The Number Ones

October 10, 1987

The Number Ones: Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”

Stayed at #1:

1 Week

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

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In the opening seconds of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” video, Tawny Kitaen, in a sheer white bathrobe-dress situation, cartwheels from the hood of one Jaguar onto the hood of another Jaguar, then flips her hair while spinning around. Foggy golden-hour light shines down on downtown Los Angeles, and steam billows everywhere. The music, at least for the moment, is an ethereal synth-chime. It looks like a dream, or like a hallucination. Kitaen’s mere appearance works as a subliminal brain-signal that everything you’re about to see belongs to some ecstatic unreality. She’s a human special effect.

Before Tawny Kitaen, plenty of music videos had showcased plenty of beautiful women; the clip for Starship’s 1986 chart-topper “Sara,” for instance, starred Rebecca De Mornay. But the world had never seen anything quite like Tawny Kitaen in that Whitesnake video. All through the “Here I Go Again” clip, Kitaen is a true human spectacle. She busts elite-level stripper moves on the hoods of those two cars. She sticks her tongue in the ear of Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, her future ex-husband. She turns the hair-flip into a fine art. Coverdale and his Whitesnake bandmates try to become spectacles, too. They purse their lips and strut around dick-first, dramatically backlit, but they can’t keep up. Nobody could.

Kitaen was an actress; she’d played the woman who Tom Hanks married at the end of the 1984 sex comedy Bachelor Party. But Kitaen was also arguably the face of LA’s blowing-up glam metal scene. The same year that Bachelor Party came out, Kitaen posed on the cover of Ratt’s debut album Out Of The Cellar. (Kitaen was dating Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby then. Ratt’s highest-charting single, 1984’s “Round And Round,” peaked at #12.)

Later on, Kitaen became close with Coverdale just as Whitesnake, a veteran British hard rock act, were making the shift toward glam metal. Claudia Schiffer was supposed to be in Whitesnake’s video for the extremely Led Zeppelin-esque 1987 single “Still Of The Night,” but she backed out at the last second. Marty Callner, the same director who’d made videos for Bon Jovi’s two #1 hits, saw the woman who Coverdale had with him, and he immediately told Coverdale that she was “the Whitesnake woman.” Kitaen starred in the “Still Of The Night” video, and the song made it to #79.

Coverdale and Callner clearly knew that Kitaen was a star, and the “Here I Go Again” video is basically a shrine to her. Years later, Coverdale told Consequence Of Sound that he’d asked Paula Abdul to come to the video set to teach Kitaen some moves. When Abdul saw Kitaen, she told Coverdale, “I can’t show her anything, David.” (Paula Abdul will soon appear in this column.) In the “Here I Go Again” video, Kitaen pretty much invented the video-vixen career path. Amber Rose is now famous, at least in part, because she did her variation on Tawny Kitaen’s moves in Ludacris videos 20 years later.

The funniest thing about the video is that “Here I Go Again” is a breakup song. Coverdale sings about himself as a rambling man. He’s made up his mind. He ain’t wasting no more time. Like a drifter, he was born to walk alone. But when you see Coverdale with Tawny Kitaen, it’s pretty clear that he’s not going anywhere on his own anytime soon. (Tawny Kitaen and David Coverdale married in 1989. They divorced two years later.)

David Coverdale did not write “Here I Go Again” about Tawny Kitaen. In fact, Coverdale had co-written the song years earlier, after the end of his first marriage. The original version of “Here I Go Again” had been a minor hit in the UK in 1982. When it first came out, “Here I Go Again” wasn’t really a glam metal song. In its first incarnation, “Here I Go Again” was more of a blues-rock yarler, and its riff didn’t have the clean, horny precision of the 1987 version. Coverdale sang that he was born to walk alone “like a hobo.” In the video, his hair wasn’t even that big.

By the time “Here I Go Again” reached its final form, David Coverdale was in his mid-thirties, and he’d been making hard rock for a long time. Coverdale came from the Yorkshire town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, and he sang in local bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In 1973, Coverdale read in Melody Maker that Deep Purple were looking for a new singer to replace the departing Ian Gillan. Coverdale sent in a tape and eventually joined the band. (Deep Purple’s two highest-charting singles, 1968’s “Hush” and 1973’s “Smoke On The Water,” both peaked at #4. “Hush” is a 9, and “Smoke On The Water” is an 8. David Coverdale didn’t sing on either of them.)

