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"I Will Always Love You" is a song written and originally recorded in 1973 by American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton. Her country version of the track was released in 1974 as a single and was written as a farewell to her former partner and mentor of seven years, Porter Wagoner, following Parton's decision to leave The Porter Wagoner Show and pursue a solo career.
Parton's version of "I Will Always Love You" was a commercial success. It reached number one on the BillboardHot Country Songs chart twice. It first reached number one in June 1974, and then in October 1982, with her re-recording on the soundtrack of the movie version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Thus, she achieved a number one position twice with the same song, a rare feat that Chubby Checker had done previously with "The Twist" becoming number one in 1960 and again in 1962.
Author Curtis W. Ellison stated that the song "speaks about the breakup of a relationship between a man and a woman that does not descend into unremitting domestic turmoil, but instead envisions parting with respect - because of the initiative of the woman". According to sheet music published at musicnotes.com by Hal Leonard Corporation, the countrylove track is set in a time signature of common time with a tempo of 66 beats per minute. (Larghetto/Adagio) Although Parton found much success with the song, many people are unaware of its origin; during an interview, Parton's manager Danny Nozel said that "one thing we found out from American Idol is that most people don't know that Dolly Parton wrote [the track]". During an interview on The Bobby Bones Show, Dolly Parton revealed that she wrote her signature song "Jolene" on the same day that she wrote "I Will Always Love You."
Several times (long before Whitney Houston recorded the song), Dolly Parton suggested to singer Patti Labelle that she record "I Will Always Love You" because she felt Patti could have sung it so well. However, Patti admitted she kept putting off the opportunity to do so and later deeply regretted it after she heard Whitney Houston's rendition.
During its original release in 1974, "I Will Always Love You" reached number four in Canada on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart and peaked at number one on the BillboardHot Country Songs chart, becoming one of the best selling singles of 1974.
When Parton re-recorded the song in 1982 for the soundtrack of the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the track was issued as a single and once again charted at number one on Hot Country Songs - making her the first artist ever to earn a number one record twice with the same song. The 1982 version also reached number 53 on Billboard's Hot 100 and number 17 on its adult contemporary charts. Parton's recording has sold 489,000 digital copies since becoming available for download.
Parton recorded a duet with Vince Gill in 1995 for the album Something Special, the duet version of "I Will Always Love You" made the Billboard country chart and peaked at number 15. Parton and Gill were awarded the CMA's "Vocal Event of the Year" award in 1996 for their recording of the song. Another duet version of the song was released in 2017 with Michael Bolton from his album Songs of Cinema.
When the 1974 recording of the song was reaching number one on the country charts, Elvis Presley indicated that he wanted to cover the song. Parton was interested until Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told her that it was standard procedure for the songwriter to sign over half of the publishing rights to any song Elvis recorded. Parton refused. She recalls:
I said, 'I'm really sorry,' and I cried all night. I mean, it was like the worst thing. You know, it's like, Oh, my God ... Elvis Presley.' And other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley.' ...I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says, 'Don't do that. And I just didn't do it... He would have killed it. But anyway, so he didn't. Then when Whitney [Houston's version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland.
In Curtis W. Ellison's book, Country Music Culture: From Hard Times to Heaven (1995), he stated: "In the early 1990s, when ambiguity in romantic relationships accompanies changing expectations for both men and women, this song demonstrates Dolly Parton's appeal as a songwriter in the pop music market." Ken Knight, author of The Midnight Show: Late Night Cable-TV "Guy-Flicks" of the '80s (2008), commented that Parton is the only singer who can sing "I Will Always Love You" and "make it memorable". Writer Paul Simpson criticized the singer, stating that the track was only written to "soften the blow" of Parton and Wagoner's split.
Parton recorded the song in 1982 for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texassoundtrack. It was released on July 12, 1982, as the first single from the soundtrack. It would eventually peak at number one on the BillboardHot Country Singles chart, thus Parton reached the number one position twice with the same song, a rare feat that Chubby Checker had previously achieved when "The Twist" reached number one in 1960 and again in 1962.
Billboard gave a positive review which said, "The first single from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas isn't the sort of brassy main theme normally used to launch a major movie musical: here Parton reinterprets one of her earliest exercises in pure pop writing, and while older fans may be divided over the breathier, more stylized reading she offers here, the song itself is still a lovely ballad with a soaring chorus."
Cashbox also reviewed the single favorably, saying that "hoisted over a building arrangement, Parton's vocals have never been more convincing or moving. The single choice from her Hollywood flick, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the tune is sentiment wrapped in an appropriate package replete with strings, oboe and harp in addition to a delicate rhythm section."
