Billboard's Pop catalog chart -- This retro hit parade lists perennial best-sellers, like Meat Loaf's ''Bat Out of Hell'' album

You want a hot artist? Forget Garth Brooks, forget Guns N’ Roses, forget Mariah Carey. The man of the hour is, without question, the mighty Meat Loaf —whose quadzillion-selling 1977 orgy of excess, Bat Out of Hell, still moves an estimated 15,000 copies a week, and has been glued near the very top of Billboard‘s pop catalog chart ever since that chart was inaugurated in late May.

When the Righteous Brothers sang ”Rock and Roll Heaven” in 1974, is this what they were talking about? The pop catalog chart — not to be confused with the regular Billboard 200 top albums chart — is a retro hit parade whereon the Righteous Brothers (lately at No. 1) regularly slug it out with the likes of Patsy Cline, Jim Morrison, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, and Bob Marley. It lists perennial best-sellers that would otherwise displace new releases on the Billboard 200 and lets the vets fight it out among themselves, leaving new artists more space on the main pop rankings. When the Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits topped the catalog chart two months ago, for instance, its sales would have been strong enough to place it as high as No. 48 on the Billboard 200; the catalog chart’s 50th and final entry, Rush’s 1981 Moving Pictures, sold more copies than the album on the bottom of that week’s pop album list.

”You don’t want current slots being taken up by catalog product because you need the promotional exposure that the current chart affords you,” says Bob Merlis, vice president/director of publicity at Warner Bros. records. ”It’s the same reason that record-company promotion men used to tear their hair out when ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was the No. 1 AOR radio track 10 years after it was first released — because it was taking up the space of a new record. The supposition is, it’s gonna sell anyway, so you don’t need the chart juice to bring it to people’s attention.”

So why not make room for younger artists by expanding the top 200 album chart to 250? Because it would have made things even worse. ”Taking the chart deeper was something we looked at,” Geoff Mayfield, Billboard‘s associate director of retail research, says, ”but then it didn’t really bring that many new titles into the fold. It gave us many more catalog and best-of compilation hits.”

Which, of course, is music to Meat Loaf. The former Marvin Lee Aday, once again teamed up with partner Jim Steinman, is now wrapping up Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell for MCA Records and hoping to get it in stores by March. Mr. Loaf, as you might imagine, thinks Billboard‘s new catalog chart may be the next best thing to paradise by the dashboard light.

”Bat Out of Hell, with as many records as it sold in America, has never been in the (pop) top 10,” notes the hefty singer. ”When it went to No. 1 (on the catalog chart), I cut it out and we’re framing it. As jaded as I am from this business, for twenty-something years now, that was, like, unbelievable.”