Virgin Will Pay Stars to Play With Janet

Janet Jackson | Arista Records, R.I.P. | Uncle Junior Soprano

Party With Janet ... Please

Next Monday could be your lucky day — if you're the right kind of celebrity. That's because Virgin Records is throwing a CD release party for Janet Jackson's new album, "Damita Jo," and they're offering incentives to certain stars who might want to show up.

In a first, I think, for a party, Virgin has sent out an offering to publicists to get their best clients to New York for the celebration. In a memo that went out last week, Virgin — via a P.R. firm called Flying Television — is baiting A-list attendees with the following:

•  Limousine Service To and From the Event
•  Celebrity Gift Basket Filled with Luxury Goods
•  Designer Outfit Can Be Arranged
•  First-Class Round-Trip Tickets and Accommodations Can Be Arranged (Call to Discuss)

Of course, not every celebrity who wants this stuff will get it. According to the memo, all swag will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Regular guests at the party, which will be held at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's hot-as-a-pistol Spice Market restaurant in the Meat-Packing District will not be receiving such doo-dads. They will get only hors d'oeuvres and cocktails.

It's hard to believe Jackson won't be able to stir up some celebs without paying their way. Certainly such a launch party could be populated by P Diddy, Wyclef Jean, Jay-Z and most of the local hip-hop crowd in New York, not to mention pop stars such as Carly Simon (whose "You're So Vain" was sampled by Janet on her previous album) and classic R&B legends who live in the area, like Valerie Ashford and Nick Simpson, Dionne Warwick and Roberta Flack.

"Damita Jo" (it's Janet's middle name, apparently) won't be released until next Tuesday, but already there's some concern about its sales future. Some of the album was produced by the talented Jimmy "Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis, but some of it was not, and that's what's making the folks at Virgin nervous.

According to Radio and Records magazine, one single, a Dallas Austin-penned number called "Just a Little While," which sounds like a rewrite of Hall & Oates's "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid," has already stiffed on pop radio.

The second single, a Kanye West special, is also having trouble at radio. West, taking a page from P Diddy, has become king of the samplers, taking old, obscure soul songs and updating them.

In this case, he took a Burt Bacharach/Hal David number, renamed it "I Want You" and turned it into a kind of throwback R&B shuffle. The only problem is that somewhere along the way West misplaced the song's hook. (It's like a good joke without a punchline.)

But "Damita Jo" will likely be a hit anyway, with many more opportunities for airplay.

Say Goodbye to Arista Records

It's all over for Arista Records beginning today and ending Friday when pink slips will be handed out.

Arista is being absorbed by Bertelsmann Music Group's RCA/J/Jive Records, where it will be an imprint only, with no staff attached to it. On Friday, all of the Arista folks are being let go. Some will move to other labels at BMG, but most will head to other companies or unemployment.

Of course, there's lots of irony here: Arista has the Grammy-winning, gazillion-selling OutKast CD, "Speakerboxx/The Love Below." It has also has the new CD by Usher, which should be a monster hit this week.

But something had to go at BMG, and it wasn't going to be RCA. That's one of the most famous names in media. And it wasn't going to be Clive Davis's J Records, which has had hit after hit since it started four years ago. It wasn't going to be Jive, which boasts Britney, Justin and all the teen stuff of the last few years. So after 30 proud years, Arista will fade to black.

I am told, by the way, that all the original Arista artists — Whitney Houston, Carlos Santana, Sarah McLachlan, Dido, etc — will retain the Arista logo on their CDs. All of the La Face artists who came with L.A. Reid — like Usher and OutKast — will head to Jive Records. Meanwhile, the offices Arista just moved into recently — fancy new digs on Seventh Avenue — are being shown by realtors right now.

Joan Collins: Witness; Uncle Junior Triumphs

The once-and-always Alexis Carrington, Miss Joan Collins, got a taste of excitement the other day. She witnessed a shoplifter being apprehended at the tony A.S. Parker stationery store on the Upper East Side. The unlikely heroes were perennial party promoter Noel Ashman and actor Lillo Brancato. The very same Ashman, who probably hasn't seen daylight in years, is said to be in talks to buy the famous Nell's nightclub on West Fourteenth Street. This should be good news to his buddy, baseball's David Wells, who's never far behind. ...

Last night's episode of "The Sopranos" was so good it took my breath away. Dominic Chianese — Uncle Junior — can thank show creator David Chase many thanks for giving him a cinch for an Emmy award this fall. James Gandolfini was better than ever as "The Sopranos" continues to mix the violent mob life with Chekhovian family drama. ...

Finally, I don't know why and continue to use such shabby entertainment news wire reports for their respective sites. It's all warmed-over junk repurposed from other sources and most of it is completely incorrect. To wit: Sure Robert Rodriguez has an all-star cast for his next movie. It's animated, not live action. And: Yes, Sean Lennon is dating Leelee Sobieski and so what? But if you'd seen Leelee taking Yoko Ono by the hand last Monday night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner, it was actually quite sweet. Leelee is twice Ono's height. ...