In 1992, American singer Whitney Houston recorded a new arrangement of "I Will Always Love You" for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, her film debut. The song has a saxophone solo by Kirk Whalum. She was originally to record Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" as the lead single from The Bodyguard. However, when it was discovered the song was to be used for Fried Green Tomatoes, Houston requested a different song. It was her co-star Kevin Costner who suggested "I Will Always Love You", playing her Linda Ronstadt's 1975 version from her album Prisoner in Disguise. Producer David Foster and Houston re-arranged the song as a soul ballad. Her record company did not feel a song with an a cappella introduction would be as successful; however, Houston and Costner insisted on retaining it. When Parton heard that Houston was using Ronstadt's recording as a template, she called Foster to give him the final verse, which was missing from the Ronstadt recording, as she felt it was important to the song.
Whitney Houston's recording is not the only version of the song featured in the movie. In a scene where she dances with Kevin Costner, a version by John Doe can be heard playing on a jukebox.
Houston's version appears at No. 9 on NMEs Greatest No 1 Singles in History list. In 2004, Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" finished at No. 65 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema. It was also ranked at number 22 on The Guardian's list of Britain's favorite 100 songs, published in May 2002. In January 2013, Whitney's version of "I Will Always Love You" has sold over 20 million worldwide, making it the best-selling song by a female artist of all time as well as one of the best-selling songs of all time.
In February 2014, the song was placed at number six on Billboard list of the Top 50 'Love' Songs of All Time.
Houston's version received universal acclaim from music critics, being later called her "signature song". Larry Flick from Billboard wrote that the song is "bolstered by a remarkably restrained (and ultimately effective) vocal by Houston. She builds to dramatic, heartfelt conclusion that makes sense, given the unusually slow-building created by producer David Foster." Amy Linden of Entertainment Weekly said it "is artistically satisfying and uncharacteristically hip for the MOR songbird." John Martinucci from Gavin Report stated that the singer "delivers a powerful rendition that reminds us of her natural abilities as a singer with or without musical accompaniment." Chris Willman of the Los Angeles Times commented, "Houston has the goods to deliver on the tune's haunting beauty and resists overpowering it - until the finale, when the key change and stratospheric notes drain all the heart-rending sadness out of the song and make it sound like just another anthem of survival."Stephen Holden of The New York Times said it was a "magnificent rendition", commenting,
Houston transforms a plaintive country ballad into a towering pop-gospel assertion of lasting devotion to a departing lover. Her voice breaking and tensing, she treats the song as a series of emotional bursts in a steady climb toward a final full-out declamation. Along the way, her virtuosic gospel embellishments enhance the emotion and never seem merely ornamental.
Peter Stanton from Smash Hits commented, "A slow intro moulds into a crescendo of huggy-kissy-smoochiness that could melt the heart of the yeti of Northern Siberia." Writing for USA Today on November 17, 1992, James T. Jones IV called it a "tour-de-force", and added "[Houston] gives a 3-star [out of four] performance. Where Dolly Parton's original 'I Will Always Love You' was plaintive and tear- stained, Houston's is gospel-infused and dramatic." Stewart Mason of AllMusic found Houston's cover "repulsively overwrought... so boomingly bombastic and glutinous with self-approbation that the tenderness of Dolly Parton's song is lost in the mire".
The single spent 14 weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100, which at the time was a record. It became Houston's longest run at number one, surpassing her previous record of three weeks with "Greatest Love of All" in 1986. It is also the longest running number-one single from a soundtrack album.
It debuted at number 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, and became Houston's tenth number-one entry two weeks later. It also dominated other Billboard charts, spending 14 weeks at the top of BillboardHot 100 Single Sales chart, and 11 weeks at number one on its Hot 100 Airplay chart. The song also remained at number one for five weeks on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks, and for 11 weeks on the Hot R&B Singles chart becoming the longest running number one on the R&B charts at the time; it remained in the top 40 for 24 weeks. It became Arista Records' biggest hit. The song was number one on the Hot 100, Adult Contemporary, and R&B chart simultaneously for a record-equaling five weeks; Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You" in 1962 achieved the same feat on the same charts.
The song stayed at number one in the United States throughout January and February 1993, making it the first time Billboard did not rank a new number one single until March of the new year. Houston's "I Will Always Love You" was also the year-end single of 1993 in the US. Similarly, in the UK, Houston's version was ranked the number one single of 1992, and then made the countdown again in 1993 where it was ranked number nine, marking the first time any artist or group had the same single ranked in the top 10 of the year-end review two years in a row. In Australia, it was the number 17 single of 1992 and the number two song of 1993.
