Black Music Month & Beyond Moment: 25 Years Ago, MJ and Whitney Ruled the Charts

By Violet Brown

In 1987, I was the Urban buyer for one of the top retail chains, “Wherehouse Music.” This was a tremendous year for music sales due to the release of two important and historical albums. The first was “WHITNEY” released on June 2, 1987 by Whitney Houston. This was the follow-up to her highly- successful debut release that was awarded and named the “Best Selling Debut Album of All Time” by a solo artist. Needless to say expectations were very high for her sophomore release. Upon release it shot to the top of the charts at number one which was historical since it was the first number one release from a female artist and the fifth from a solo artist. The album remained at the number one position for a record breaking, 11 consecutive weeks. The first four singles (“I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “Didn’t We Almost Have it All,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “So Emotional”) topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at number one and Ms. Houston was also the first female to achieve this feat. Along with her three number one singles from her first album this gave Whitney seven straight number one singles, surpassing the previous record of The Beatles & Bee Gees. Her “Whitney” album remained on the charts for seventy five weeks. This established Whitney Houston as an International Pop Superstar. Music retailers across the globe were rejoicing from the sales from “Whitney” and just two months later the long-awaited follow-up to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was released.

On August 31, 1987, Michael dropped his seventh album “Bad.” Bad has sold over 45 million units and was the second historical release of 1987. “Bad” produced five number one hit singles (“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Dirty Diana”) for Michael and was the first album to do so. The “Bad” album also produced nine singles, six Grammy nominations and two Grammy awards for Michael. This became Michael’s second release to be included in the “Best Selling Albums of All-Time.” After the release of “Bad,” Michael and Whitney were ruling pop culture world-wide. Both artists were accompanied by a string of music videos to match the release of each single. For Jackson, his “Bad” “Smooth Criminal” and “Leave Me Alone” videos are considered landmark clips to this very day. During the first year of release, it was estimated that six out of every 10 customers purchased one of these legendary albums. These two titles brought customers into my stores that had not been to a record store in a long time (not since the “Thriller” phenomenon for many customers). All the other titles released in ‘87 were viewed by millions that just simply came into the store to purchase “BAD” or “WHITNEY.” These two titles set the tone for years of outstanding business for music retailers. This was a time in which people came to stores and experienced new music pumping loudly through the speakers, amazing in-store appearances and a knowledgeable music expert that could suggest the next title that could become your favorite. Music stores were the place true fans loved to hang-out. Customers literally danced in my aisles or sang a song to one of my clerks that they were looking for…and guess what…the clerk knew the song and the customer left happy.

1987 was long before the “Shazam” app but you had the human who loved their job in a record store who could turn you on to the “next big thing.” The stores were exciting and often the entertainment spot for the neighborhood. My store had many FREE concerts and appearances by the biggest artists of that time. Customers and fans got to get up close and personal with their favorite artists. We had a huge DJ booth that kept the store lively each day. You could even find celebrities shopping in the store because it was comfortable and the place to be. I remember Whitney Houston visiting my store during the first week of her debut release and I told her, “Watch what happens when I play your album.” She sat on my cash register area in jeans with her legs crossed and watched as everyone asked for her album. Customers did not even realize who she was and that is what she wanted at the time. She was just merely on a visit to my store…a visit I will never forget.

Twenty-five years later and both Michael and Whitney are gone. But they have left us an amazing body of work.