In 1995, The Beatles were the exception in a beginner's market
First, the good news: Freshman artists dominated the highest regions of 1995’s pop sales charts like never before, evidencing a possibly unprecedented public receptivity to young blood like Hootie & the Blowfish (with album sales of 11 million), Alanis Morissette (over 3 million), and Shania Twain and Blues Traveler (more than 2 million each).
Now the bad news: Pop and rock fans seemed as sick of sophomores and seniors as they were enamored of frosh. Acts like Green Day, Lenny Kravitz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soul Asylum, Cypress Hill, Ace of Base, Belly, Blind Melon, Candlebox, and k.d. lang, all of whom enjoyed huge and presumably career-making albums last time out, found something less than ticker tape parades upon their return in this most fickle of fiscal years. Even hits packages from certifiable superstars Madonna and Janet Jackson couldn’t keep up with the new kids.
So, while it might have appeared that Hootie alone could lead the charge toward a bullish ’95, more than enough flops from expected hit meisters dragged the balance sheet down to make this the first flat year for the record business in a booming decade, with revenues projected to roughly match last year’s $12 billion tally.
”Kids have no attention span,” says Karen Glauber, postmodern editor at the trade mag Hits and chief production executive for the syndicated show Modern Rock Live. ”I don’t think there’s any enormous loyalty to bands from the kids or radio right now. The alternative-radio format doubled in 1995, and has to be competitive, so rather than playing marginal follow-up tracks, they’d rather just play somebody new.” Indeed, among major established alternative acts, only the Smashing Pumpkins were able to build substantially upon their previous success, rather than diminish it.
David Kahne — who produced one of the season’s hotter new acts, the Presidents of the United States of America — speculates how an environment so characterized by labels’ bidding wars and brutally short shelf lives would have affected the pop greats of the past: ”Probably the Quarrymen would’ve gotten signed right off the bat, and then Stu Sutcliffe would’ve died and that would be it—there would be no Beatles.”
The seeming spate of sophomore jinxes out there ”scares the hell out of me, and out of anyone in their right mind,” says A&M president and CEO Al Cafaro, whose company has been especially aggressive in breaking new acts (Sheryl Crow, Blues Traveler). ”It used to be you could develop an artist over time and feel good about slowly moving up the sales ladder. It’s gotten to where every time out, established artists are held to the same standard as brand-new artists. All bets are off at radio —they’re dealing with hits, not with artists, as they once did.” The result is the following list of music hits and misses for 1995:
— Live on arrival: Within days of releasing their respective albums, Alanis was being crowned randy rock royalty and Shania the winsome new queen of country, despite no shortage of sniping at Morissette’s feisty guile and Twain’s foxy-lady largesse. The absence of surefire new Pearl Jam product was barely felt, thanks to the Veddish invasion of the soundalike Aussie teens of Silverchair (Frogstomp is certified platinum) and the Brits of Bush (Sixteen Stone has sold 1.7 million). Other rookies of note included the novelty rock of the Presidents and novelty rap of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. But will we still love them tomorrow? Alanis alone looks built to last.