Sunday night's 54th annual Grammy Awards were a ratings smash thanks to the televised return of the night's big winner, Adele, as well as a thrilling tribute to Whitney Houston by singer Jennifer Hudson.

In fact, the performance-packed three-and-a-half hour broadcast scored the second-highest rating in history for the show, second only to the 1984 eight-trophy coronation of Michael Jackson for his landmark Thriller album.

According to preliminary ratings from Nielsen that combine live viewing with DVR figures, 39.9 million viewers tuned in to the show, putting the telecast behind the 51.67 million who watched the 1984 program. The dramatic ratings uptick followed two years in which the numbers were clustered in the 25 million to 26 million range after what Billboard reported were five years of low-20-million numbers.

The show boasted a 14.1 rating among adults 18-49, a 41 percent increase in that demo over last year and the best ratings returns since 1990.

Those viewers were rewarded with a diverse roster of performers that ranged from rock icon Paul McCartney performing twice, to the Foo Fighters, a tribute to electronic dance music, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and Rihanna.

The night's emotional highlight was a stirring tribute to Houston — who died Saturday at the age of 48 — by Hudson, who performed Whitney's most iconic song, a cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You."

The other major buzz moment was the return to the stage of Adele, who sang at a major industry event for the first time on Sunday after career-saving vocal-cord surgery last November.

Stick with MTV News all for all the Grammy red-carpet fashion, Grammy winners and performance recaps until the hangover wears off!