TORONTO – After the chart-topping Canadian success of Tom Cochrane’s album “Mad Mad World,” largely on the strength of its leadoff single, Life Is A Highway,” one could almost expect this would be the year of a long awaited U.S. breakthrough for the ex-Red Rider front man.

“Mad Mad World” has racked up Canadian sales of 600,000 units since its release in Canada last September. The album cracked The Billboard 200 last month, while “Life Is A Highway” cracked the top 20 on the Hot 100 Singles chart last week.

“Tom gave us a great record and a great song we knew was a hit because it had already been proven in Canada,” offers John Fagot, VP of national promotion at Capitol Records. “It’s a hip, summertime hit for everybody.”

With Cochrane’s decadelong, if uneven, rack record at U.S. album-rock radio with Red Rider, it was not surprising that Capitol pitched “Life Is A Highway” to that format first. However, Fagot says that format could not be fully counted on to launch a solo Cochrane disc.

“The history at AOR with Tom Cochrane was that Red Rider would come on and, in four to five weeks time, would go top 10 and then disappear,” Fagot says. “We wanted to break it big there first to give us the time to set it up at top 40.”

With Red Rider’s U.S. albums on Capitol and RCA averaging 60,000- 70,000 units in the U.S, there wasn’t even a strong advance demand for the singer’s album. “I don’t believe there was a built-in [sales] base for Cochrane,” says Capitol sales VP Lou Mann. “There was some consumer and retail awareness of Red Rider and Cochrane but people were saying, Let’s see what this album is about.’”

Fagot says Capitol aimed for a limited number of album-rock adds each week for Life Is A Highway” to build momentum for the single at top 40. “We wanted to have the time on the air to prove it was a good record rather than being forced in the fourth week to make it a breaker’ when it hadn’t been on the air long enough or had enough rotations to show whether or not it was a!hit record. Instead, I got three weeks worth of good, solid [albumrock] play out of 60 adds.”

Mann notes, “Just to track on AOR does not generally sell records. The difference with this project is that it did sell records at AOR right away. That was a sign [to us] that it was a very solid record.”

Fagot continues, “While we were getting AOR play, we went to pop [radio] to set it up. Frank Palombi [Capitol’s national director of pop promotion] went out on the road for eight weeks playing it for pop radio. Then Jeff Shane [senior director of AOR promotion] managed to take it top five at AOR and we started getting requests and some really heavy airplay.” Fagot credits program director Brian Douglas of WKRQ Cincinnati for being one of the earliest top 40 believers in “Life Is A Highway.”

“He put it on the air and reported it,” says Fagot. “Then he came back and told us not only was it getting phones but it was researching well [with] 18- 24 females. He went ahead, added the record early, and it went to No. 1 there. He talked to a lot of other programmers about the record.”