This week on the music beat

DREAMING OF A GREEN CHRISTMAS As the holidays draw nigh, record-store cash registers are already jingling, baby. Jolly music retailers are anticipating a very merry — and profitable — Christmas. Their optimism is due to auspicious first-week sales figures from fourth-quarter saviors Garth Brooks (an astounding 897,000 units sold), Tupac Shakur (549,000), Metallica (435,000), Celine Dion (334,000), Barbra Streisand (207,000), and Erykah Badu (177,000). (An informal poll of retail executives reveals that the odds-on favorite for the season’s biggest album will be Brooks’ Sevens, with Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love running a close second.)

What a difference from just a year ago, when depressed bizzers were bemoaning a sales slump that many feared would prove terminal. But the imminent Christmas boom looks as though it’s turning out to be the icing on what has been an encouraging year for the music industry: According to SoundScan, year-to-date unit sales figures for 1997 are up 7 percent from 1996. Analysts are already predicting that number may jump a point or two when fourth-quarter figures reflecting Christmas sales are tallied. The 10 days immediately following Christmas are also a crucial period. ”We’re finding that a lot of parents give their kids gift certificates that they spend right after Christmas, so the holiday buying season has been getting a little longer for us,” notes Marcia Appel, an executive with Musicland.

Yet there may be a grinch hovering just outside the frame of this pretty picture. The current sales upswing is being driven at least in part by boomer magnets like Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones as well as a slew of attractively repackaged archival albums. Some retailers confess they’re worried about whether young artists like Hanson and the Spice Girls will prove to have the longevity of venerable classic-rock faves. Ten years from now, will buyers be lining up for a new Sugar Ray album the way they are for, say, Led Zeppelin’s BBC Sessions? ”Maybe Jewel and the Wallflowers will last,” speculates HMV’s vice president of purchasing, Bob Douglas. And though most retailers are content to bask in the beatific glow of solvency, for some the glad tidings come too late. ”Sure, it’ll be a good Christmas, but compared to what?” wonders Tower Records vice president Stan Goman, who says it’s premature to celebrate retail’s resurgence in light of the near-crisis state that’s existed for the past two years. ”If you are dying of thirst in the desert, and you get a cup of water, is the drought over?”