BMG hoping Elvis will croon green Christmas

Hits compilation takes No. 1 disc spot after big ad push

NEW YORK — The King reigns from beyond the grave.

Thanks to an unprecedented media blitz by German behemoth Bertelsmann, a new compilation album showcasing Elvis Presley’s record 30 chart-topping singles tops this week’s album chart.

The big question now is whether BMG will be able to keep Elvismania going for the next eight weeks so it can capitalize on the all-important Christmas selling season. The label’s profitability level for the entire year will rest in large part on the record’s success.

Sales of “Elv1s: 30 No. 1 Hits” (RCA) didn’t quite reflect the legendary crooner’s famed 100 million fans, but they were still formidable at just over 500,000 copies in its first session, according to data compiled by Nielsen SoundScan.

“It’s a good start,” RCA Music Group topper Bob Jamieson said. “It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. We’re already talking about what else we can do to drive this project well into 2003.”

Yuletide blitz

Some of the plans on the table include a live TV special in early December featuring current rock stars performing and giving interviews on Presley’s influence on their lives and music. There also will be an as-yet-unnamed radio single, picked from the compilation’s 30 tracks.

Last year, EMI raked in the cash from brisk Christmas sales of its Beatles “1” compilation, which eventually sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. EMI is hoping to catch a little more of that catalog magic with “Forty Licks” (Virgin), a double-CD retrospective from the Rolling Stones due to hit the charts next week.

Bertelsmann music arm BMG spent almost $10 million to promote the “Elv1s” release, including nationwide TV, print and radio ads and even a traveling Graceland exhibit. The parent company, which is pegging a good chunk of BMG’s fourth-quarter prosperity on “Elv1s,” also ponied up concurrent book and magazine specials on the King.

Reflecting Presley’s popularity outside U.S. borders, the collection also bowed at the top of the charts in 17 countries including the U.K., Canada, Australia and France.

“Elv1s” eclipsed its closest rival, superstar country trio the Dixie Chicks, almost four times over. Sales of the Chicks’ latest disc, “Home” — the first on their joint-venture label with Sony Music, Open Wide Records — ebbed by 20% to 134,000 units.

Meanwhile, last week’s chart topper, Disturbed, sank to fourth place as sales of “Believe” (Warner Bros.) slumped by 58% to just under 118,000 units.

Neo-soul chanteuse India.Arie logged the top debut perf behind Presley with her sophomore Motown Records LP, “Voyage to India,” which sold 109,000 copies. Coming in two spots behind was electro-folk star Beck, whose critically acclaimed fifth album, “Sea Change,” (Geffen) shipped out just under 90,000 in its first outing.

‘Up’ away

Beck labelmate Peter Gabriel bowed in ninth place with his most recent effort, “Up.” Album — Gabriel’s first new material in nearly a decade — shifted 76,000 units.

Queens-born hardcore rapper Nas snagged fourth place with his unreleased-tracks compilation “Lost Tapes” (Columbia), selling 70,000 copies.

Also debuting well on this week’s chart were “Universal Soldier” (Universal) from rapper Pastor Troy at 13, the soundtrack to “Brown Sugar” (MCA) at 18, “Strong Enough” (Columbia) from Travis Tritt at 27 and “Demolition” (Lost Highway) from alt-country star Ryan Adams at 28.

Further down the ranks, “Naked Ride Home” (Elektra) from veteran songwriter Jackson Browne landed at 36, and Kid Rock DJ/sidekick Matt “Uncle Kracker” Shafer hit 43 with his second solo release, “No Stranger to Shame” (Lava/Atlantic).

Next week is shaping up to be a battle of the rock-‘n’-roll oldsters, with Presley defending his crown against the Stones’ “Forty Licks.” Also expected to open strong are new releases from rapper Xzibit and country songstress LeAnn Rimes.

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