Adele's 21 logs its ninth week at #1 on The Billboard 200. The album will lose its #1 ranking (at least temporarily) next week when Lady Gaga's Born This Way debuts in the top spot. So this is a good time to pause and place Adele's achievement in context. 21 is only the 16th album by female artist to log nine or more weeks at #1 since the chart became a weekly feature in March 1956. (This includes movie soundtracks and original cast albums on which a woman had star billing.)
Adele is the first woman who was born in England to spend nine or more weeks at #1 with a studio album. She's the third woman to meet the standard if you include theatrical projects. Julie Andrews scored with the My Fair Lady cast album and the Mary Poppins soundtrack. Olivia Newton-John scored with the Grease soundtrack.
Whitney Houston leads the pack with three albums that stayed on top for nine or more weeks: her first two studio albums and the soundtrack to The Bodyguard. This points out how dominant she was in her prime.
Pop Quiz: Three of these women have won Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. Name them. Answer below.
Here's the list. The albums are ranked by the number of weeks they held the #1 spot.
1. Whitney Houston/Soundtrack, The Bodyguard, 20. Houston was 29 when this movie, her first, opened in November 1992. Her co-star Kevin Costner was 37. The album spawned three top five hits, including the monster #1 hit "I Will Always Love You." It won a Grammy as Album of the Year.
2. Mary Martin/Original Cast, The Sound Of Music, 16. Martin was 45 when the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical opened on Broadway in December 1959. The show won a Tony as Best Musical (in an unusual tie with Fiorello!). Martin won as Best Actress. Key songs include "My Favorite Things" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."
3. Julie Andrews/Original Cast, My Fair Lady, 15. Andrews was 20 when the Lerner & Loewe musical opened on Broadway in March 1956. Her co-star, Rex Harrison, was 48. The show won a Tony as Best Musical. Andrews was nominated as Best Actress. Key songs include "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "On The Street Where You Live."
4. Carole King, Tapestry, 15. King was 29 when this classic album hit the chart in April 1971. (It remained #1 longer than any other album by a female artist that wasn't a soundtrack or a cast album.) It was King's second solo album, following an album with The City. It spawned the #1 hit "It's Too Late" and won a Grammy as Album of the Year.
5. Julie Andrews/Soundtrack, Mary Poppins, 14. Andrews was 28 when this movie, her first, opened in August 1964. Her co-star, Dick Van Dyke, was 38. Andrews won an Oscar as Best Actress. "Chim Chim Cheree" won as Best Song. "Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious" (with Van Dyke and the Pearlies) cracked the Hot 100.
6. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston, 14. Houston was 21 when this album, her debut, hit the chart in March 1985. It spawned four top five hits, including three that reached #1: "Saving All My Love For You," "How Will I Know" and "Greatest Love Of All."
7. Judy Garland, Judy At Carnegie Hall, 13. Garland was 38 when she recorded this legendary live album in April 1961. The double-disk set, which included such signature songs as "Over The Rainbow," "The Trolley Song" and "The Man That Got Away," won a Grammy as Album of the Year. Garland died in 1969. She was 47.
8. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill, 12. Morissette was 21 when this album charted in July 1995. It was her first album in the U.S. following two albums that were released only in her native Canada. The album spawned three top 10 hits: "Ironic," "You Learn" and "Head Over Feet." It won a Grammy as Album of the Year.
9. Olivia Newton-John/Soundtrack, Grease, 12. Newton-John was 29 (but played 17) when this movie opened in June 1978. Her co-star, John Travolta, was 24. The double-disk album spawned four top five singles, including Newton-John's solo hit "Hopelessly Devoted To You" and a pair of duets with Travolta: "You're The One That I Want" and "Summer Nights."
10. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 11. Swift was 18 when this album entered the chart at #1 in November 2008. It was Swift's second regular studio album. Fearless spawned five top 10 hits, including two that made the top five: "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me." It won a Grammy as Album of the Year.
11. Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey, 11. Carey was 20 when this album, her debut, charted in June 1990. The album spawned four #1 hits: "Vision Of Love," "Love Takes Time," "Someday" and "I Don't Wanna Cry."
12. Whitney Houston, Whitney, 11. Houston was 23 when this album, her second, entered the chart at #1 in June 1987. It was the first album by a female artist to debut in the top spot. The album spawned five top 10 hits, including four that reached #1: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go."
13. Paula Abdul, Forever Your Girl, 10. Abdul was 26 when this album, her debut, charted in July 1988. The album spawned five top five hits, including four that reached #1: "Straight Up," "Forever Your Girl," "Cold Hearted" and "Opposites Attract" (with The Wild Pair)."
14. The Singing Nun, The Singing Nun, 10. Jeanine Deckers was 30 this album, her debut, charted in November 1963. The album spawned the #1 hit "Dominique." Deckers, who was born in Belgium, committed suicide in 1985. She was 51.
15. Janis Joplin, Pearl, 9. Joplin died of a heroin overdose four months before this album charted in January 1971. She was 27. Pearl was her second solo album following a pair of albums with Big Brother & the Holding Company. The album spawned the #1 hit "Me And Bobby McGee."
16. Adele, 21, 9. Adele was 22 when this album, her second, entered the chart at #1 in February. The album has spawned the #1 hit "Rolling In The Deep." It's the front-runner to win a Grammy as Album of the Year.
The Fine Print: The Bodyguard soundtrack is generally counted as an album by a female artist, while the other soundtracks and original cast albums listed here generally aren't. But in all of these cases, the females had star billing (i.e., their names in large type) on the front covers of the albums. I think it's fairest to count them all.
Besides, it's not like The Bodyguard is an all-Whitney Houston album: Six of the 12 tracks are by other artists. (Though she was responsible for the album's three top five hits.)
Olivia Newton-John had only five tracks on Grease, but three of them became top five hits. (The only top five hit on the album that wasn't by Newton-John (either solo or with John Travolta) was Frankie Valli's "Grease.") Sha-Na-Na had six tracks on the album, but nobody (outside of the guys' immediate families) bought the album for the Sha-Na-Na tracks.
It's not unlike the situation with Saturday Night Fever, which is generally counted as a Bee Gees album, even though the double-disk album contained just six Bee Gees tracks. The reason it is counted in the Bee Gees' column: Three of the trio's tracks became monster #1 hits. (Two of the other tracks by the brothers had reached #1 in 1975 and 1976, long before the movie's release in December 1977.)
By the same token, the leading ladies of My Fair Lady, The Sound Of Music and Mary Poppins were crucial to the success of those albums.
Quiz Answer: Julie Andrews, Judy Garland and Janis Joplin have won Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. I'll also accept Carole King as a correct answer. She and former songwriting partner (and former husband) Gerry Goffin won a Grammy Trustees Award, which is the Grammys' equivalent award for non-performers.