Universal Music parlayed its $10.4 billion purchase of Polygram into the No. 1 spot in market share for current music sales in 1999. The conglom’s command of 26.85% of current album sales was 2.69% better than the combined total of Universal and Polygram in 1998.

In second was BMG with 19.61%, followed by Sony (17.03%), WEA (13.68%) and EMD (8.21%). Other distributors accounted for 14.63% of the marketplace.

In 1999, 754.8 million albums — current releases and catalog items — were sold, a leap of 43 million units from 1998, according to SoundScan, which tracks point-of-purchase sales of recorded music product. A little better than 1% (8.5 million) of those were sold via the Internet. In late February, the Recording Industry Assn. of America will issue its report on total shipments of recorded music.

The leading genre in ’99 was R&B, which accounted for 175.3 million units sold, a jump from 161.9 million in 1998.

Making the biggest improvement over year-ago stats was BMG, with a 5.2% jump over 1998. The distrib handles Arista, RCA, Bad Boy, LaFace and the Zomba Group, which includes Jive Records, home of the year’s biggest seller, the Backstreet Boys. Their “Millennium” disc sold 9,445,732 units in 1999.

“There’s a lot of great music out there and we’ve done a better job with what we have,” BMG CEO Strauss Zelnick said. “We need to build on that success and go to the next level.” BMG distributed five of the year’s top 10 sellers.

Among distributors BMG and Universal were the only two to rise in 1999. Sony had a marginal drop of 0.42% while EMD plummeted 5.31% and WEA, the industry leader in 1997, dipped 3.57%.

WEA, however, did distribute the No. 1 album of the SoundScan era, which began in 1991: Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” on Maverick Records. It has sold 13.54 million units since its release in 1995.

“Pill’s” tally was followed by Shania Twain’s “Come on Over” (12.1 million), “Metallica” (11.7 million), “The Bodyguard” soundtrack (11.6 million) and Celine Dion’s “Falling Into You” (10.2 million).

Debut discs took up three of the top 10 slots: Besides “Pill,” there was Hootie & the Blowfish’s “Cracked Rear View” at No. 6 (9.8 million sold) and Backstreet Boys’ self-titled disc at No. 10 (9.26 million). The Boys are the only act with two discs on the list; their “Millennium” took eighth place for the decade.

Garth Brooks’ “Ropin’ the Wind” took ninth place, but according to SoundScan information supplied by a record industry source, he is the top-selling artist between 1991 and the end of 1999. His albums have sold 59.8 million units. He is followed by Mariah Carey (37.7 million) and Metallica (33.2 million). Two acts that are no longer recording made it into the top 10: The Beatles took fifth place and Pink Floyd finished 10th.

SoundScan also issued holiday spending data that showed 141.1 million units were sold between Nov. 21 and Jan. 5.