#249: Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston
The first time I heard Whitney Houston, my boyfriend and I drove out to a rural Colorado town to get a COVID shot. It was a long drive across a flat plain, and I was feeling kind of gross. Something about the anxiety of getting the shot mixed with some weird other virus or something. I think at least one of us cried.
Houston was a model and nightclub singer when she was discovered, but you could say she was destined for greatness from a young age: Aretha Franklin was a family friend and her godmother. Her self-titled debut was released in 1985.
You probably remember Houston’s death at age 48 in 2012. She died in a hotel bathtub. This was one of the earliest singers whose death I was able to register, though perhaps I wasn’t as connected to Houston as I was to, say, Green Day. It seemed like a sad death. I don’t know if Whitney Houston’s death helped me the connection between sad deaths and music. It was certainly one of the earliest.
My favorites were the dancing songs. “Thinking About You” sounds like it was recorded in the center of a jungle, and is one of the many featuring Jermaine Jackson (yes, of the Jackson 5) on production and vocals. It was even harder not to dance to “Someone For Me” which has a church choir accompaniment and near-disco guitar. “How Will I Know” was on the Footloose soundtrack, I’m pretty sure, and “Take Good Care of My Heart” (with Jermaine again) belongs at the end of Cinderella. (After all, she WAS the Fairy Godmother…)
But here’s the thing about the serious ones: they border on making me swoon and cracking me up, depending on what mood they catch me in. “You Give Good Love” has a kind of suggestive title (though Houston vehemently denied that the song itself meant anything sexual). Like many other songs here, it has a dreamy production and shows off her soaring, elastic vocal chops. So does “Saving All My Love For You,” where she sounds superhuman, hitting delicate, wonky intervals smoothly and without once sounding off-key. And all of those are genuinely romantic, not cheesy at all.
Meanwhile, “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” makes me laugh every times. Jermaine and Whitney have flawless harmonies, and her high notes give me the chills, but it’s just so much. “Hold Me” with Teddy Pendergrass was embarrassing and forgettable; when he goes I’ll hold you/touch you/make you my woman, I almost die with embarrassment. “All At Once” isn’t my favorite.
Both the RS blurb and my editor say that “Greatest Love of All” is Houston’s best song. I thought that was a bold claim until Houston started singing I believe that children are our future. Of course! THIS song! I decided long ago/Never to walk in anyone’s shadows/…No matter what they take from me/They can’t take away my dignity. Her voice is like velvet but softer.
(Addendum: This Whitney Houston-inspired Simpson’s bit. Children! Children! Future! Future!)