Garth Brooks’ “Sevens” was the bestselling album in the nation for the second consecutive week. Nearly 609,000 copies of the Capitol Nashville disc went home with consumers, bringing the two-week tally to more than 1.5 million units.

That’s the largest 14-day tally in the SoundScan era and bests Pearl Jam’s “Vitalogy,” which moved 1.4 million copies during its first two weeks of release in 1993. “Sevens” also held sway as the top-selling country album for the second week running.

The industry’s sales momentum also continued, though overall sales were down slightly from the previous week, which included discs sold during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Volume was ahead of last year as more than 19.1 million album units were moved during the period ended Dec. 7, compared to 17.8 million units logged during the same week in 1996.

At No. 2 was Celine Dion, whose “Let’s Talk About Love” disc went home with more than 289,000 fans. The 550/Epic Records disc posted slightly higher sales than Barbra Streisand, whose “Higher Ground” held the No. 3 spot.

More than 232,000 copies of La Barbra’s Columbia Records disc were sold, and both discs, which are a week away from crossing into the 1 million unit plateau, each rose one chart notch.

Teen sensation LeAnn Rimes’ “You Light Up My Life” moved nearly 196,000 copies during the week, earning the Curb Records disc the No. 4 spot.

Her disc, which is less than 30,000 copies away from a 2 million unit tally, bested 2Pac’s “R U Still Down” (Remember Me)” by less than 4,000 copies. The late rapper’s Jive Records disc checked in with 192,000 units being sold, even though it dropped three chart slots.

The Spice Girls, whose latest “SpiceWorld” is getting labeled as a stiff in some quarters despite its 615,000 cumulative five-week sales total, ascended three posts to No. 6 with 182,000 copies sold.

The Virgin Records disc, which got a sales spike in the wake of the quintet’s paid-for syndicated spec on UPN last week, is getting additional publicity from the group’s promotion of the upcoming Columbia Pictures offering, “Spice World: The Movie,” which is set to bow Jan 23.

Rounding out the chart’s top 10 were Universal Records’ Chumbawamba, whose “Tubthumper” disc crossed registers 175,000 times and nabbed the No. 7 post; and Metallica’s Elektra Records disc “Re-Load,” which earned the No. 8 spot on sales of 170,000 copies.

Mercury Records claimed the chart’s nine and 10 spots as Shania Twain’s “Come on Over” and Hanson’s “Middle of Nowhere” were purchased by nearly 161,000 and 151,000 consumers, respectively.

The week’s brisk action continued the pace set in motion during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which is traditionally the second or third biggest week of the all-important fourth quarter. The week before Christmas is typically the biggest.

The strong kick-off of the holiday season has music retailers singing in the aisles, but they aren’t ready to start dancing in the streets just yet.

After three years of sluggish sales and lackluster holiday seasons, the record industry is in a post-Thanksgiving glow because millions of albums flew off shelves during that holiday weekend, and have continued for the second consecutive week, though the tallies were down just slightly.

The prediction is that the fourth quarter of 1997 will be the best in three years and the year should surpass 1996’s 616.6 million album unit tally by 105 million copies, according to SoundScan figures.

The pace is already ahead by more than 30 million albums; for the period ending Dec. 7, 563.3 million album units were sold during the year, compared to 533.9 million unit tally during the same period in 1996.

And it could possibly be the best holiday sales season in the past five years, if the pace improves even slightly from its current level.

Record congloms typically make around 70% of their annual numbers during the fourth and first quarters of the calendar year.

Retailers are crediting the diversity of the albums gracing shelves for boosting sales. They point to the list of top pop albums for the week ended Dec. 7, when the 10 bestselling artists — Garth Brooks, 2Pac, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and Metallica — encompassed five musical genres.

During the period ended Nov. 30, nearly 3 million albums were sold by the top 10 artists. Quite a contrast from 1996, when the Thanksgiving week tally topped just 1.4 million copies sold among the top 10 albums, which included releases from Snoop Doggy Dogg, Bush, No Doubt and Dion’s “Falling Into You” disc.

The bow of Brooks’ “Sevens” is also being credited with leading the industry’s sales charge for the holiday weekend. Marketers note that many of Brooks’ fans who picked up his latest Capitol Nashville disc probably also bought the new Shania Twain or even the Dion disc.

The plethora of popular product aids the research that more consumers are leaving the store with three CDs, instead of just one, than in any other time in the CD era, according to a recent survey by the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers.

“The industry also had 20 albums that each sold more than 100,000 copies during the week,” Henry Droz, CEO of Universal Music Distribution, told Daily Variety. “Usually that doesn’t happen until the week before Christmas. The season looks like it is starting much earlier this year.”

Although many popular albums were released last year, the difference, distribution execs assert, is that in addition to the availability of top-drawer releases from Brooks, Dion and Streisand, retail is healthier than it has been in the past three years.

There are well-financed players in the book retailing game, such as Borders and Barnes & Noble, the latter of which has added CDs among its tomes.

And the store closings that have become commonplace during the past two years have ceased as chains are reporting an increase in profits as a result of reduced expenses and a spike in sales.

Musicland — the music industry’s largest chain — teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, but appears to have weathered the financial storm by closing more than 50 outlets this year.

Smaller chains like Camelot and Wherehouse have also stayed afloat while reducing overhead, and can now reap the sales bonanza of the holiday season.

“We’re not in the doldrums and the industry isn’t in the dumper any more,” said Russ Solomon, CEO of 187-store Tower Records & Video. “We’re up a couple of points. If that holds then Christmas should be pretty good. The best in a couple of years.”

Consumers are also making their way into record stores again, perhaps fed up with the way CDs are displayed alongside homevideos and videogames at the larger home electronics chains.

And many of the labels have found ways to create an awareness of albums by circumventing the narrowing playlists on radio — the typical marketing avenue — by getting popular TV shows such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Rosie O’Donnell” to herald the artist’s album.

The result is that more consumers know about an upcoming album and fewer are reliant on hearing it on radio before buying it.

The fourth-quarter pace is also ahead of last year’s, in which 129.6 million albums were sold from the Thanksgiving weekend to the end of the year.

So far, retailers estimate that if the pace holds, by Dec. 31 an estimated 745 million albums will have been sold.

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