Coverdale sang for Deep Purple for three years, during a not-terribly-successful phase of the band’s career. Coverdale left Deep Purple in 1976, and the group broke up shortly thereafter. Coverdale wanted to move in more soul and funk directions, and that’s where he thought he was going on White Snake, his 1977 solo album. (Imagine having the confidence, and the lack of self-awareness, to name your album, and later your band, after your dick. You don’t have to speak figuratively to describe Whitesnake as cock-rock.)

After a couple of solo albums, Coverdale formed Whitesnake. The band’s lineup shifted constantly and eventually came to include a few former Deep Purple bandmates. Original guitarist Bernie Marsden, who’d been in bands like UFO and Babe Ruth, is the co-writer of “Here I Go Again.” Coverdale was the sole constant member of Whitesnake; he kept firing bandmates, and Marsden was long gone by the time “Here I Go Again” became a #1 hit.

If Whitesnake had a gimmick, it was that they were extremely horny. Album titles included Ready An’ Willing and Lovehunter, the latter of which had a naked lady wrestling a giant snake as its cover art. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Whitesnake were essentially a bluesy hard rock band. Coverdale sang most of his vocals in a standard white-blues growl, a bit like Robert Palmer or Foreigner’s Lou Gramm, though he did like to hit screechy high notes. Led Zeppelin were an obvious influence; Robert Plant once famously and hilariously referred to Coverdale as “David Cover-Version,” and Coverdale went on to make an album with Jimmy Page in 1993. Whitesnake did well in the UK and Europe, but they had a harder time in the US. (Only one of Whitesnake’s early singles, 1980’s “Fool For Your Loving,” charted in the US; it peaked at #53.)

Geffen saw commercial potential in Coverdale, a good-looking guy who knew how to smolder. The label signed Whitesnake to an American deal, and Coverdale recruited a new band that included Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes. (Thin Lizzy’s highest-charting US single, 1976’s “The Boys Are Back In Town,” peaked at #12.) 1984’s Slide It In, Whitesnake’s first album with Sykes, finally broke the band in the US. It went double platinum, even though none of its singles charted. Whitesnake toured America with Dio and Quiet Riot, and Coverdale moved to Los Angeles.

It was Geffen’s idea for Whitesnake to re-record “Here I Go Again.” By the time the band got to work on their 1987 self-titled album, they were determined to tap into the preening Sunset Strip glam metal sound that was starting to take over American rock radio. The band recorded Whitesnake with Keith Olsen, the arena-rock veteran who’d introduced Mick Fleetwood to Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and who’d produced Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled 1975 blockbuster. But the album’s gloss probably also owes something to engineer Bob Rock; Coverdale recruited Rock because he liked what Rock had done on Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.

This is probably a good place to warn you, this column’s readers, that I love glam metal. I think that shit fucking spanks. Glam metal is essentially ’70s bubble-glam updated for an even hornier and more coked-out age, and I think that rules. The hair bands adopted rebellious poses, but their sound was grand and silly and unabashedly catchy — the biggest possible hooks, written for the biggest possible audiences. As someone who prizes concision and stickiness and shamelessness as pop-music qualities, I have nothing but admiration for poodle-rock craft. (There’s a good chance I learned those preferences from childhood exposure to glam metal.)

“Here I Go Again” isn’t exactly a god-level masterpiece of the genre, but it gets the job done. The song’s soft dream-drone intro lulls you into thinking you’re about to hear a power ballad. But just as the intro lands, the riff-growls kick in, and “Here I Go Again” becomes a beautifully dumb fist-pumper anthem. There are bright melodic elements running all through “Here I Go Again” — the smears of keyboard, the purr that creeps into David Coverdale’s voice, even the obligatory triumphant guitar solo. But the point of “Here I Go Again” isn’t the melody. It’s the massive, slobbering beat. All the little production tricks, like the distorto-squeal on the guitars and the reverbed thunder of the drum fills, serve that beat.

