sense. You go to where your strength is,” said Don Grierson, a senior vice president at Epic Records, which will release Estefan’s “Cuts Both Ways” album next week.

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“As they refined and streamlined the show--made it more mass-market/contemporary and less Latin--Gloria obviously became the focal point,” he added. “The center of this band is no longer the Latin ‘conga’ kind of dance thing--though that’s still a part of it--but it is Gloria singing songs that she writes primarily.”

Estefan has written most of the group’s hits to date, including the chart-topping ballad “Anything for You.” That was a song from the group’s 1987 album “Let It Loose"--its first as Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine.

Grierson said that one reason for the latest change in billing is that an album by an attractive female singer has a greater sales potential than one by an oversize pop group--especially one named after a machine.

“From an image and marketing point of view it’s much more logical to use the singular name and the singular identity,” Grierson said. “The label definitely feels more comfortable emphasizing Gloria because she’s become such a star, but it happened without our trying to force it. It was just the next logical step.”

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Through a spokesman, the group declined to comment on the change in billing.

NEWS NOTES: Tom Petty has an unusual demand in his contract rider for all concert appearances: The rock star insists that no Styrofoam cups or plastic plates and utensils be used backstage, on the grounds that they are non-biodegradable. Also unusual is the video for Petty’s new single “Runnin’ Down a Dream"--it’s a fully animated, black-and-white clip. . . . Sting is set to make his Broadway debut as Mack the Knife in a revival of the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht musical “Three Penny Opera,” which opens Nov. 2. . . . Music by retro-balladeer Harry Connick Jr. is featured on the Columbia sound-track album to the upcoming Rob Reiner movie “When Harry Met Sally . . . ", starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The comedy also features standards by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong that aren’t on the LP. Just one question: Will this movie do for Tin Pan Alley what Reiner’s 1984 spoof “Spinal Tap,” did for heavy metal?


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