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'Bodyguard' Album, Single Soar At Sales Counters hide



Whitney Houston's single "I Will Always Love You" and the accompanying "Bodyguard" soundtrack album have had unprecedented sales since their releases Oct. 30 and Nov. 17, respectively. The driving factors behind the momentum include a powerful song and performance, exposure afforded the material through the film tie-in, and Arista's aggressive advertising campaign.

Although the film itself has received mixed reviews, preview trailers and ads using the single and other songs from the soundtrack have created a widespread awareness of the material, which some observers say has, in turn, helped propel the movie. Last week, it was ranked No. 4 on The Hollywood Reporter's Boxoffice chart, with a cumulative gross of $88 million after five weeks in release.

According to the Recording Industry Assn. of America, Garth Brooks' "The Chase" holds the record for fastest sales out of the box, reaching the 5-million-unit mark in only two months. However, Clive Davis, president of Arista and the album's co-executive producer, predicts that, by the time it has been out for eight weeks, "The Bodyguard" will have sold 6 million units. (It is eligible for RIAA certification 60 days after release.) Already, according to BMG Distribution president Pete Jones, the company has shipped nearly that many to its accounts.

"I Will Always Love You," meanwhile, has topped Bryan Adams' hit single "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" by selling 3 million units within two months, a month earlier than the Adams single reached that mark. According to Davis, the Houston single stands a good chance of topping the all-time single record of 4 million units set by "We Are The World" from the "USA For Africa" album, which was released in 1985.

Houston's previous album, "I'm Your Baby Tonight," has sold 3 million units in the U.S. and 7 million units worldwide since its introduction in October 1990. The "Bodyguard" album has also been well-received internationally, according to Davis. "The combination of Whitney's following and the unprecedented impact of this song combined to make this a very, very strong worldwide album," he says. "We'll be over 4 million units outside the U.S. and over 6 million units in the U.S. by [Jan. 8]."

"I Will Always Love You" and two other Houston songs on the album -- "I Have Noting" and "Queen Of The Night" -- began receiving exposure about 4 1/2 months before the soundtrack's release date by being featured in trailers for the film.

Arista also sent key retailers advance cassettes containing portions of the album, according to Jim Chiado, senior VP of sales and distribution for Arista. The sales team plugged into fourth-quarter retail advertising and created posters and displays to accompany the singles, notes Chiado.

Arista's aggressive marketing campaign included a half-hour television program ("Arista Gallery Of Stars") spotlighting its artists, a TV campaign encompassing spots on MTV, VH-1, BET, and network stations, and print ads in People, Us, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, (Billboard, Nov. 21).

"It's the phenomenon of an incredible song from an incredible artist in an incredible performance, and then you have the movie as well, and you have these two media working together," says Jack Rovner, senior VP. "The time of year and the emotional chord it hits has a great impact. To put that under the guise of marketing would be wrong."

POWER OF THE SONG

Acknowledging the power of the song and the draw of the film, Jim Dobbe, VP of sales merchandise at Wherehouse Entertainment, Torrance, Calif., says "Arista did a wonderful job in putting together and marketing it."

He adds the title helped make the Christmas selling season a successful one for retailers. "You have to give credit to Arista and this record to bringing consumers in. You want something that brings consumers into the store, and that's what this became. It's what retailers have been looking for throughout the year, with Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen, that never really happened. This became a destination title."

Stan Goman, senior VP at Tower Records, west Sacramento, Calif., attributes the success of the project to "all the advertisements they had on TV, playing the songs and scenes from the movie, plus she's really sexy, and you've got Kevin Costner. That's what sells. Plus the music's good. If the music was lousy, it wouldn't sell . . . I hope this thing is like a Michael Jackson 'Thriller.' We need a big seller to bring people in."

Ron Phillips, director of marketing for Miami-based Spec's Music, notes that "I Will Always Love You" fills a gap for the adult-contemporary customer and that the album has a "huge cross-format appeal" as well.

So swiftly did the album take off that Arista and BMG Distribution were initially taken by surprise. According to Jones, "We went out with 800,000 units, but the record accelerated so quickly that there was some catchup involved."

Due to the volume of reorders pouring in, Jones says, BMG got into a "back-order situation," but it lasted only a couple of days. By using some additional suppliers outside of BMG's usual sources of product, he says, the company was able to fill the massive volume of orders.

When "I Will Always Love You" was released, it received a nearly instantaneous response at radio, and it is still receiving heavy airplay. Nevertheless, Arista senior VP of promotion Rick Bisceglia recalls he had to overcome some initial skepticism. "One out of four stations said to me, 'We can't play a record with an a cappella intro -- our audience will get bored and flip away,'" he recalls. "They wanted us to edit the song, but we wouldn't do it."

Despite this, however, he says, "We still had an incredible first week at radio. This record is the fastest-reacting I've ever promoted."

Programmers tell the same tale. Johnny Williams, PD of WUSA-FM, Tampa, Fla., says the first time the song was tested, it became "an instant No. 1."

Bobby Maxwell, music director for WWNK-FM Cincinnati, says Houston's song quickly became a hit at the station because Dolly Parton's country original had long been a staple of the station's love-song program, "Pillow Talk."

Joining "I Will Always Love You" is Houston's new single "I'm Every Woman," which holds at No. 66 on the Hot 100 this week. Her "I Have Nothing" will be released as a single in early February. Considering the closeness of the release dates and the fact that all three records are receiving strong airplay, Bisceglia ventures, "It's possible we'll have three top 10 singles at the same time."

Other artists featured on the album also are benefiting from its success. S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M.'s single "It's Gonna Be A Lovely Day" topped the Hot Dance Music Club Play chart (Billboard, Jan. 9) and jumps to No. 48 with a bullet this week on the Hot 100. The Kenny G/Aaron Neville song "Even If My Heart Would Break" will also be released as a single, according to Davis.

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