Will Guns N' Roses Deliver a One-Two Punch?

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The nation's record retailers are bracing themselves this weekend for what is expected to be an unprecedented sales barrage Tuesday when Guns N' Roses releases two albums simultaneously.

More than 4 million copies of "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II" have been shipped by Geffen Records to U.S. retailers, by far the highest advance order in the history of the record business.

This should, most industry sources agree, enable the albums to claim the first and second positions on the national sales charts during its first week of release.

But Ed Rosenblatt, the president of Geffen Records, cautions that those chart positions may be jeopardized by the refusal of about 4,500 of the more than 18,000 record retail outlets in the country to carry the albums because of what they consider objectionable lyric content.

"It's possible it could cost us a No. 1 album (ranking)," he said.

Officials at SoundScan, the company that compiles statistics for the Billboard charts, disagree.

"Geffen won't be penalized by the decision (of some stores) to not carry the album," SoundScan chief operating officer Mike Shalett said in a phone interview from New York.

"Look at it this way--Metallica debuted at No. 1 without any significant sales (in the same stores). . . . Consumers will simply buy more albums at retail outlets."

SoundScan's Mike Fine said the stores that won't be carrying the albums--chiefly discount chains such as K mart and Wal-Mart--only account for about 10% of the nation's album sales picture because those stores do far less volume in records than full-line record stores, such as Tower and Wherehouse.

Recession-pinched retailers who have decided to stock the album are banking on the double Guns N' Roses package to bolster sagging record sales and stimulate foot traffic in the malls.

"We need it," said Tower Records advertising manager Bob Akin. "The first half of the year has not been great for record retail. We hope that this record and other big albums about to be released will give us a boost."

In a marketing ploy to dramatize sales interest, an estimated 1,000 U.S. record stores will open at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday--the first minute they can legally sell the records. The list includes about 100 in Southern California, including some Tower, Wherehouse and Musicland outlets.

Plus, numerous mall record retail outlets operating under leases that prevent them from partaking in the late-night sale plan to open at 7 a.m. to accommodate consumers on their way to school.

"This album is going to be huge," said Bob Feterl, regional manager of Tower Records on Sunset in Hollywood, who expects a turnout of at least 1,000 fans during the two early-morning hours the store will be open. "Anticipation for the Guns N' Roses release has been building since last May. I would be shocked if this record didn't enter the charts at No. 1."

Arnie Bernstein, president of Musicland, the largest retail chain in the nation, said there was so much consumer interest in the album that the company--borrowing a technique from video retailers--instituted a pre-purchase policy for "Use Your Illusion" so that fans could be guaranteed copies on the day of release.

"This is a very rare occurrence," Bernstein said in a phone interview. "We've only ever pre-sold one or two other superstar albums before. I think Michael Jackson's 'Bad' was the last time I saw a frenzy anything like this."

Due to crass lyrics, Geffen Records has stickered both "Use Your Illusion" albums with a warning label that reads: PARENTAL ADVISORY, EXPLICIT LYRICS." But that isn't the only advisory notice that appears on "Use Your Illusion."

Axl Rose and the rest of the band also requested that an additional sticker be placed beneath the shrink wrap packaging. The message on the sticker says that there are some lyrics that may be objectionable to some listeners and goes on to suggest, using a thinly disguised vulgarity, that those people buy something from the New Age section.

As a result, Western Merchandisers Inc. and the Handleman Co.--the "rack-jobbers" which supply records to more than 4,500 discount stores--have refused to stock the record.

Handleman Co. officials declined to comment on the firm's decision. Robert J. Cope, vice president of Western Merchandisers, cited Wal-Mart's refusal to carry the Guns N' Roses record as part of a longstanding corporate policy.

"Wal-Mart feels that revenue realized from the sales of a record with objectionable lyrics would be more than offset by the discontent it might cause customers for making such product available to children," Cope said in a phone interview from the company's Amarillo, Tex.-based headquarters. "Their philosophy is that albums with objectionable lyrics do not conform to the store's family image."

Musicland's Bernstein took a different position regarding the impact of explicit lyrics on his customers.

"We're not in the censorship business," Bernstein said. "We're in the retail business. We feel the industry has taken the proper precautions to advise parents as to what kind of lyrics are contained on the album."

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