Chart Watch Extra: Adele & Whitney

Paul Grein
Chart Watch (NEW)

Adele's 21 this week breaks the record for the longest run at #1 by a female artist since The Billboard 200 album chart became a weekly feature in 1956. 21 logs its 21st week on top with a Grammy-fueled sales tally of 730,000 copies. The old record was held by Whitney Houston, whose The Bodyguard soundtrack held the top spot for 20 weeks in 1992-1993.

Adele is starting to close in on another record that Houston has held since 1986: the longest run at #1 on Billboard's Top Music Videos chart by a female artist. Adele's Live At The Royal Albert Hall is about to log its 12th week at #1. Houston's The #1 Video Hits held the top spot for 22 weeks in 1986. (More about that later.)

Adele was born on May 5, 1988, just two weeks after Houston set a record (which still stands) as the only artist to achieve seven consecutive #1 singles on the Hot 100. The two singers have a lot in common. Both were gifted with big, legitimate voices. Both were very young when they started. Adele was just 20 when her debut album, 19, was released. Houston was 21 when her debut, Whitney Houston, was released.

Both of these albums were sleeper hits. Adele's album entered The Billboard 200 at #62 and broke into the top 10 in its 36th week. Houston's album entered the chart at #166 and broke into the top 10 in its 23rd week.

Both singers won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for a song from their debut albums. Houston scored with "Saving All My Love For You," Adele with "Chasing Pavements." In addition, Adele won for Best New Artist. Houston would unquestionably have also won that award, but was ruled ineligible because of a technicality: She had been featured on Teddy Pendergrass' R&B hit "Hold Me" the year before. (The Recording Academy is less unyielding about such matters today.)

Both artists entered The Billboard 200 at #1 with their sophomore albums. Houston's 1987 album Whitney was only the fifth album, and the first by a female artist, to debut at #1. Both Whitney and Adele's 21 were hit-laden. Whitney spawned four #1 singles: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go." 21 has yielded three #1 singles: "Rolling In The Deep," "Someone Like You" and "Set Fire To The Rain." Houston's sophomore album didn't sweep the Grammys, as Adele's did, but it did bring her a second award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)."

The biggest hits by Houston and Adele, "I Will Always Love You" and "Rolling In The Deep," also achieved comparable success. "I Will Always Love You" was only the second single to be certified for U.S. sales of 4 million physical copies by the Recording Industry Assn. of America. It followed USA for Africa's 1985 humanitarian anthem "We Are The World."

Six more singles have since reached this mark: a Disney children's record, "Bambi," Elvis Presley's double-sided 1956 smash "Don't Be Cruel"/"Hound Dog," the Beatles' 1968 classic "Hey Jude," Tag Team's 1993 hit "Whoomp! (There It Is)," Los Del Rio's 1996 novelty smash "Macarena," and Elton John's tribute to the late Princess Diana, "Candle In The Wind 1997" (which towers over them all with RIAA-certified sales of 11 million).

"Rolling In The Deep" was only the seventh song to top the 6 million mark in digital sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This week it becomes the fourth best-selling song in digital history, trailing only the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" and two hits by Lady Gaga, "Poker Face" and "Just Dance" (featuring Colby O'Donis). (It surpasses the Peas' "Boom Boom Pow.")

Both "I Will Always Love You" and "Rolling In The Deep" received Grammys for Record of the Year and in the appropriate performance category. "Rolling In The Deep" also won Song of the Year. "I Will Always Love You" would have won that one too, but it was ruled ineligible because Dolly Parton's song was already well-known prior to the Houston recording.

As noted, Houston's The #1 Video Hits topped Billboard's Top Music Videos chart for 22 weeks, which remains the record for a video collection by a female artist. Adele's Live At The Royal Albert Hall is already half-way to equaling the feat.

Here are the other video collections by female artists that have logged 10 or more weeks at #1 on Top Music Videos: Barbra Streisand's Barbra—The Concert (16 weeks from 1994 through 1996), Madonna's The Virgin Tour—Madonna Live (10 weeks in 1986), Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen's Our First Video (10 weeks in 1993-1994) and Britney Spears' Time Out With Britney (10 weeks in 1999-2000).

Mary-Kate & Ashley are up there with Whitney, Barbra, Adele, Madonna and Britney? It's a crazy business.

One final note: Houston's death the day before the Grammys inevitably overshadowed Adele's sweep of the awards, but it also doubtless increased the size of the TV audience. This year's show had a total audience of 39.9 million, which was up nearly 50% from last year's audience of 26.7 million. It was the second highest-rated Grammy telecast ever, topped only by the 1984 show when a red-hot Michael Jackson swept the awards.  The huge audience for this year's show is a key reason that Adele's 21 sold 730K copies this week.