Everyone from record-company presidents to music-chain buyers cited 1993 as a year of windfall profits from gangsta-rap and alternative-rock releases. However, when it came to sheer selling power, Whitney Houston swept up – again. The soundtrack to The Bodyguard (featuring Houston and others) was 1993’s best-selling pop album, according to SoundScan, whose retail-sales data are used to compile Billboard’s weekly charts. Though it was released in November 1992 and sold nearly 4 million copies that year, the soundtrack went on to sell another 5.3 million in 1993, 1.2 million more than runner-up Janet Jackson‘s janet. Worldwide, The Bodyguard has sold more than 26 million copies, making it the most successful soundtrack ever.
In addition, Houston’s ringer from the album, “I Will Always Love You,” became the second pop single in the last 30 years to sell 4 million copies. (USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” was the first, in 1985.) It also achieved the dubious distinction of being the most requested song at British crematorium funerals, according to a recent survey by the British Cremation Society. Despite its achievements, however, “I Will Always Love You” was not 1993’s top single. Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” clocked 2.6 million copies last year, bumping “I Will Always Love You” – 1992’s No. 1 song – to second place, with 1.4 million.
Other best-selling albums included Kenny G’s Breathless (3.7 million); Pearl Jam‘s Vs. (3.5 million), which sold a record-breaking 950,378 copies the first week it was released; Mariah Carey‘s Music Box (3 million); and Eric Clapton‘s Unplugged (2.8 million), the most successful MTV spinoff record to date. In terms of singles, Dr. Dre‘s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (but I Won’t Do That)” and UB40’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” rounded out the Top 5, each selling 1.3 million copies.
The Grateful Dead released no new albums last year but, nonetheless, had the most successful tour of their career. The tireless group performed 81 concerts and amassed $45.6 million, according to the concert trade journal Pollstar, making it the year’s biggest touring act, followed by Rod Stewart ($30.5 million), Neil Diamond ($29.8 million) and Paul McCartney ($26.7 million). The most successful package tour of 1993 was Lollapalooza III, with $17.6 million grossed. It was also the only concert featuring new or alternative artists to rank in the year’s top 30 tours.
Despite a 10-percent decline in ticket sales, compared with 1992, the concert industry still had a successful year, taking in $900 million in total receipts. “In 1991, business dropped, and everybody cried loudly about it,” says Pollstar editor in chief Gary Bongiovanni. “This year, the gross volume of the business was down, but most people were prepared and hung in there or had a better year.” Though 1993 got off to a sluggish start, strong fall and winter sales enabled the record industry to hold its ground also. According to SoundScan, 661 million albums and singles were sold at retail outlets last year, down less than 1 percent from 1992’s 672.3 million. The Recording Industry Association of America issued 529 certifications for gold (500,000 units sold), platinum (1 million) or multiplatinum (2 million or more) albums, slightly more than 1992’s total of 509.
An increase in CD sales (at the expense of less-profitable cassettes) was another factor in a rocky but successful year for record stores, distributors and labels. According to Stanley Goman, senior vice president of retail at Tower Records, “The year was a struggle, but we’ll end up 8 percent ahead of ’92, in part because we sold more rap CDs than we ever have and – at the same time – saw a much broader range of people in our stores.” Some of 1993’s other success stories include Handleman Company, the country’s leading distributor of music to discount and department stores. “We set an all-time record,” says vice president and treasurer Larry Edwards, “with $15.5 million in earnings for our second [or fall] quarter.” Arista, home of Whitney Houston, Kenny G and the Grateful Dead, also reached a high-water mark: “1993 was the most successful year in the company’s 18-year history,” says executive vice president and general manager Roy Lott, “and I’m very confident for 1994, because The Bodyguard is still selling.” Here’s hoping you made a New Year’s resolution not to buy that album. It’s time to give someone else a chance.
This story is from the February 10th, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.