Rarely has Tower Records manager Mike Harbin seen a single garner as much attention as Elton John's tribute to Princess Diana Spencer, the newly revised "Candle in the Wind 1997."
"People were buying multiple quantities," said Harbin, who manages the Tower in Rockville, Md., of the phenomenal first-day sales. He sold a majority of the 600 records he ordered in just five hours Tuesday.
And Harbin's not alone. More than three weeks after the tragic car-crash death of Princess Diana, the "Candle in the Wind" phenomenon has hit American shores with a bang, echoing the still booming sales that have swept the rest of the world. Ten randomly selected stores, including large and smaller chains, across the country reported brisk sales of the tribute on the day of the single's U.S. release.
This follows unprecedented sales in the U.K. and Europe of John's '70s classic -- a tribute to Marilyn Monroe that was quickly rewritten by John's longtime songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, to honor the Princess of Wales.
The single, which retails for $2.99, all of which is being donated to The Princess Diana of Wales Memorial Fund which will disperse it to her favorite charities, was released in England on Sept. 13, barely two weeks after Spencer's tragic death in a Paris car crash Aug. 31. John first performed the revised song in public at Spencer's Sept. 6 funeral, which was televised worldwide.
Since then many Americans have waited anxiously to get their hands on a copy of the song. In one hour, Harbin said that his store sold 300 copies of it. Within five hours, 540 of the 600 ordered were gone, he added. As far as Harbin was concerned, there was no precedent for the single's sales, which drew a visibly older, female clientele who don't normally shop at the store, including one patron who scooped up 10 copies of the single.
Jim Reil, manager of a Tower in Tyson's Corner, Va., said he had ordered 3,000 copies of the single, but had not received them due to the label's difficulty in meeting demand. Regardless, the store quickly worked through a batch of 150 singles from another store, and Reil expected to unload an additional 300 by the end of the day. "Practically everyone through the door has been asking for it," Reil said.
Demand for the single was equally strong on the West Coast, where a San Francisco Virgin Megastore reported selling-out their 200-plus copies by 9:30 a.m. With a midnight sale on Monday that drew 100 patrons and another 100 lined-up the following morning, the singles didn't last long, according to receptionist Matt Autio. "We've had people calling all day about the single," he said. "It really is quite remarkable! I expected it to do well, but the amount of calls I've gotten has been astounding."
Similarly, Columbus, Ohio's Borders Books and Music sold out their 210 copies in one hour. Clerk Jim Seitz said he expected the next shipment to sell-out as soon as it arrives, with 50 pre-orders piling up by mid-afternoon.
The single has sold over 1.6 million copies in England. According to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), the single, which is backed by "Something About The Way You Look Tonight," from John's upcoming album, The Big Picture, has already been certified multi-platinum by the RIAA for the shipment of eight-million units, making it the highest certified single in RIAA history.
In reaching that peak, the song has leap-frogged the all-star band "We Are the World" Ethiopian famine-relief single, which had previously held the record at four million with its release in 1985.
The story of record sales for "Candle" was the same across the U.S. Aburey Scott of the Atlanta, Ga.'s Borders said 300 copies sold by 3:30 p.m., while Ned Stewart of Borders in Des Moines, Iowa said his store sold out by noon, a scene repeated at a Tower Records in Boston, Mass., where 700 copies disappeared in three hours and at a Blockbuster Music in Dallas, Texas, where the singles only lasted until noon.
A Blockbuster in Miami, Fla., the city where John's other friend, designer Gianni Versace, was gunned down on July 15 in a still-unsolved murder, reported a modest 28 of 30 copies out the door by 4 p.m. On the other hand, Coara Valentin of the Tower Records at Lincoln Center in New York said "plenty" of the 4,000 copies ordered at his store were still in their bins by mid-afternoon.
At a Los Angeles' Tower, however, it was a different story. Sales Associate Laurie Miller reported that 1,200 of the 2,500 singles ordered had sold by mid-afternoon, 500 of them at a midnight sale the previous evening.
Not surprisingly, the phenomenon didn't, however, appear to have translated to indie rock stores. A call to Bridgeport, Conn.'s Secret Sounds prompted the sound of riotous laughter from Kate Thompson, who said, "One other person called about it today, but that's all."
Several of John's old records containing the original version of "Candle In The Wind" made an impressive showing on last week's Billboard charts. John's 1996 collection, Love Songs, which features a revamped live version of Marilyn Monroe-honoring "Candle," jumped to #61 on sales of 17,000, a 13,000-copy-a-week increase over the previous week's sales.
On the catalog charts, John's Greatest Hits, which features "Candle," moved into the #1 position, while his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which contained the original version of the song, moved up to the #23 position.
(ATN Staff Writer Chris Nelson contributed to this report.)
[Tues., Sept. 23, 1997, 6 p.m. PDT]