The holiday record sales figures are in and the surprise is that Michael Jackson was not the leader of the pack.
Jackson's "Dangerous" album finished second in sales to country star Garth Brooks for the week ending Dec. 24 and fifth behind rock group Nirvana and others for the week ending Tuesday, according to industry sources.
The figures will be reflected in the pop album chart published in Billboard magazine on Saturday and were part of strong holiday sales that totaled an estimated 50 million albums the last two weeks.
Nirvana's "Nevermind" led all albums last week, selling 373,000, followed by Brooks' "Ropin' the Wind," which sold 351,000. The rest of the top five: Hammer's "Too Legit to Quit," 328,000; U2's "Achtung Baby," 325,000, and "Dangerous," 323,000.
The "Dangerous" figures were surprising because most industry observers had expected the album to dominate the charts through December, the busiest sales month in the record industry, and into January.
The album's modest showing raises questions about whether "Dangerous" is going to generate the sales of either of Jackson's last two albums, 1983's "Thriller" or 1988's "Bad," which sold 21 million copies and 6 million copies, respectively, in the U.S.
Glen Brunman, vice president of media and artist development at Epic, said he's not worried about the dip in Jackson's sales.
"This is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash and Michael Jackson is the best marathon run in the business," Brunman said Thursday. "He is the most consistent performer in the past five weeks."
Nirvana, a Washington-state alternative college rock group whose "Nevermind" is its major label debut, has been in the Top 10 for almost two months. "Nevermind" has sold more than 2.5 million copies since its release in August.
"I don't know where Nirvana came from, but all of a sudden everybody wanted it," Allison Shifke, operational manager at Tower Records' Sunset Boulevard store said Thursday. "Michael is still selling well here, but what is impressive about the success of Nirvana's record is that it is buzz-driven. It wasn't hyped by the record company, it's not a mainstream act and yet it has been rising rapidly in our Top 25 for months."
However, Brooks appears to have been the real winner in the industry's year-end sweepstakes; "Ropin' the Wind" has sold more than 5 million copies since its late summer release. It has been a fixture in the Top 10 for four months and shows no signs of a sales slowdown, observers said.
Mike Fine, chief operating officer of SoundScan, the New York research firm whose data is the basis for the weekly Billboard charts, said Thursday that all the Top 10 albums benefited from the holiday sales rush.
Jim Donio, communications director for the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers, the organization that represents most of the nation's record retailers, said that recession-crunched merchants were "ecstatic" with the year-end upsurge in sales.
"Everyone is extremely upbeat," Donio said. "What you have to realize is that the prior nine months were pretty rough on record retailers. Retailers were banking on Jackson's track record to bring folks back into the stores. Whether his record outsold the competition in the last two weeks or not, we believe it did help spur the holiday buying spree."
Pop Album Chart
Title, Artist (Label) Rank Rank 2 Weeks Last Week Weeks Ago on Chart 1."Nevermind," Nirvana (Geffen) 6 6 14 2."Ropin'theWind,"GarthBrooks(Capitol) 2 2 16 3.Too Legit to Quit,"Hammer (Capitol) 3 3 9 4."Achtung Baby," U2 (Island) 7 4 6 5."Dangerous," Michael Jackson (Epic) 1 1 5