Audio Tribute: 20 Whitney Houston Singles I Love (and Will Always Sing Badly To)
Monday, February 13, 2012
It's time for me to grab a Crayola marker. Any color will do. Why? Because that's what I always did whenever I sang Whitney Houston tunes in my room growing up. I got a Crayola marker turned it into a microphone and made angels lose their wings and halos by my utter screeches and wails to the discography of La Houston. I don't know why I felt compelled that a marker seemed the ideal microphone (as "normal" girls use hair brushes), but Whitney Houston has that effect---or really its her voice that possess you---it makes you do out-of-the-box things (like me believing I could sing like her...).
For a lot of people, Whitney was the soundtrack to their youth, and it's no different with me as in my formative years in the 90's Houston was a prominent force. Not only did I love her voice, but her whole persona just resonated with me, as she kept it real and had her own style. With the instrument called her pristine voice, Houston set a standard for all other voices to follow, as she excelled slipping comfortably into Pop mainstream's arms with her unique Soul and Gospel vocal stylings. For that, she deserved all the accolades she received, not to mention, she rightfully influenced a whole crowd of vocalists there after.
Yes, Whitney had moments we'd least like to forget. She had bouts with substance abuse (and lied about it for a time). A marriage to an equally unstable person that was put on reality TV display. She shouted in courtrooms and became a punchline for many a comedian (never forget MADtv). She tried her hardest, but a comeback in 2009 just didn't have the expected results, as her golden voice wasn't what it was in her prime. Sure, we laughed at the jokes, judged her lifestyle, and probably made a "crackhead" jeer every now and again in reference to her, not really putting into consideration that what was going on was serious, extremely serious.
Yet, like a beloved family member who possesses a barrel full of faults---you still ride or die with them, because they are a part of you, of your life, no matter what. In the sense of Whitney, I always 'hung' with her, askew wig n' all. She's not a saint by a long-shot, and I'm not making her so, but Whitney will always be the gal pal in my head and one of my favorite voices. So I thank her for her music, her one-of-a-kind voice, and for being a large part of those years where I needed a voice like that, where I needed to see a beautiful and talented woman doing her thing and getting respect for it. Inspiration she was.
So grab a Crayola marker and join me as I recount 20 of my favorite Whitney singles (that I always sung badly) in honor of the iconic 'Queen of the Night'.
Houston had a knack for taking a song and making it her own (see "For The Love Of You" and below)---even a signature song of an equally powerful voice. Chaka Khan, whom is iconic in her own right, no doubt had competition when Whitney unfolded this number for her best-selling The Bodyguard soundtrack. She took the song, put a slick House backing to it, and gained a top 10 hit. I quite love the music video as it was done out of nothin' but love as it featured Khan herself, Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, TLC, and a very pregnant Houston.
I sing this as badly as Randy Watson performing it for the Miss Black Awareness Pageant, but I need this song to this day. I often liked the message this song carries. It's all about finding love within yourself and maintaining your dignity. It's a bit cheesy, and can seem slightly selfish, to where Whitney sounds like a holier-than-thou motivational speaker, but personally I love how she lays out this message, even eclipsing George Benson's original recording.
Opening up the Greatest Hits package, "Fine" was Whitney's step into the 2000's and it was a great start to show Houston dipping a bit more into some quasi-neo-soul vein. I used to play this song on a constant loop on the first Discman I ever owned. Raphael Saadiq and Q-Tip produced the track, so no wonder I loved it, right? What is a missed opportunity was for Saadiq and Q-Tip to have produced a full Whitney effort. Somehow one song just wasn't enough for me....
Lyrically, I love this. Plus the energy of this track is infectious. Produced by Jellybean Benitez, who was responsible for early Madonna productions, the track does feel Madge-esque, but Whitney takes that voice of hers and makes a crackling dance number. As a bonus, the track also features Roy Ayers on vibes which gives this song an add touch of class.
I always liked it when Whitney broke out of the ballads and just let it loose. 80's to the hilt thanks to the guitars and drum programming, "So Emotional" is just a fireball of a track that is filled with rock moments this side of Tina Turner. It's one of my favorite songs to sing in the car, so I just get on the freeway and let it roll whenever it comes on.
My teenage heart went into combustion when two of my favorite singing divas joined forces to collaborate on this Oscar-nominated track from the film, The Prince of Egypt. Oddly, to this day, I rarely go past the 2:37 mark because the beginning portion where Whitney and Mariah are exchanging their verses is just masterful and after that it's just really not all that exciting. The diction and phrasing in that beginning---it all proved why they were the BIG voices back in the day. I'm one of those who doesn't go into who did it better/who is better as they both nailed it. I'll never forget when they went on Oprah and put rumors to bed about a diva-sized feud between them and even mocked the idea when stepping out at the '98 MTV VMA Awards dressed in the same dress. Sisterhood in motion.
Who hasn't sung that climatic vocal run in an attempt to emulate La Houston? Many a times did I belt this out, but didn't get the same effect as Whitney. She had a #1 hit, I had my mother telling me that I was killing her softly with my "singing" and that'd she disown me if I continued. Womp. There's a cool back story to about how Kevin Costner, Whitney's co-star in The Bodyguard, suggested the use of this Dolly Parton classic for the film's theme song, plus he advised her to do it as that memorable acapella in the beginning. Talk about a smart move.
Not too many people know that "Step By Step" is actually a B-side from Annie Lennox's Diva period, but most can remember that it was given a rousing Gospel make-over for The Preacher's Wife soundtrack. This song is a constant pep talk for me to this day, as it motivates me to keep on pushing ahead when my path is riddle with obstacles. The Greatest Hits package features "Step By Step" as a Junior Vasquez remix which blends Annie's and Whitney's vocals together, and it's perfect and a personal favorite.
