Late on Saturday night / Sunday morning I heard the mildly shocking news that Whitney Houston had left this mortal coil.
If you’ve read any of this blog – it will come as no surprise that i’m not exactly a fan of the artist. Before that statement reads as disrespectful I will add, quickly, that the artist did mark moments in my life – as i’m sure she did with everyone’s of a certain age.
“Whitney Houston”, the debut album, was released when I was still at school. You noticed the album. It spawned monster hit singles, that, to be honest, I didn’t have much time for. You could not, however, deny that Whitney had one hell of a voice. Reflecting on the real dross that is offered today via X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, etc – this was real talent – a talent with global appeal.
“Saving All My Love For You”, “How Will I Know” and “The Greatest Love Of All” got to Number One, Number Five & Number Eight respectively in the singles chart. Despite only one Number One (from the debut album) they were all in a way – smash hit singles. Like ’em or loathe ’em – you knew them.
The debut album looked serious, as in the cover artwork / photo. It looked like a gospel album or a new, young, Dionne Warwick or something. I guess this possibly limited the albums success maybe a little. It wasn’t until the video for “How Will I Know” aired that we saw that she was not only a vocal talent but a very striking looking woman too. A parallel here could be Destiny’s Child near gospel debut album – before they started shaking their booties at us and selling many more records as a result.
In 1987 I studied A Level Philosophy. I was the only male in a class of 12 students. The atmosphere in the group (of students) was odd, catty almost. I thought to myself that the girls really did not like each other at all. It was a competitive group of people, I was really disillusioned with this. Then, one day, one of the students, Tiffany (how 80’s a name was that!) simply dropped “who’s got the new Whitney album?”
That was it – the group transformed in a flash. Suddenly they were all best mates. It turned out that not only did they all have the freshly released “Whitney” album (the artists 2nd album) – but they all had the first album too.
Not only did they all have both albums – but clearly they all loved them too. I’m talking deep love here. They discussed album tracks (as in tracks not released as singles). They laughed at singing into hairbrushes miming along in their bedrooms. They discussed how they cried over tracks. I just sat there. Clearly I had never purchased a Whitney Houston record, cassette or whatever. They were talking about the artist as if she had made a better album than Slayer’s – Reign In Blood. The group of students, who clearly hated each other, were acting like blokes in a pub after three pints of lager discussing a great goal or something. This shows really the bonding effect true art can have. Shame I didn’t get it really.
The singles from “Whitney” (the second album) confirmed the artists fame. Now firmly established the 2nd album moved away from gospel into pure timeless global smash hit material. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” crossed over totally. Let me state again i’m not a fan at all, but who hasn’t enjoyed being slightly tipsy and attempting to dance to that track at a disco? It’s a beamer of a song with wide appeal designed for the dancefloor.
More hits from the album, “”Didn’t We Almost have It All”, “So Emotional”, “Where Do Broken Heats Go” and “Love Will Save The Day” would be the last hits of the artist in the 80’s to grace the top end of the charts.
The artists 3rd album fell away a little. Consumed by success, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” served really as a reminder that Whitney Houston was still around. A surprise for her record label (Arista) maybe was the fact that it did not spawn a U.K. Number One single. Was she falling from grace?
Well. No. In 1992 The Bodyguard soundtrack sold like few albums do. To date it has sold 44 million copies. “I Will Always Love You” a Dolly Parton cover version and arguably the biggest diva ballad ever released sat at the top of the charts for the duration of at least three trips to the barbers. I do not like the track at all, but it shifted some serious units.
A sidetrack from the artists discography. In the early 90’s I read “American Psycho” by Brett Easton Ellis. I do not read many books but this was a novel I could not put down. There is a chapter in the book simply titled “Whitney Houston”. The novel is as extreme as you can imagine, 10 times more hard hitting than the movie. The chapter takes you by surprise as you just do not see it coming. It serves as a break between psychotic episodes. Again, in a way it underlines the artists appeal – even with psychos. Here it is if you fancy a read. http-::www.e-reading.org.ua:chapter.php:79864:32:Ellis_-_American_Psycho.html
1998 saw the release of “My Love Is Your Love”. I was working in an independent record shop. The girl I worked with was not actually that interested in music in general. When we took delivery of “My Love Is Your Love” she was like “Oh Yes!”. It reminded me of my college classmates back in 1987. I refelected – “it must be a girl thing” and left her to put the CD on.
“My Love Is Your Love” turned out to be the only Whitney Houston album I almost considered buying. It’s my favourite album by the artist. Gone is the world conquering mass appeal. She’s doing her own thing on that album. After a long break, her 4th album proper, is arguably her only groundbreaking material.
Slick production. Almost a pre-cursor to the clunk pop R & B of Britney Spears. Timbaland-esque. From shuddering at the thought of having to listen to the whole album I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. So much so, that on my work colleagues days off I would find myself putting on the album first thing in the morning on many occasions and sat on a stool happily listening to it with a coffee or two. Of course the album is mainstream but it demands some respect that it is not cash-cow safety. “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” is by far my favourite Whitney Houston song. The intro does sound lush, her vocal on that track is at times scorching. She does not launch elaborate vocal held notes, but you can sense the vocal could soar at any moment. It teases, she holds off with outrageously cute “coo’s”. Kudos at last.
I have not listened to anything post 1998 by Whitney Houston. There’s no reason for me to do so. As stated I’m not a fan – but respect where respect is due. A sad loss of a troubled woman. I imagine there are a lot a factors surrounding her death that I hope do not come out – I can strongly imagine what may have happened and would not like to see her tainted.
Tonight (Sunday 12th February 2012) Paul Gambaccini will feature on a Radio 5 special. I will listen to his humble, factual musings and ignore the rest of the overkill on this news and leave it at that. This write-up is not aimed to add to the overkill but to pay some distant respect to an artist that timelined people’s lives with some very popular music.
48 is no time to die. It’s not right…