Movers and shakers pick rockers to make it in '90s

February 14, 1993|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,Los Angeles Times

Who's the hottest property in the record business?

That's not an easy question, but with conglomerates betting zillions of dollars on it, the Los Angeles Times conducted some independent research.

First, everyone -- from Michael Jackson to Pearl Jam -- was declared a free agent. Then 25 movers and shakers in the music business were called and asked: What acts would you sign?

The issue wasn't favorite artists, but the ones that are likeliest to sell the most records through the remainder of the '90s.

So how did Michael Jackson, Madonna and the other big-money players fare?

Stockholders of Sony, Time Warner and PolyGram aren't going to be pleased to hear how industry insiders described some of their multimillion-dollar acquisitions:

* "In decline" (Madonna).

* "Out of touch" (Michael Jackson).

* "A manifestation of production" (Janet Jackson).

* "Looks a little lost to me" (Prince).

* "Too old" (Aerosmith).

* "Way too old" (Rolling Stones).

None of those acts finished in the Top 10 in the poll to determine the pop world's hottest properties --ad three didn't finish in the Top 20.

About Madonna, one panelist said: "She is probably the marketing genius of all time, but I think she out-geniused herself this time around with the book, the movie and the album. There's really a backlash. . . . I feel sorry for her."

Regarding Michael Jackson, the biggest pop star of the '80s, another panelist declared: "Image-wise he has played himself out, and musically he really isn't keeping up with what is happening to kids today. I think he is gone. Over. Finished."

So who was the big winner?

Rock and roll.

Despite all the talk about rock's losing its commercial edge as baby boomers turn to country and easy-listening, rock acts captured six of the first 10 positions in the poll -- including the top four spots.

The top choice: U2, by a margin of almost 2-to-1. With 10 points for every first-place mention, nine for every second and so forth, the Irish rock group generated a whopping 165 points. R.E.M. finished second with 93 points, followed by Pearl Jam (82) and Metallica (81).

"I think the next six or seven years in this country are going to be very politically polarized," one panelist said. "I don't see Bill Clinton able to usher in some great new consensus era of good feeling.

"That means there is going to be increasing conflict between the haves and the have-nots. . . . And I think bands like U2, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Metallica have a pretty good sense of the times they live in . . . and the ability to articulate what is going on around us . . . maybe even to ask more of people and try to bring people together."

To encourage frankness, panelists were told that their names wouldn't be attached to their choices or comments.

Seventy-nine acts, ranging from veterans like Jimmy Buffett to newcomers like Mary J. Blige, received at least one vote.

In a similar poll seven years ago, another panel declared these 10 acts (in order) to be the industry's hottest properties: Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, U2, Bryan Adams, Talking Heads, Sting, Eurythmics and Stevie Wonder.

Not bad. Everyone in the Top 5 sold at least 5 million albums in the United States, with U2 and Michael Jackson topping the 10-million mark, according to the Recording Industry Association America.

But there were some goofs. Two of the Top 10 -- Talking Heads and Eurythmics -- broke up before making it out of the '80s.

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