Is ‘I Will Always Love You’ the most enduring hit of the rock era?

(Billboard) Never mind Whitney or Dolly. Fans might mean it more when singing, ‘I will always love you.’

Dolly Parton

As previously reported, the late Whitney Houston’s signature ballad “I Will Always Love You” jumps 7-3 on the current Billboard Hot 100. As the song initially spent 14 weeks at No 1 in 1992-93 (wrapping its reign exactly 19 years ago on the February 27, 1993, chart), it’s only the second song ever to reach the top three in separate chart runs. Chubby Checker’s iconic “The Twist” dominated at No 1 in both 1960 (for one week) and 1962 (two).

One difference in the songs (other than their tempos): while it remains a pop/R&B classic, and spurred a legendary dance, “The Twist” has not experienced the extraordinary chart longevity that “Always” has.

For 38 years now, “Always” always seems to return to Billboard charts.
Dolly Parton, the love song’s writer, first sent it to No 1 on Billboard’s Country Songs chart the week of June 8, 1974. It became the third of Parton’s 25 leaders on the list, the most among women.

“Always” revisited the Country Songs summit on the Oct 16, 1982, chart, as Parton had re-recorded it for her film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
From there, Houston co-opted the composition, putting her R&B slant – and more vocally powerful, as opposed to Parton’s more tender, take – on it. Released on Houston’s soundtrack to The Bodyguard – which, until the latest Billboard 200, when it was passed by Adele‘s ‘21’ – stood as the longest reigning album by a woman in the chart’s 56-year history (20 weeks at No 1), “Always” led not only the Hot 100, but also R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (for 11 weeks) and Adult Contemporary (five).

Whitney Houston

As “Always” had re-entered the pop consciousness so deeply thanks to Houston, Parton found success on Country Songs for a third time with the song, taking a duet version with Vince Gill to No 15 in 1995. The pairing produced a Country Music Assn award for best vocal event. |

Now, in February 2012, “I Will Always Love You” is the third most popular song in the US.

It’s also the 87th-biggest, as the “Glee” cast’s cover, sung by Amber Riley, debuts on the Hot 100 following its 36,000 first-week downloads sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, fuelled by its primetime Fox TV exposure.
With such a storied legacy, it seems fair to ask: Is “I Will Always Love You” the most enduring song of the rock era?

What other titles have experienced similar multiple resurgences? “Unchained Melody” has made six trips up the Hot 100, half of those by the Righteous Brothers. The ballad, however, even though it’s an “American Idol” perennial (Lauren Alaina sang it on the competition last year), hasn’t appeared on the Hot 100, in 21 years. On Country Songs, LeAnn Rimes did score a No. 3 hit with her soaring take of it in 1997.

“Don’t Stop Believin’ “ has to be in the discussion. After Journey rocked to No 9 on the Hot 100 with it in 1981, the song long lived on comfortably, if not especially notably, as a rock/AC staple. Then, in 2005, “Believin’ “ (like “Always,” its title fits its evergreen status) found new success in multiple platforms, from prominent usage as a Chicago White Sox theme (Steve Perry sang it with players after they won that year’s World Series) to inclusion in an episode of Fox’s “Family Guy.” |

In 2007, “Believin’ “ accompanied the much buzzed-about final scene of HBO’s “The Sopranos.” A year later, George Lamond covered it as a hi-NRG dance track. Despite its modest No 20 peak on Dance/Mix Show Airplay, the remake feels bigger, thanks, in part, to its continued airplay on dance radio station WKTU (103.5) New York.

Then came the “Glee” adoption of “Believin’ “ in the series’ first season in 2009. By debuting at No 4 on the Hot 100, the troupe’s take bested Journey’s peak with the song. It also remains the top-selling “Glee” download, with 1.3 million sold, according to SoundScan.
For “Believin’,” that’s a span of approximately 30 years of Billboard charting. |

Thanks to sampling, other songs have found multi-generational appeal, such as Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” courtesy of Flo Rida and Avicii’s incorporation of it in their current hits. James’ 1961 “At Last” is also clearly worthy of consideration among the most everlasting pop standards; Beyonce‘s cover dented the Hot 100 and R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in 2008-09.

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