“So goodbye… please don’t cry…”
Whitney Houston, the musician and actress who owes half her savings to Dolly Parton, has died aged 48.
My first taste of Whitney Houston was on tape.
My mum had picked up Houston’s debut album, the one featuring the smash hit “The Greatest Love of All”, feeling it might be a good match for her steel fat-knobbed SANYO stereo system. Didn’t know the woman, I only remember being thankful it wasn’t another Bucks Fizz album.
But this exotic-looking Ms Houston did indeed make a good cassette (though looking back, I don’t know why she didn’t pick up the album; records always sounded better on that stereo. I still remember playing my singles for Elton John’s “Heartache All Over the World” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” on that turntable and suddenly feeling butter leak from my ears) and as the rest of the music-listening constituent of the globe would discover, it was an effortless task flipping that tape from side A to side B as the lungstress rolled out the hits.
That album featured, as I said, the unyielding chart-topper “The Greatest Love of All” but also such contagious ditties as “How Will I Know” and “Saving All My Love for You”. Unfortunately, musician Bobby Brown would later assume the songs were come-on lines specifically written for him (beginning one of Hollywood’s most frightening and unpredictable relationships) when they were simply just works of genius designated for Grammy glory (Album of the year, among others, it won that year).
Two years before, as the story goes, Houston was crooning in clubs. Spotted by Clive Davis, she quickly filmed and rapport with the music promoter, and soon – thanks to compositions by Michael Masser – was the darling of the record label Arista.
The debut album ‘Whitney Houston’, released in 1985 (or, as most remember it, the year President Ronald Reagan referenced a Sylvester Stallone movie – clue : It wasn’t “Rhinestone” – in one of his speeches), became one of the ’80s biggest soaring successes in music. Houston’s silky, rich vocals had seemingly toppled Dionne Warwick of her perch, and the world couldn’t get enough and ostensibly welcomed the change in guard. Even Stevie Nicks, who with Fleetwood Mac had given the charts one of its biggest additions in the ’70s (the unyieldingly popular eponymous album from the group), had to step aside for the Grammy terminator.
Over her illustrious career, Houston would pick up even more fans, let alone awards, resulting in her becoming one of the most beloved and most awarded artists since Hans Holbein the Younger .
If I recall correctly, it was Houston’s second album, the unimaginatively-titled ‘Whitney’, that boasted that knee-spazzaming classic “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”.
Remember that opening burst of lung-power that preceded the first chorus!?
Dance with Somebody Whitney did – that wife-beating dance man behind the ‘Ghostbusters II’ theme : Bobby Brown.
Brown courted Houston at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards, which was ironic since their rocky relationship derailed without much of a choo-choo on quite a few occasions. But up until her death, Houston and Brown remained close – it was a relationship that, like the “Friday the 13th” movie series, just wouldn’t die. And like Jason , sometimes the coupling bled for their passion.
We all remember Houston’s big movie debut, yeah? It was 1992 – and she graced the cover of ‘Movie’ Magazine for “The Bodyguard”, a flashy Warner Bros production originally deemed fit for the late Steve McQueen, teamed the newbie actress with an-in-his-prime Kevin Costner. The sparks flew, the soundtrack went gangbusters (“I Will Always Love You”, Houston’s cover of the old Dolly Parton song, was the number one song on the charts for most of the year) and 1992 had its ultimate movie couple.
I was working in radio at the time, doing the Saturday drive shift, and remember for weeks having an invisible pistol to my head prompting me to play ‘anything from The Bodyguard Soundtrack’. I would never admit it at the time, the film being so ‘uncool for a young man’ to dig, but I never once complained. Whether it was ‘Run to You’, ‘Queen of the Night’ or even the ear-piercing big-one ‘I Will Always..’ I’d constantly find my fingers doing the tango on the switch board and panel in front of me. It was just such a solid album. (Movie wasn’t too bad either – sssssh!)
For years there, there was talk of a sequel to “The Bodyguard” but it never got beyond a Costner pipe dream. Now I don’t know whether it was because of story reasons, or because he and Houston clashed on the film, but the actor had decided he’d go with a different lead actress for his proposed sequel. At one stage Costner even tried to tempt Princess Diana into being his leading lady. Whatever the case, Whitney was out… doing other things.
Houston’s acting career went was waterless radiator-hot for the duration of the ’90s – she was in the acclaimed “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”, was part of the all-star girly ensemble fave “Waiting to Exhale” (recently, there had been talk of a sequel) and shared the screen with Denzel Washington in “The Preacher’s Wife”.
I couldn’t tell you what singles she released during the time though, because quite frankly I didn’t much care. Houston’s voice, whether because of her highly-publicized battle with substance abuse or her excessive lifestyle, had become raspy and dry – and her music output started to reflect that. She released a couple of albums, but not one did anywhere near the business of her Reagan-era contributions. Personally, I can’t even name one song that featured on those records. Don’t think I even own them.
As you can tell, it was a bit of a downward spiral for Houston. The partying, the loss of that marvellous voice, the damaging relationship she would attempt to continually repair with Bobby Brown… it all led to this day. And it’s a damn shame. Like Michael Jackson, music has lost one of its most cherished and talented performers to the pressures and pitfalls of fame.
A throng of music fans shout in the direction of their cassette-playing stereo : ‘I Will Always Love You’.