Ask Billboard: Is 'I Will Always Love You' the Most Enduring Hit of the Rock Era?
The ballad is back thanks to "Forever Country," extending the composition's chart-topping span to more than 42 years.
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With "Forever Country" No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart for a second week, it's another chart-topping rank for "I Will Always Love You."
Dolly Parton's versions led the chart in 1974 and again in 1982, and then Whitney Houston's cover, of course, ruled the Billboard Hot 100 in 1992-93. Now, we have the new reworking of the song by Artists of Then, Now & Forever, sending the composition back to No. 1 on a Billboard chart.
The song's longevity is remarkable. With "Always" joining with John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" to form the basis of the new "Forever Country" medley, the single became just the third ever to debut at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs. And, Parton's voice is central to "Always" once again, as the legend boasts its closing vocal and takes the final spotlight in its star-studded video.
The song is truly timeless, as its title, "I Will Always Love You," suggests (as does the Artists of Then, Now & Forever billing). Not so coincidentally, Parton is the only artist with top 20 hits on Hot Country Songs in each decade since the '60s.
Along those lines, some Billboard writer in 2012 asked: "Is 'I Will Always Love You' the Most Enduring Hit of the Rock Era?," after Houston's version surged to No. 3 on the Hot 100 that February following her passing. With the ballad back yet again ("Forever" also spends a second week in the Hot 100's top 40), it seems appropriate to revisit its lasting appeal. (That same writer apparently likes the idea of reworking an already written column from four years ago into a new post …)
As noted in that original item, Houston's "Always" spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1992-93, and, with its ascent back to No. 3 in 2012, became only the second song ever to reach the top three in separate chart runs. The other? Chubby Checker's iconic "The Twist," which dominated at No. 1 in both 1960 (for one week) and 1962 (two), sparking its reign as the Hot 100's all-time No. 1.
So, for a span of more than 42 years now, "Always" has enjoyed chart-topping prominence. Prior to Houston, Parton, the song's writer, first sent it to No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart dated June 8, 1974. It revisited the Hot Country Songs summit on Oct. 16, 1982, as Parton re-recorded it for the film (in which she starred) The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
From there, Houston gave the composition her pop/R&B makeover (more vocally powerful, as opposed to Parton's more tender take). It was released on Houston's soundtrack to The Bodyguard, which spent 20 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The song also ruled Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for 11 weeks.
Parton then found success on Hot Country Songs for a third time with the song, taking a duet version with Vince Gill to No. 15 in 1995. The pairing also produced a Country Music Association award for best vocal event.
Now, (at least a portion of) "Always" is back in its familiar spot atop a Billboard chart, and again with Parton singing its iconic chorus.
Just as considered in 2012, once again … Is "I Will Always Love You" the most enduring hit of the rock era?
Let's look at what other songs should be in the conversation. Here are a few contenders (and then a few more), focusing, in most cases, on songs that have been hits via different recordings in different eras, all of which have scored chart success.
"Don't Stop Believin'." After Journey took the original to No. 9 on the Hot 100 in 1981, it remained a rock/AC staple. Then, in 2005, "Believin' " found high-profile usage as a Chicago White Sox theme, with Steve Perry singing it with players after they won that year's World Series. In 2007, "Believin' " attained perhaps its most notable synch, accompanying the final scene of HBO's The Sopranos.
In 2009, the Glee cast's cover debuted (and peaked) at No. 4 on the Hot 100, besting Journey's highpoint with the song. That version brought "Believin' " to a new generation and is the top-selling Glee download, with 1.46 million sold, according to Nielsen Music. Meanwhile, Journey's original is the best-selling download of a song released in the '80s, at 6.8 million to date.
"Every Breath You Take." The record for most weeks atop the Hot 100 for a song is 16, set by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day" in 1995-96. But, one composition has spent 19 weeks at No. 1, thanks to two very different versions.
The Police held "Breath" atop the Hot 100 for eight weeks in 1983. Fourteen years later, the song became the core of Puff Daddy and Faith Evans' "I'll Be Missing You" (featuring 112), which spent 11 weeks atop the Hot 100. It also topped Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs for eight weeks each, its lyrics helping fans (and the artists themselves) find comfort after the passing of The Notorious B.I.G.
With the original version by The Police having additionally crowned Mainstream Rock Songs for nine weeks, "Breath"/"Missing" has, like "Always," become a classic in multiple genres and decades.