Where do broken hearts go? The mall? Big Lots? The refrigerator? Whitney never fully explained! Infamously, back in '89 a crowd at the Soul Train Awards boo-ed Whitney for this track, as at the time, she was thought of "acting White" with her career due to her Pop persona and chart-topping hits. While Whitney caught a lot of flack for "not being Black enough" back in the day (do I ever hate that mentality...what criteria is there to being "Black"?)when she tried on Pop tunes for size, she had the last laugh when her tracks became the model for how a lot of R&B/Soul stars crossed over in later years. Sure this is Whitney's Laura Branigan/Olivia Newton-John moment, but it was a sweet moment that sparked something.
We've all been in the situation where we've plucked flower petals trying to give us a sign if someone loves us or not. This has a real malt shop type of doo-wop style to it, that matched Whitney's 'girl-next-door' persona at the time and made her Pop music's sweetheart. It's so jovial, you're hard pressed for criticism. What sort of interests me is that this was a song originally written with Janet Jackson in mind, but Jackson passed on it, to where Whitney scooped it up and scored yet another #1 hit.
I often say that Whitney was never an album's artist as her strength was in mainly in singles, but if I'm ever asked, I'm Your Baby Tonight is my favorite of Whitney's collection. Something about the New Jack swing vibe that Babyface and L.A. Reid crafted to give Whitney's Pop crossover sound more edge was a heavy rotating pick for me. I can name on one hand albums that I had to re-buy from simple over-use and this album was one of them. Lesser known single, the tender twilight slow jam "I Belong To You" has always been one of my beloved moments on the album and a track that I thought should have gotten more attention.
I don't know how anyone can hate "I Wanna Dance", it's a sizzling slice of synth-pop that is catchy from the word: "go". Plus who doesn't love that neon glow music video and Whitney in that honey blonde (wig) 'do? Sure Whitney was "Rhythmless Nation", but it never stopped her from just having fun like she did on this track. Next to "How Will I Know", "I Wanna Dance" gave way to R&B artists getting out of their genre box and emerging onto the Pop scene---an act that continues today.
There was a time where I watched The Bodyguard every day for a full month on this recorded tape we had growing up. After that I got sophisticated and just bought the DVD. Still nothing beats being in college, getting a Domino's pizza, and catching it chopped up n' screwed on cable on a Saturday night when you have zero plans. Ironically, just this past week, I watched it for the first time in the longest, and the movie is still an entertaining watch. "I Have Nothing" is a vocalizing triumph and one of the few ballads that can get some goosebumps out of me.
Ah, Waiting To Exhale, a cinematic ode to Terry McMillian's novel, disgruntled 30-something singletons, lousy guys, arson, and Angela Basset 's fierce gazes. Save for the (guilty pleasure) film, I don't know a single person who didn't at least have or heard the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack. It was a festoon of divas and R&B princesses and everytime I listen to it, I swing my fist at the air like Scarlett O'Hara and wonder why movie soundtracks aren't this good anymore. Whitney contributed two tracks, my favorite is it's Babyface produced theme, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" that highlights the need for a solid support system when things don't always seem so rosy.
Another moment where two favorites collide and make a memorable collaboration. Out of all the soul divas George performed with, Whitney was by far his best match. While the original album version doesn't include George Michael, I much prefer his presence on it, as it give this song a lil' something extra. A misbegotten hit it is, I've always enjoyed it since I first heard it on the Hits collection, and often wished for the two of them to record even more songs together.
One of my earliest memories is singing this song a lot whenever I heard it on the radio and I adore it still to this day. At the time, I didn't know what she was talking about. Saving love for who? You can save love, like money? Like in a bank account? Later on did I realize this is a song about a woman longing for a man she obviously can't have and is just waiting for him to let some other chick goes. Man, how depressing....While Whitney changes her tune later on down the line, back in '85 she was the in the whimsy of love and was giving the torch song a much-needed makeover.
"My Name Is Not Susan" is just a killer dance jam. Period. Whitney becomes a New Jill-ster as she corrects a guy who erroneously keeps calling her some other chick's name. Who is this stranger bish, Susan? We never found out, because ol' boy didn't stick around for us to find out, as Whitney sent him to the curb. Also who did the Running Man to this song? Or let me fix that by saying who did Whitney's version of the running man? I need to see more hands, because I cannot be alone in this...
At the time I was giving that old Crayola marker a go, I thought this song was about giving just good hugs to someone---not the other thing. While I missed the moment by a year where folks saw Whitney for the first time, I can just imagine when watching the video that folks were captivated by who this woman was standing in a pink spandex outfit singing her heart out---and wanted to know and hear more.
No wonder I scared boys away in middle school as this was coming out of the headphones like liquid. As you can see, Whitney taught me some things about men, especially with this track, which is the "I Will Survive" of my generation. She's all-around classy, but she wasn't having all of that lying, cheating, and skeezing, oh no no, she wants her dignity dammit, and she's gonna let you have it---in song. This impeccable Rodney Jerkins track, led me to be a firm believer about checking receipts and the time when it comes to the opposite sex. Shouts to the Thunderpuss Mix, which holds an inside joke moment that I'm currently laughing about right now as I'm typing this ...dorm room, truth-or-dare game, you had to be there.
I got the stuff thatcha want. I got the thing thatcha need. I got more than enough to make you drop to your knees because I'm the queen of the night. Ooooyeah!!! My ultimate Whitney crooning moment. Man, give me some space and I'll perform this song for you. Your ears might bleed, but it'll be a Hallmark moment indeed. The Bodyguard soundtrack was one of the first Whitney albums that I owned on cassette, and this was (and continues to be) my favorite moment on it. Also who didn't love Whitney rocking that Metropolis/Cleopatra inspired get-up in the film for this performance?