In the volatile music business, there’s no such thing as guaranteed success. Still, it’s a surprise to learn that Whitney Houston’s ”I Will Always Love You,” the runaway hit from the soundtrack of The Bodyguard and the song that went to No. 1 faster than any other single in the past 21 years, almost never made it to pop radio.
Houston, after all, is a seasoned commodity, with nine carefully groomed No. 1 singles already notched in her belt. This time, though, she was almost too artistic for her own good. Houston started her song — a remake of Dolly Parton’s 1974 country smash — with 43 long seconds of a cappella singing, as if she’d forgotten how impatient pop radio gets with anything that doesn’t make instant noise.
”One out of four stations said they would never play the song,” says Rick Bisceglia, senior VP of promotion for Arista Records, Houston’s label, and others asked for a conventional fast-start edit, which Arista says it refused to do. But when stations that did play the tune reported wildly excited listener response, the song took off. Still, it needed Houston’s magic name. ”If this had been by an unknown artist,” admits Bisceglia, ”it might have never happened.”