All summer, it seemed as if everyone in the music industry was singing the same song: the "Business Is Bad" blues. As the fall approaches, few expect to change their tune -- but they are changing their tactics.
Those on the concert side are scaling back after a summer that saw ticket sales off by 20 percent and several major tours canceled. There are some stars hitting the road now -- soul crooner Luther Vandross, hard rockers Van Halen and dance idol Paula Abdul among them -- but many more will be sitting out the season in hope that the new year will bring better business.
Record stores, on the other hand, are facing a veritable avalanche of new albums -- a release list which, incredibly enough, actually seems longer than last year's.
Why, you ask, would record companies respond to a recession -- a time when album sales are down 10 percent -- by pumping out more product? Largely because most in the business believe that the best way to get music fans back into the stores is to give them something to buy. And there will be plenty to choose from this fall, particularly Sept. 17 when Guns N' Roses unleashes two albums: "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II." (That's right -- two completely different, 75-minute albums released at the same time. You figure it out.)
Also due are potential million-sellers by Mariah Carey (out the same day as GNR), U2, Michael Jackson, Genesis, Dire Straits, M.C. Hammer, Prince and Bobby Brown. (But still no word on when Bruce Springsteen will deliver.)
Nor will new albums be the only big noise, thanks to a crush of box set reissues, including multidisc compilations by Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Fats Domino and Glenn Miller.
Of course, the tricky thing about making any sort of definitive forecast for fall is that there's always the chance things will change. Record release dates, for instance, are rarely written in stone, and can change at a moment's notice. Concerts, on the other hand, usually can be considered sure things once on sale, but until then are simply gossip and speculation.
For instance, it can be stated with certainty that Luther Vandross will perform at the Capital Centre Sept. 17 and 18. Mention that there's the chance of a third show, Sept. 19, and you're dealing in rumor; toss in that he's likely to arrive at the Baltimore Arena sometime around Thanksgiving, and all you have is the word of a well-placed source.
With that in mind, let's look at some of the fall shows currently on sale. This Saturday, Z. Z. Top boogies into the Baltimore Arena with Extreme; German synth-pop wizards Kraftwerk bring their first tour in a decade to Washington's Citadel Center Sept. 18; and Cheap Trick play Hammerjacks Sept. 19.
Perennial local favorites Little Feat step on to Pier Six on Sept. 22; Tom Petty heads into the great wide open at the Capital Centre Sept. 24, with Chris Whitley opening; and Crowded House crowd into D.C.'s Citadel Center Sept. 30 with opener Richard Thompson.
October starts off with a bang as Public Enemy's "Bring the Noize" tour, featuring speed metal heroes Anthrax and thrash-funk specialists Primus, explodes into the Citadel Center Oct. 1. One day later, catch the new face of English rock as Jesus Jones and Ned's Atomic Dustbin play the Citadel Center. Disco revivalists should make plans for Oct. 4, when the original Village People arrive at Steeltown. (But do they still stay at the YMCA?)
Moving from the confirmed to the theoretical, there are even more acts which might -- and it's wise to emphasize the conditional aspect of the statement -- might wind up at the Capital Centre sometime between October and Christmas.
At the top of the list is Van Halen, which has already played to raves in the Midwest; next is Paula Abdul, who will put her best foot forward (and the lip-sync rumors behind her) with her first tour as a headliner; George Michael, who will be asking concert audiences to "Listen Without Prejudice"; and, finally, the Jerry Garcia Band.
There are also possible shows by both James Taylor and Natalie Cole at the Patriot Centre, but don't expect the Dire Straits world tour to reach here before next year, but the band's new album, however, "One Every Street," should be in record stores Tuesday; it is reported to be well worth the six-year wait since "Brothers In Arms."
In fact, the fall release schedule should settle the "Is Rock Dead?" debate once and for all. In addition to the Dire Straits album, there are new releases due from a host of old-school rockers, including U2's "Achtung Baby!" on Nov. 19, John Cougar Mellencamp's "Whenever We Want To" on Oct. 8, Paul McCartney's oldie-packed "Choba B CCCP" (that's Russian for "Back In the U.S.S.R.") due Oct. 15, and an as-yet-untitled Genesis album scheduled for Nov. 12.