In Random Tracks, I review a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Faith Hill- “Breathe”
PEAK: #2 on April 22, 2000
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Santana’s “Maria Maria” (feat. The Product G&B)
One of the funniest things about the pop charts is that just because a song becomes an absolute massive charting hit doesn’t necessarily translate into that song being fondly remembered years down the road. Many of us like to think that it does. After all, a song doesn’t become a big hit without hitting some kind of popular zeitgeist. But more often than not, the songs that are the absolute biggest of their moment often end up becoming a whiff of a memory to those around at the time, and to those not around will make you wonder what was going on.
Take Faith Hill’s “Breathe.” In the spring of 2000, Hill’s title track to her massively successful album was a no joke crossover smash hitting the top of the country and adult contemporary charts while peaking up at #2 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 for five non-consecutive weeks behind hits by Santana and Aaliyah. The song certainly hit a zeitgeist as 2000 proved to be a good year for this kind of pop-leaning country crossover. But despite that and being named by Billboard as the biggest song of 2000, the second non #1 song to be given that distinction, “Breathe” has all but disappeared from public memory. I was approaching my first birthday when “Breathe” was all over the charts and the radio and its success just leaves me scratching my head considering how forgotten it is now.
Audrey Faith Perry grew up in small-town Mississippi as the adopted daughter of a heavily Christian family. (The #1 song in America on the day of Perry’s birth was the Box Tops’ “The Letter.”) Like many artists, Perry showed her talent for singing very young. She first performed at age seven for a local youth group continuing to perform in various settings throughout her childhood like churches, rodeos, fairs, and even prisons. At 19, Perry dropped out of college to move to Nashville and chase her country music dreams but for a while, things weren’t taking off.
After working various jobs from selling T-shirts and McDonalds, Perry got work as a secretary at a local music publishing firm which is around the time when she married music publishing exec Dan Hill. During her secretary job, a co-worker overheard her singing one day which led to Hill becoming a demo singer for the firm and a backup singer for songwriter Gary Burr. It was one of those performances with Burr that caught the attention of an exec from Warner Bros. who signed Hill to a record deal.
Faith Hill put out her first album Take Me As I Am in October 1993 which became an instant success going triple platinum. Three of its singles making the Top 10 on the country charts including its first two singles, “Wild One” and a cover of the Erma Franklin turned Janis Joplin classic “Piece of My Heart,” going to #1. Her second album, 1995’s It Matters To Me, did a little better going four times platinum and spawning out several more country hits including the title track going to #1. At this point, Hill was an absolute hitmaker in country but hadn’t had much success outside of it with her two albums performing moderately well on the pop albums chart with her singles failing to crossover to the Hot 100.
It was after her second album when Hill went on tour with fellow rising country singer Tim McGraw. Throughout the tour, Hill, already divorced from Dan Hill and engaged to her former producer, started a relationship with McGraw which quickly led to them getting married after Hill became pregnant with their first child. A year later, Hill and McGraw capitalized on their new status as country music’s power couple by putting out the romantic duet “It’s Your Love.” The song was a six-week country #1 but more importantly to this post broke Hill onto the Hot 100 in a big way where it peaked at #7. (It’s a 6. “It’s Your Love” is Tim McGraw’s highest-charting single as a lead artist but he peaked at #3 as a guest on Nelly’s “Over and Over” from 2004. It’s a 4.)
For her third album Faith in 1998, Hill began to switch things up by infusing her country twang with a more pop sensibility. This turned out to be perfect timing as female driven pop-country was having a big moment by 1998 most notably with Shania Twain dominating the period with her blockbuster album Come On Over. The move helped to make Hill even bigger finally crossing over on her own to the mainstream with Faith selling six million copies including a #7 peak on the pop album chart. Much of the success was buoyed by its lead single, the bright sounding “This Kiss,” which became a hit worldwide along with becoming another #1 country hit while also going to #7 on the Hot 100. (It’s a 6.)
Hill’s fourth album Breathe showed her moving further into the pop mainstream as the title track would prove. “Breathe” is one of those hit songs that doesn’t have a big origin story to its creation. The song was written by veteran country songwriters Stephanie Bentley and Holly Lamar with Hill producing the song with her regular producer Byron Gallimore. Together, they came up with a love ballad where Hill expresses her undying love for this person that is so strong that her whole world melts away when she is with this guy. Hill doesn’t need this guy to talk when together as just the sound of his breathing is enough to wash over her and melt her into him as there’s nothing left to prove. Hill may not have written the song but it’s easy to see her finding inspiration for the song from her marriage to Tim McGraw.