Houston's single was also a massive international success, peaking at number one of the singles charts in almost every country, including the Eurochart Hot 100 Singles, where it spent 13 weeks at the top. The single ruled the summit position for ten weeks in Australia, five weeks in Austria, seven weeks for Belgium, eight weeks in France, six weeks in Germany, eight weeks in Ireland, two weeks in Italy, six weeks in Netherlands, 14 weeks in New Zealand, nine weeks in Norway, one week in Spain, six weeks in Sweden, eight weeks in Switzerland, and ten weeks in the United Kingdom. Houston's 10-week reign in the UK was the longest run at the top by a solo female artist in the history of the British singles chart, until it was overtaken by Tones & I in 2019.
Only a few hours after Houston's death on February 11, 2012, "I Will Always Love You" topped the US iTunes charts. Also, in the week following her death, the single returned to the Billboard Hot 100 after almost 20 years, debuting at number 7, and becoming a posthumous top-ten single for Houston, the first one since 2001. The song eventually peaked at No. 3, two spots shy of becoming the first song to return to the No. 1 position after falling off the chart since "The Twist" by Chubby Checker. It debuted on the Billboard Hot Digital Singles Chart at number 3 on the chart dated February 25, 2012, with over 195,000 copies downloaded. In the United Kingdom, the song charted at number 10 the week of Houston's death.
Houston's single sold approximately 400,000 copies in its second week at the top of the charts, making it the best-selling song in a single week surpassing Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You". It broke its own record in the following three weeks, peaking at 632,000 copies in the week ending December 27, 1992. The January 9, 1993, issue of Billboard reported it had broken its own record for most copies sold in a single week for any song in the Nielsen SoundsScan era. This record was broken by Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight", which sold 3.4 million in the final week of September 1997. "I Will Always Love You" was certified four times Platinum in the US for shipments of over 4 million copies by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on January 12, 1993, making Houston the first female artist with a single to reach that level in RIAA history. According to Nielsen SoundScan, as of 2009, the single had sold 4,591,000 copies, and had become the second best-selling physical single in US alone, only behind Elton John's single in 1997.
In the United Kingdom, the single sold over 1,550,000 copies, becoming the tenth best-selling single of the 1990s, and was certified two times Platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on January 1, 1993. It was certified Platinum for shipments of over 500,000 copies by the Bundesverband Musikindustrie (BVMI) in Germany. In Japan, "I Will Always Love You" sold over 810,000 copies, staying for 27 weeks on the chart, and became the best-selling single by a foreign female artist at the time, despite not topping the charts.
"I Will Always Love You" won the 1994 Grammy Award for Record of the Year, and Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, her third award for this category after earlier awards in 1986 and 1988. During the Grammy Award telecast, the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female was presented to Houston by composer Dolly Parton and David Foster. The single topped the 1993 Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles year-end charts simultaneously, becoming the first single by a female artist and the second overall to achieve that feat behind Prince's "When Doves Cry" in 1984. In addition, it received Favorite Pop/Rock Single and Favorite Soul/R&B Single awards at the 21st American Music Awards, which was the first record by a solo female artist to win both categories, and the third overall in AMA history behind "Endless Love" by Lionel Richie & Diana Ross in 1982 and "Beat It" by Michael Jackson in 1984. "I Will Always Love You" won two Japan Gold Disc Awards in 1993 for International Song of the Year, and a 1994 International Song of the Year Special Award for Japanese sales of over one million units.
In 2015, "I Will Always Love You" was named the No. 1 Song of the Rock Era in the book The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era: 1955-2015.
After Whitney Houston's recording of the song became a hit in 1992, the tabloid press began reporting on a 'feud' between the two performers, stemming from Dolly Parton allegedly reneging on an agreement that she would not perform the song for a number of months while Houston's version was on the charts, so as not to compete with Houston's recording. However, both Parton and Houston dispelled any rumors, speaking glowingly of one another in interviews. Houston praised Parton for writing a beautiful song. In return, Parton thanked Houston for bringing her song to a wider audience and increasing the amount of royalties for her song in the process. Dolly Parton also gave a live interview, confirming this.
When Houston won the Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female award at the 1994 Grammy Awards for the recording, Parton (along with David Foster) presented her with the award.
In a statement to Billboard on the day of Houston's death in February 2012, Parton said:
Mine is only one of the millions of hearts broken over the death of Whitney Houston. I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, 'Whitney, I will always love you. You will be missed.'