"Candle in the Wind." Elton John first released the song on his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. In 1988, a live recording reached No. 6 on the Hot 100. Then, most famously, his reworked take serving as a tribute to the late Princess Diana spent 14 weeks at No. 1 in 1997-98, roughly a quarter-century after the release of the original. (And, sadly, "Wind" joined "Missing" as a second 1997 No. 1 tribute to a fallen star.)
The 1997 version of "Candle" (paired with "Something About the Way You Look Tonight") sold an astonishing 3,446,000 physical singles upon its debut (as reflected on Billboard's charts dated Oct. 11, 1997) and 1,212,000 the following week (Oct. 18), becoming the first song to sell at least 1 million in a week since Nielsen Music began tracking sales in 1991. No song would break that barrier again for 18 years, until Adele's "Hello" (1.1 million; Nov. 14, 2015) … perhaps itself a future contender for most enduring hit of the rock era.
Honorary mention to John's "Your Song," his first Hot 100 top 10 in 1971. Among other covers, Ellie Goulding's topped the U.K. Digital Songs chart in 2010 and, in 2014, Aloe Blacc co-opted its hook for "The Man," which hit No. 8 on the Hot 100.
"Unchained Melody." The ballad has made six trips up the Hot 100, half of those by the Righteous Brothers, first in 1965, rising to No. 4, and then again, via two versions, the original and a new recording, in 1990, thanks its resurgence from its inclusion in the film Ghost. Both versions charted simultaneously in 1990, reaching Nos. 13 and 19, respectively.
(Essentially, "ditto" wasn't just Sam and Molly's signature word; it could also describe the chart history of their signature song. Fine, that's not as funny as an Oda Mae Brown séance, but still.)
Like "Always," "Melody" boasts both pop and country chart cred, as LeAnn Rimes' cover soared to No. 3 on Hot Country Songs in 1997, seven years after Ghost and nearly 30 after the Righteous Brothers took it to the Hot 100's top five.
"Purple Rain." After Prince's passing in April, his No. 2 Hot 100 hit from 1984 returned to the chart, reaching No. 4. It also topped Hot Rock Songs (May 21). On Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, "Rain" rose to No. 4 in 1984 … and No. 3 this year.
Along with the Purple Rain title cut, the set's "When Doves Cry" crowned the Hot 100 for five weeks and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for eight weeks in 1984. Earlier this year, it returned and climbed to Nos. 8 and 5 on the charts, respectively.
(Sadly, we've lost fellow giants David Bowie and Glenn Frey this year, and several of their classics, such as "Space Oddity," "Let's Dance" and the Eagles' "Take It Easy," also subsequently scaled Hot Rock Songs.)
And, "Can't Help Falling in Love" was a smash for Elvis Presley in 1962, hitting No. 2 on the Hot 100. More than three decades later, UB40's reggae reinvention spent seven weeks at No. 1 in 1993. Earlier this year, Haley Reinhart returned the song to its ballad roots, taking her version to No. 17 on Adult Contemporary.
Other songs worthy of consideration for most durable of the rock era? Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold on Me" has found new life courtesy of reworkings by Flo Rida ("Good Feeling") and Avicii ("Levels"), and James' 1961 standard "At Last" is also everlasting; notably, Beyonce's cover hit the Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in 2008-09.
Thanks to a Geico commercial synch (and more than a decade after Arrested Development), Europe's 1987 anthem "The Final Countdown" pulled off the trick of being top-of-mind nearly 30 years later. Also from 1987, Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" is schooling younger generations thanks to a new Walmart synch, while a third 1987 hair band anthem, Bon Jovi's "Livin' On a Prayer," revisited the Hot 100's top 25 in 2013 thanks to viral video exposure for its audio.
Plus, while Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" has barely dented Billboard charts, his 1984 hymn was brought more mainstream by Jeff Buckley's cover in 1994. In total, it's been remade by hundreds of artists, with Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris' version, featuring Charlie Sexton, marking its high (No. 13) on the Hot 100 in 2010.
What songs do you consider the most resilient of the rock era? Any of the classics above? Maybe songs by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Michael Jackson ("Billie Jean," "Beat It") or Bruce Springsteen ("Born to Run," "Born in the U.S.A.," the latter, especially, given the continual topicality of its lyrics)? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Or, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once again, what songs do you think music fans will always love?