Early reports indicated a strong Washington response to yesterday's release of the "We Are the World" album, which includes the hit single of the same name that was recorded by 45 major pop stars to help the starving in Africa.

"It's flying out of here," said Allen Jones, a floor manager at Tower Records, who said there were 50 buyers an hour for the album, which Tower was selling for $8.99. "Response hasn't been this big since the 'We Are the World' 12-inch version."

The likely-to-be-legendary recording of the title song (written by vinyl biggies Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie) featured superstars ranging from Kenny Rogers to Bob Dylan.

The album features new releases from Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Kenny Rogers and six other pop entities. It also includes "Tears Are Not Enough," a song performed by Canadian singers as part of the same effort.

In addition to the single and album, there is a TV documentary version -- "USA for Africa: The Story of 'We Are the World' " -- for which HBO has paid a reported $2 million to air next month.

The single and 12-inch extended-play records have done very well in Washington stores by all accounts, and "tons of people have been inquiring about the album," said Georgetown Record and Tape Ltd. manager David Tyson, who had already sold five copies at $9.98 each in the first hour.

"The single and 12-inch have been about the best thing I've seen to break in the record business in about 17 years. This is bigger than 'Thriller,' " said Waxie Maxie's Rockville store manager, Geraldine Vaughan.

"From our standpoint, the song is hot," said WCLY's drive-time deejay John Dowling. "The record's very likely to sweep all the charts except country."

"USA for Africa is . . . a no-overhead organization," Ken Kragen, a major organizer of the growing movement and Lionel Richie's manager, told news services. "All the U.S. agencies that are dealing with African relief expect to collect a total of $70 million, and we expect to equal that."

The foundation has operated so far on almost $2 million worth of time and services donated by nearly 500 singers, engineers, recording company executives and others, he said.