Today, it seems almost mythical, but 20 years ago last week, three of the top five spots on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart were occupied by women, with Reba McEntire and the Dixie Chicks at Numbers Four and Two, respectively. Seated at Number One, for a sixth consecutive week, however, was a tune that had been released in October 1999, as the first single — and title cut — from Faith Hill’s fourth LP, Breathe.
While Hill had already scored five Number One solo country hits, from her 1993 debut single “Wild One” to her first major crossover smash “This Kiss” in 1998, as well as duets with husband Tim McGraw, “Breathe” would prove the most enduring of her early singles, landing the Mississippi native with the sultry vocal style her first Number One country and pop album at the end of 1999. Even as it was eclipsed by subsequent singles, including the bouncy “The Way You Love Me,” and another duet with McGraw on “Let’s Make Love,” “Breathe,” which peaked at Number Two on the pop Hot 100 in April 2000, would wait to exhale only after 53 weeks on that chart, making it the top pop single of the entire year in spite of just missing the Number One berth. It would be the first to achieve that feat in 35 years, since Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully” did so in 1965. In 2002, Hill’s NBC special When the Lights Go Down featured a performance of “Breathe” with guitarist Carlos Santana, whose single “Maria Maria” had coincidentally been one of the songs to keep “Breathe” from hitting Number One.
In addition to Hill’s music career, it didn’t take long for her to make the transition to acting roles, first in TV’s Touched by an Angel in 1997, and in 2004’s big-screen remake of The Stepford Wives. For a memorable cinematic moment, however, it’s tough to top the “Breathe” music video, a steamy solo affair in which Hill variously practices a sort of tai chi in the desert and then writhes seductively on a bed, wrapped up in one very well-placed white sheet. Not surprisingly, the gorgeous clip’s director, Lili Fini Zanuck, was a big-time movie producer and an Oscar winner for producing Driving Miss Daisy.
Hill’s Breathe album would earn triple-platinum certification in late March 2000, just after her performance that month at the Oscars, as a last-minute replacement for Whitney Houston. She would also go on to be crowned CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in October and would earn three Grammys early in 2001, including Best Country Album and Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Breathe.” To date, Breathe has sold more than eight million copies.