The best-selling album in the country this month isn't anywhere to be found on the Billboard album charts.

That's because "The Garth Brooks Collection" is available only at McDonald's. While Boyz II Men's "II" has sold close to 1 million copies in three weeks -- the best among Billboard's charted albums -- "Collection" has sold more than 3 million copies in three weeks. It doesn't hurt that the sale price for the CD is only $5.99, part of a month-long McDonald's/EMI promotion that also involves Tina Turner, Elton John, Roxette and a hip-hop anthology.

That "Collection" is an invisible hit is the result of how and where it is being sold. Billboard and its SoundScan tracking service only count sales of releases that are commercially available at all retail stores. It and the other specially packaged releases are available only at the nation's 9,500 McDonald's outlets.

That, and the low price, has many retailers angered at EMI, which put together the McDonald's campaign and featured mostly acts signed to its own labels (Brooks with Liberty, Turner with Capitol, Roxette with EMI). All the albums were specially compiled for the occasion: Brooks's features 10 of his favorite non-single album cuts; Turner's "Greatest Hits" also offers 10, not all great; Elton John's album mixes hits and album tracks. The latter two albums have each sold close to 1 million copies.

More problematic is Roxette's 10-song sampler, taken from a 15-song album, "Crash! Boom! Burn!," that record stores will be getting next week. Just think: For another $6, you'll be getting an extra five Roxette songs! All the CDs and cassettes (for $3.99) are available with the purchase of a meal.

Retailers are upset on several fronts: first, that EMI created a product especially for McDonald's, which then backed it with a $20 million advertising campaign. To make matters worse, each package includes a discount coupon worth $4 or $2 (CD or cassette, respectively) on catalogue items by the artists -- but only at 1,300 Musicland, Sam Goody and Cue outlets. One major West Coast chain protested by temporarily pulling all products from CEMA (EMI's distribution wing) out of its sales and ad campaigns.

"To offer one particular retailer a package that gives them this advantage does not serve the customers," Kemp Mill Music VP Howard Applebaum says of the McDonald's campaign. "You can only get 'The Garth Brooks Collection' at a McDonald's, but the customer should have the right to walk into any Kemp Mill Music Store and buy it. It's a good piece of product, and I'd love to be able to sell it at that same retail price point and get the same deal from the record company to be able to do that."

CEMA reportedly offered all retailers deep discounts on catalogue titles by the participating artists, and Billboard reports that all five of Brooks's albums have experienced a sales surge since the McDonald's campaign, for which Brooks has been the visible, and the only, spokesman.

Brooks reportedly became involved because Ronald McDonald Children's Charities will be receiving $1 from each album sold, as well as a dollar for each redeemed discount coupon. All the artists are said to have taken substantial royalty cuts because of the charity aspect. Since the McDonald's campaign is said to total 12 million albums, that's $12 million to $15 million raised for charities, a fact that has only partially muted the criticism.

At $5.99, the McDonald's CDs sell for about half the best sale price on new CDs, and $11 below list price for most new albums. "I wish we could sell CDs for $5.99 -- that would be absolutely fantastic," says Applebaum, only somewhat facetiously. "We would certainly sell a lot more and make a lot of people a lot happier."

McDonald's went through a similar brouhaha two years ago when it offered the video version of "Dances With Wolves" for $7.99 at a time when it was selling to retailers for $100. Four months after the promotion, the price for the video was drastically lowered across the board to $19.98.

But McDonald's isn't involved in this year's video flap, which revolves around the just-released "Barbra: The Concert." Advertised in the current Billboard as "The Complete Concert Experience" (two hours long and at $29.98, considerably cheaper that the live event), it's part of a Streisand sales campaign that includes a new, live double CD. But you won't be able to get the "complete" experience unless you buy your video at Blockbuster, which is getting a version that includes one song, "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life," that is exclusive to Blockbuster.

Because of that, a number of chains (including Tower) pulled their video orders; audio and laserdisc orders were generally not affected (laserdiscs, out next week, will carry the extra song).

"When a customer buys {the video of 'The Concert'} from us, clearly they are getting less than if they buy it from Blockbuster -- one cut less," says Kemp Mill's Applebaum. "And that is not how I want to be perceived by the buying public."