“Here I Go Again” is, at least on paper, a song about solitude. But in practice, it’s a song built for mass communal consumption. The chorus is the kind of thing that demands a celebratory mob singalong, and the beat is a relic of an era when rock songs sometimes got played in dance clubs. I’m convinced that “Here I Go Again,” like a lot of glam metal songs, was specifically engineered to sound good on strip-club sound-systems, the way so many big rap songs are now. But even if the song wasn’t made with strip clubs in mind, it sure found its way there.

Shortly after Whitesnake got done recording their self-titled album, David Coverdale once again fired the entire band. Coverdale brought back Dutch guitarist Adrian Vandenberg, and he filled out Whitesnake’s lineup with young guys who would look good in the videos, including Dio’s Vivian Campbell and Quiet Riot’s Rudy Sarzo. Almost all the guys flipping hair and triumphantly raising guitars aloft in the “Here I Go Again” video had as much to do with recording the song as Tawny Kitaen did.

“Here I Go Again” made its ascent to #1 after the industry-shaking success of Slippery When Wet, as the glam metal sound was still ascendant. The week that “Here I Go Again” topped the Hot 100, two similarly sleek rockers were comfortably situated in the top 10: Europe’s “Carrie” at #3 and Heart’s “Who Will You Run To” at #7. (“Carrie” is a 5. “Who Will You Run To” is a 7.) We’ll see a whole lot more glam metal in this column in the months ahead.

We will not, however, see Whitesnake again. Whitesnake followed “Here I Go Again” with the power ballad “Is This Love.” Tawny Kitaen again starred in the video, and the song made it all the way up to #2. (It’s a 6.) Whitesnake’s self-titled album went on to sell an astonishing eight million copies in the US alone. Two years later, Whitesnake followed that album with Slip Of The Tongue. (These titles don’t even qualify as double entendres. They’re barely single entendres.)

By that point, Coverdale had fired Vivian Campbell, who would later join Def Leppard, another band that will eventually appear in this column. (Campbell is still in Leppard today.) Coverdale replaced Campbell with Steve Vai, the showy shredder who’d been in the movie Crossroads. “The Deeper The Love,” the biggest single from Slip Of The Tongue, only made it to #28. Slip Of The Tongue still went platinum, but that’s not great for a band that had done that eight times over on their last record. Since 1990, no Whitesnake singles have charted on the Hot 100.

But Whitesnake persist. The band remains a revolving door of musicians, with David Coverdale as the sole constant. Coverdale has let Whitesnake go dormant a few times, like when he made that album with Jimmy Page. (Page presumably wasn’t content to just be a member of Whitesnake.) But Whitesnake are still steadily touring and recording; they put out an album called Flesh & Blood in 2019. Still, I’m sure even David Coverdale would admit that “Here I Go Again” stands tall as Whitesnake’s peak moment — thanks, in large part, to that brain-scrambling formative-experience video.

GRADE: 7/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from Todd Phillips 2003 cinematic opus Old School where Will Ferrell revs his engine while banging “Here I Go Again”:

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Here I Go Again” soundtracking a roof-jump stunt attempt on a 2008 episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from the 2010 movie The Fighter where Christian Bale walks Mark Wahlberg to the ring while singing along with “Here I Go Again”:

(Mark Wahlberg will eventually appear in this column. Christian Bale has no charting singles, but I’m pretty sure he’s the only actor ever to win an Oscar for a movie where he sings a Whitesnake song, so that’s something.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the montage from the 2012 film Rock Of Ages where a truly baffling array of actors — Diego Boneta, Paul Giamatti, Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige, Tom Cruise — sings “Here I Go Again”:

(Julianne Hough’s highest-charting single, 2008’s “That Song In My Head,” peaked at #88. Mary J. Blige will eventually appear in this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the 2019 “Here I Go Again” cover that David Hasselhoff recorded with LA Guns’ Tracii Guns:

(LA Guns highest-charting single, 1989’s “The Ballad Of Jayne,” peaked at #33. David Hasselhoff doesn’t have any charting singles, at least in America. Germany is a different story.)

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