The single's music video is credited to Alan Smithee (Nick Brandt removed his name due to the way Clive Davis re-edited the video), and produced by Rob Newman. It begins with the performance of the song Houston gives at the end of The Bodyguard. The video then cuts to Houston in a dark blue suit sitting in an empty theater with the spotlight shining on her, singing of her love, and when the singer starts her dramatic vocal final shout, Houston's theater changes into open camp surrounded by snow, which is meant to be at Fallen Leaf Lake, California, where The Bodyguard's boat scene was filmed. The video is inter-cut with scenes from The Bodyguard and gives the viewer the experience of reliving the moments with the singer. At the time of the video's shooting Houston was pregnant with her daughter Bobbi Kristina, so Houston is shown only sitting in the theater scenes. On October 24, 2020, the video for "I Will Always Love You" reached a 1 billion views on YouTube and the 7th music of the 20th century that reached the milestone and the first solo.
*sales figures based on certification alone ^shipments figures based on certification alone
Jennifer Hudson performed the song in front of Houston, who received The BET Honors Award for Entertainer Lifetime Achievement spanning over 25 years in the industry. The 2010 BET Honors Awards was held at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. and aired on February 1, 2010.
Since Houston's death in 2012, many other artists have performed tributes to the late singer's version of the song, including on February 12, 2012, when Hudson performed the song as a tribute during the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, the day after Houston's death, alongside images of musicians who had died in 2011 and 2012, including Amy Winehouse and Etta James. The song was played at Houston's funeral as her casket was brought out of the church. Parton complimented Hudson on her performance, saying,
I was brought to tears again last night, as I'm sure many were, when Jennifer Hudson sang "I Will Always Love You" on the Grammys in memory of Whitney. Like everybody else, I am still in shock. But I know that Whitney will live forever in all the great music that she left behind. I will always have a very special piece of her in the song we shared together and had the good fortune to share with the world. Rest in peace, Whitney. Again, we will always love you.
Later, in 2013, during her The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, Beyoncé also sang the opening lines of "I Will Always Love You" prior to the performance of "Halo" as the final song of the tour. At the 2017 Commencement of the University of Southern California, Will Ferrell sang "I Will Always Love You" to the graduating class. See Washington Post commentary:
British pop, electronic dance and Hi-NRG singer Sarah Washington released a successful dance-cover of "I Will Always Love You" in 1993. It became her highest charting hit to date, reaching number 3 in Spain, number 12 in the United Kingdom, number 15 in Ireland and number 32 in Sweden. On the Eurochart Hot 100, it peaked at number 44 in September 1993.
The remake was released on Almighty Records, which described Washington as "an eager young hopeful" and cited her "sensational studio performance" as being key to the ultimate success of the track, also giving credit to London radio station 95.8 Capital FM and its heavy rotation of the song. A black-and-white music video was made to accompany the song. In 2006, Almighty Records released an 11-mixes package of "I Will Always Love You".
Larry Flick from Billboard commented on the song, "There are no less than nine dance music covers of the Whitney Houston megahit "I Will Always Love You". So far, only Sarah Washington's hi-NRG rendering on Almighty Records is worth a spin."
"I Will Always Love You" was covered by American actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth as a duet with Dolly Parton. It was released on August 9, 2019, as the first single from Chenoweth's album, For the Girls.
Chenoweth reflected on recording "I Will Always Love You" with ET Online, saying "it is a song I've loved since I was a child." She went on to say, "I used to think, 'One day I'm gonna sing that song.' Little did I know that I'd get to sing it with the queen herself."
In 1997, Kenny Rogers recorded a version of the song on his best selling TV-advertised collection of love songs, via QVC. Prior to this, in 1983, Rogers released an album called Eyes That See in the Dark, which features a song called "I Will Always Love You"; however, this is a different song of the same name. The album also featured "Islands In The Stream", a hit duet between Rogers & Parton.
In 2002, English pop singer Rik Waller took his own version of "I Will Always Love You" into the Top Ten in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at number 6. It was the first single released from his debut studio album From Now... following him taking part in the Pop Idol series.
The 2013 German edition of the TV series The Voice Kids featured a version of the song performed by Laura Kamhuber, a teen Austrian singer. As of 2018, her performance is the most-watched YouTube video by an Austrian artist.
In May 2013 an American Airlines transcontinental flight made an emergency landing in Kansas City to expel a "very unruly passenger" who refused to stop singing the song and even continued while being removed from the plane in handcuffs.
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