90s No. 1s Revisited: “I Will Always Love You”
The sixty-fifth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. This track was a remake of a Dolly Parton hit from 1974 that Parton re-released in 1982. In both those releases, it went to No. 1 on the Country charts but fared less well on the cross-genre Hot 100. Houston’s version, which contained no Country sensibilities, went to No. 1 on the Hot 100, the Adult Contemporary chart and the R&B chart in the U.S., and in just about every country on Earth that tracks such things. It stayed atop the Hot 100 for 14 weeks, breaking the record that had been set by Boyz II Men’s “End Of The Road” just two No. 1s prior. It was the 10th of Houston’s 11 No. 1 singles, and her third of the decade.
“I Will Always Love You” was the debut release from the soundtrack to the film The Bodyguard, in which Houston starred as a famous singer, opposite Kevin Costner. It produced five hits in the U.S. — “I Will Always Love You,” “I’m Every Woman” (peak: No. 4), “I Have Nothing” (peak: No. 4) and “Run To You” (peak: No. 31), all by Whitney Houston, as well as “It’s Gonna Be A Lovely Day” (peak: No. 34) by S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M., which has the distinction of being the band with the all-time most-annoying-to-type name. We preferred all those songs to “I Will Always Love You,” which despite providing Houston a great opportunity to demonstrate the power of her voice, and which despite being beloved by everyone, is essentially a grating interpretation of a song with the sophistication of a nursery rhyme.
Let’s listen to “I Will Always Love You”:
Over the weekend, I (John) attended a Memorial Day barbecue with some extended family. The DJ played an upbeat Houston track from the ’80s, and I asked my nephew, who’s a couple days shy of 10 years old, whether he had heard of Whitney Houston. He said no — but that he had heard of Houston, the city in Texas. Cute. His mother then volunteered that Houston was some woman who died of drugs. I was pretty mortified by the entire conversation. So now I have a mission: to introduce my nephew to the wonder of Whitney. And if I were to put together a playlist of her greatest work, I’d reluctantly include “I Will Always Love You,” out of a sense of obligation.
A thousand apologies, but this just isn’t a good song to begin with, and Houston’s cover does little more than emphasize different reasons it’s not good. The writing is elementary, the production is boring, and she’s over-singing. And perhaps most importantly, there’s no genuine emotion on this recording. If you felt you were always going to love someone, would you shout at them like this?
Also, this song kept a great song from reaching No. 1: “If I Ever Fall In Love” by Shai spent seven nonconsecutive weeks at No. 2. “I Will Always Love You” also kept the not-as-great “Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect at bay for three weeks.
“I Will Always Love You” drove sales of the Bodyguard soundtrack, which sold more than 13 million copies in the U.S. and 44 million globally. It elevated an already sky-high career profile for Houston. And it was the No. 1 song of 1993.
Does it hold up? To those who for some reason like this song, sure. The video has 267 million views as of this writing. Considering this song is two dozen years old, that’s incredible.
Dopeness: 2 out of 5 Birkenstocks
“I Will Always Love You”
No. 1 for 14 weeks, starting Nov. 28, 1992
Preceded by: “How Do You Talk To An Angel,” The Heights
Followed by: “A Whole New World,” Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?