Week in Rock History: Whitney Houston Sets a Billboard Record

Plus: Led Zeppelin clash with their namesake's family

Whitney Houston
Mick Hutson/Redferns
Whitney Houston
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This week in rock history, Pink Floyd released their debut single, Led Zeppelin ran into some trouble with the von Zeppelin family, Janet Jackson launched her Rhythm Nation World Tour, Whitney Houston’s signature song set a Billboard record and President Obama gave Stevie Wonder the highest honor in American pop music.

February 27, 1967: Pink Floyd release their first single
Before they floated a pig over Battersea Station and constructed The Wall, Pink Floyd made a curious debut. Their first single, "Arnold Layne," was a messy, psychedelic preamble to their great career – and if the lyrics were any indication, it seemed to concern a roving transvestite underwear thief pillaging their native Cambridge, England.

The single cracked the U.K. Top 20 and the Netherlands Top 30, giving the group their first shot of fame – one of the many drugs that singer-guitarist Syd Barrett would soon come to endorse. In 1968, he was replaced by his school friend David Gilmour for all concert duties and was fired from the band two months later.

 

February 28, 1970: Led Zeppelin performs under a different name in Copenhagen after the von Zeppelin family complains
When Led Zeppelin embarked on their 1970 European tour, they met very vocal opposition from one woman in Copenhagen, Denmark: Countess Eva von Zeppelin. She was a granddaughter of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, creator of the hydrogen-filled airships; she objected to the alleged "shrieking" that the rock greats produced using her family’s name and didn’t want the band stopping by Copenhagen that year.

It wasn’t the first time von Zeppelin had butted heads with the famous rockers. She'd previously tried to block a television airing of the group in 1969. The show was taped anyway, and the band reached out to her afterward. After a cordial meeting backstage, all seemed well, until von Zeppelin spotted the cover art of Led Zep’s 1969 debut album, which featured a shot of the Hindenburg in flames. "We calmed her down, but on leaving the studio, she saw our LP cover of an airship in flames and she exploded," recalled guitarist Jimmy Page to Melody Maker. "I had to run and hide. She just blew her top."

The band mollified von Zeppelin during their 1970 tour. For the first and only night of their career, they performed as the Nobs. After that, von Zeppelin never threatened legal action against the band again.

Funny, the von Aerosmith family never raised an eyebrow.

March 1, 1990: Janet Jackson kicks off her Rhythm Nation tour
Janet Jackson’s first concert tour was an enormous affair: a nine-month international series through the United States, Asia, Europe and South America. It launched on March 1, 1990 at Miami Arena in Florida and continued uninterrupted through November.

The Rhythm Nation stage spectacle, which supported her 1989 album Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, also included some impressive theatrical elements: a live panther, astounding visuals, elaborate street-meets-technical choreography. Over two million people attended the shows and Jackson grossed over $25 million in sales. The ambitious tour cemented Jackson’s reputation as a tremendous R&B up-and-comer, one whose promise was on par with her brother Michael’s. It remains one of the most commercially successful debut tours in history.

 

February 27, 1993: Whitney Houston’s cover of "I Will Always Love You" sets the record for weeks atop the Billboard charts
Whitney Houston’s signature song is at the forefront of pop culture nowadays, and it is a fitting eulogy for her untimely passing. In late February 1993, it was just as ubiquitous: after 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, it set the record for the longest run at Number One on the charts.

Although it became the breakout single from the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, Houston’s first film, "I Will Always Love You" was not the first choice for Houston’s ballad. The Dolly Parton song was a replacement for Jimmy Ruffin’s "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," which Houston had originally wanted to sing. It was Houston’s idea to keep an a cappella intro, and also to be seated for much of the music video – because at the time, she was pregnant with her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown.

February 26, 2009: President Obama awards Stevie Wonder with the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize
President Barack Obama enjoyed an obvious perk of his job when he bestowed his "musical idol," Stevie Wonder, with America’s highest honor for pop music: the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

The President held a ceremony for Wonder at the White House and then gave an impassioned tribute to the Motown genius. He said that Wonder had been the true soundtrack to his youth, as evidenced by Obama’s use of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" as the theme song to his 2008 presidential campaign. The ceremony and special concert was aired on February 26 as the PBS special Stevie Wonder in Performance at the White House: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize.

In accepting the honor, the clearly moved Wonder was the second-ever recipient; Paul Simon was the first in 2007. Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach and Hal David (jointly) have since received the award.

Last Week: Brian Wilson Performs the World Premiere of 'Smile'