"There are so many variables, including TV advertising and pricing, it’s impossible to predict a winner at this point. It’s going down to the wire."
—Industry source

SADE, RICKY MARTIN,
"NOW" VIE FOR TOP SPOT

Beatles Are X-Factor As Fourth Quarter Kicks Into High Gear
If you thought Bush-Gore was close, wait'll you get a load of next week's horse race between a pair of Sony Music superstars in Columbia Records' Ricky Martin and Epic Records' dark horse Sade and the Columbia superstar compilation, "NOW Volume 5."

Based on first-day sales returns, Martin's "Loaded Rhythm" will battle Sade's "Lover's Rock," her first new album in eight years and "NOW" for the #1 spot on next week's charts, with all selling more than 300k. The Martin album, the follow-up to his 6.6 million '99 English language debut, shipped 2.5 million copies.

The Sade disc looks headed for #1 at Musicland, while the Ricky Martin tops the sales chart at Best Buy, which is selling the album at $9.99. "NOW"should do huge numbers at the racks.

The next tier will include the Beatles, Marilyn Manson and Offspring, with Top 10 debuts. The wild card could well be the Fab Four's "1" album, a compilation of 27 of their #1 singles which Capitol shipped 10 million of worldwide, 3.3 million in the States. It should receive a boost over the weekend by the ongoing TV blitz, which is highlighted by this Friday's prime-time ABC special and a two-hour VH1 documentary.

One industry insider said: "There are so many variables, including TV advertising and pricing, it's impossible to predict a winner at this point. It's going down to the wire."

Rapper Prodigy (Loud), with estimates of 125k, is also headed for a strong debut.

Next week, fasten your seatbelts as the Backstreet Boys' latest hit the streets… and Jesse Jackson is still demanding a recount.

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