Brace yourself for Barney music mania

September 02, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

"In the '50s, it was Elvis," reads the ad on the front page of Billboard. "In the '60s, it was the Beatles. In the '90s, it's . . . Barney."


Barney the dinosaur?

That's right. He may not have the musical reputation of a Mariah Carey or a Garth Brooks, but then again, they don't have a fanatical following among 2- to 4-year-olds. And that's why many in the music industry are betting that "Barney's Favorites" (SBK 27114) will be the sleeper hit of the season.

Advance orders for the album, after all, were in excess of 1 million copies -- not bad for an imaginary character. But then, retailers have been peppered with requests for music by the purple dinosaur ever since Barney-mania set in.

"Before the release date -- I'm talking two months ago -- we had a lot of people come around asking for the album," says Matt Osterlund, manager of the Camelot Music at Golden Ring Mall." "People have been waiting for him for months," agrees Adam Brown, assistant manager at the Record World at Marley Station. "Since Christmas."

So how is the album? Put it this way -- "Meet the Beatles" it ain't. Recorded with a kiddie chorus and backed by synthesizers pretending to be real instruments, it has the sort of cheesy sound most of us associate with children's television. The singing is as often off pitch then on (the tyke featured in "B-I-N-G-O" is gratingly flat), while Barney himself talk-sings in the manner of Rex Harrison, if you can imagine Harrison with a really doofy voice.

But it isn't how Barney sings that drives adults batty; it's what. There are basically three kinds of Barney-songs. One tries hard to convey a useful message, like don't talk to strangers ("The Stranger Song") or pick up your things ("Clean Up"); though a bit simple-minded, these are easy to put up with because they're probably "good for the kids."

Then there are the songs that take familiar melodies and attach really stupid lyrics to them. Like the "Barney Theme Song," which corrupts "Yankee Doodle" into a purple-dinosaur promotional vehicle. Or "The Ants Go Marching," which was once "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." Or "Do Your Ears Hang Low," which in grown-up circles is known as "Arkansas Traveller." Pity the poor parent who later tries to teach his or her kids the real words to these songs!

But by far the worst selections on "Barney's Favorites" are the ones that qualify as musical viruses -- hideously catchy songs that bore their way into your brain and stay there until they drive you crazy. Like "I Love You," Barney's sappy rewrite of "This Old Man." Right now, all over America, there are parents who'd do anything to get that song out of their heads. How many others would dare risk joining them?

Not many. Maybe that's why none of the local record stores The Sun contacted reported big sales on the Barney album.

"We've only sold a few," says Osterlund of Camelot. "Nothing big yet. I'm hoping it's going to really pick up."

Barney is also a bust at An Die Musik in Towson. "Actually, the Breeders album is selling better," says general manager Roberta Cowan. "We're not a big Barney store."

"Barney's a little slow out of the box," says Mike Sickler, manager at the Rotunda location of Recordmasters. "I think that there might be a little bit of Barney backlash. I think the kids love Barney, but the parents are really tired of him. It's Barney burnout."

Parental discretion will be a key factor with this album, since most Barney fans are too young to have much disposable income. "If the parents aren't out to please the kid, they're not going to get the Barney so they can hear the Barney songs over and over again," says Sickler. 'Particularly if they don't like Barney in the first place."

Adds Dana Mutz, assistant manager at the Kemp Mill in Columbia, "With Barney, there are videos available. And I think a lot of people tend to get the videos instead of the music."

Still, there are those who feel Barney-mania is just around the corner. "I think it's going to take until the weekend before we see huge sales," says Record World's Brown. "Parents will have the kids in the mall on the weekend, and the kids will be rushing to get Barney."

Mutz agrees that Barney sales will probably improve. "People were asking for it beforehand, and they are buying it," she says. "It'll pick up a bit, but I wouldn't put it anywhere near the league of Garth Brooks and Mariah Carey."


You can hear excerpts from "Barney's Favorites" on SUNDIAL, The Sun's telephone information service.

Also available on SUNDIAL are excerpts from Mariah Carey's new album, "Music Box," and from Garth Brooks new album, "In Pieces."

You will need a touch-tone phone. Call (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County). To hear Barney, punch in the four-digit code 6007. To hear Garth Brooks, punch in 6005. To hear Mariah Carey, punch in 6004.

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