In terms of pop songs about finding uncomplicated bliss in a relationship, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. There are many great songs out there that deal with finding comfort and happiness in another partner. My problem with “Breathe” however is that the kind of relationship bliss Faith Hill sings about isn’t all that interesting. There’s no real tension or energy behind it all just very boring and self-satisfied. Hill in her performance sounds very at peace like there’s no major conflict to this relationship. In real life, Hill and McGraw come across as a happy couple so “Breathe” isn’t too much out of reality but it doesn’t make for compelling music.
And it’s not like the production makes the song any more interesting. Compared to most other country songs that crossover to pop, “Breathe” does retain a lot of purely country elements with prominent pedal steel and twangy guitars. Even the acoustic guitar that opens the song doesn’t sound too bad. It’s an obvious play for pop audiences but it doesn’t go too far into rendering “Breathe” as insufficiently country. It tries to play the power ballad playbook of starting out soft before going loud on the chorus and while it sounds fine the song is too forgettable to notice those details. The same critique goes for Faith Hill’s singing. She sings the song fine enough but that’s all you can really say. “Breathe” is a nice little song when it comes on but fades immediately from memory when it’s over.
Breathe, the album debuted at #1 after its November 1999. While it didn’t stay at the top after the first week, it continued selling and selling in a big way eventually selling over eight million copies. “Breathe,” the song made its debut on the Hot 100 around the same time but like many country songs that crossover to pop took a while to breakthrough. The song was initially released to radio before getting released to the public as a retail single in February 2000 helping the song make its way up the charts to its eventual #2 peak. “Breathe” stayed around on the Hot 100 for 53 weeks or a year and one week. All of those weeks “Breathe” spent on the Hot 100 were within the exact time frame of a single Billboard charting year which usually starts in November for the next year. That more than anything helps explain why “Breathe” managed to become Billboard’s biggest performing song for 2000.
After “Breathe,” Faith Hill landed in the Top 10 again with the follow-up “The Way You Love Me,” which expresses the same type of uncomplicated love feeling as “Breathe” did. The song went further from country into pop complete with AutoTune at the moment when singers were just discovering the technique. (“The Way You Love Me” peaked at #6. It’s a 5.) The next year, Hill scored another big hit with “There You’ll Be,” a Diane Warren written ballad from the Michael Bay movie Pearl Harbor which had been turned down by Celine Dion after her success singing “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. That backstory explains why “There You’ll Be” sounds the way it does but it worked as it peaked at #10 becoming Faith Hill’s final Top 10 hit. (It’s a 5.)
By this point, Hill had become more than just a country star. She was recording music for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, one of her songs was used in Lilo & Stitch, and she landed a makeup deal. While she was still netting country hits, the country audience started to feel Hill was abandoning them which showed in the performance of her next album. For 2002’s Cry, Hill veered harder into the adult contemporary pop of Breathe and while Cry debuted at #1 on both the country and pop albums chart, it sold only two million copies, six million less than what Breathe sold. The singles didn’t do much better with the lead-off title track easily being the big hit but it only reached #33 on the Hot 100 and #12 on the country charts though it was a big #1 hit on the adult contemporary charts.
Hill made a return to country with 2005’s Fireflies and was welcomed back easily with most of its singles reaching the country Top 10 including the lead single “Mississippi Girl” going to #1 while only going to #29 on the Hot 100. In recent years, Hill hasn’t put out too much new music with her biggest contribution since being the theme she performed for NBC’s Sunday Night Football for five years. She continues to work with her husband continuing to go on tour together a few times while releasing an album together in 2017. There have also been forays into acting with mostly minor roles. Hill made her film debut in the maligned all-star 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives but has continued to find work currently set to star in Paramount Plus’ upcoming Yellowstone prequel 1883.
Ultimately, pop culture longevity is not an assured thing when a song becomes a big hit. Many songs that peak high on the Hot 100 including many #1s are now long forgotten only existing today as fun little relics for us to look back on and in the case of “Breathe” the fact that it was the biggest song of the year despite not hitting #1. “Breathe” may have been an absolute monster hit in its time but after it had its moment people collectively decided to move on and leave the song behind. In terms of hit songs that have become memory-holed today, “Breathe” isn’t the worst of the bunch but it isn’t anything to get all crazy about either.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Faith Hill and Carlos Santana, one of the acts that kept “Breathe” off #1,” performing the song during Hill’s 2002 NBC TV special:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the 2002 parody of “Breathe” called “Breath” that country music parodist Cledus T. Judd released turning “Breathe” into a song about a girlfriend with bad breath:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the bit from a 2007 episode of My Name Is Earl where one of the characters sings along to “Breathe” in the car:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Faith Hill performing “Breathe” with Chrissy Hynde and the Pretenders in a not very good 2011 CMT Crossroads performance:
(The Pretenders’ highest-charting single, 1983’s “Back on the Chain Gang,” peaked at #5. It’s an 8.)