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"Titanic' sales boost recording industry

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

It's not only the movie industry that's enjoying Titanic success this year. Thanks to the multimillion-selling soundtrack from the biggest-grossing movie in history, the record industry is enjoying a robust growth in album sales.

The mostly instrumental James Horner score has topped the national sales chart for 15 consecutive weeks and so dominated the record marketplace this year that it has pushed releases by superstars such as Madonna and Pearl Jam into the background.

"No. 2 is the virtual No. 1 these days because No. 1 is no longer within the realm of mortals," says Bob Merlis, senior vice president of corporate communications at Warner Bros. Records. "We couldn't (get there) with Madonna or Van Halen or Eric Clapton."

Titanic has sold nearly $100-million worth of albums this year _ nearly 7.5-million copies, including another 268,000 last week. That's almost twice the total of the year's No. 2 album, Celine Dion's Titanic-related album, Let's Talk About Love, which, like the soundtrack, includes the singer's Titanic theme, My Heart Will Go On.

The Dion album, which had already sold more than 2.5-million copies before sales of the soundtrack began to skyrocket in early January, has sold another 3.8-million this year.

Driven by the soundtrack, which long ago replaced Chariots of Fire as the best-selling instrumental film score of all time, total U.S. album sales reached 160-million units during the first three months of 1998. That's up 7.6 percent for the same period a year ago (148-million units).

The combined 10.2-million units sold by the soundtrack and Dion albums during the first quarter are responsible for the vast majority of that growth, allowing the record industry to continue its rebound from a mid-'90s stagnation. After two years of minimal gains, album sales jumped 5.7 percent in 1997.

But retailers aren't about to decry Titanic's dominance. They say Titanic pulls buyers who wouldn't normally be there into their stores.

"Titanic is the leader that has taken us to this growth," says Mike Shalett, CEO of SoundScan, which monitors U.S. record sales.

Among genres, the big winners were rap and soundtracks, which were up 16 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Sales of hard rock records were up 11 percent, while alternative rock sales were down 12 percent and country was off 7 percent.

The rap surge was led by '97 holdover albums by Sean "Puffy" Combs, Will Smith and Mase, as well as new collections by Silkk the Shocker and C-Murder.

"The (Titanic) soundtrack has created an excitement that has led people back to retail, and once they're there, they're seeing a lot of exciting merchandise," says Scott Levin, director of marketing for the Musicland Group. "Once we get them in the store, the hooks are there."