I was walking out of the Apple Store at Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines when my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was a push notification from MSNBC that Whitney Houston had died at age 48. I audibly gasped when I read it, so much so that my wife wondered what was wrong. I was not what you would call a die-hard Whitney Houston fan, but there’s no denying that her music was a huge part of the soundtrack of my adolescence.
So I guess I’ll be the millionth person with a blog to say a little something about Whitney’s legacy. I always felt like if anyone deserved an Emancipation of Mimi-like comeback, it was Whitney. I really hoped that I Look To You would provide the vehicle for that comeback. Sure, it debuted at #1 on the Billboard album chart, but it was clear from the start that “the voice” was really not there any more. I apologized for it – stating that voices age and don’t stay the same. But one needed to look no further than her attempts at live performances to see that the instrument that she had been given was damaged beyond repair, despite her assertions that she was clean and ready to work. Cancelled concert dates and haggard appearances didn’t line up with the public line.
Still, I am going to choose to remember her in her prime, when everything she sang raced to the top of the charts. As someone posted on Twitter last night, the only ones still standing from her class are Prince, Madonna and George Michael. Reports this morning are pointing to the possibility that her death may be nothing more than a tragic accident with illegal drugs playing no role in her death. With that, here’s seven Whitney songs that I really love.
1) Love That Man (2002)
By the time Just Whitney was released, the hits were drying up. Still, I played this song a damn lot back in 2002.
2) Million Dollar Bill (2009)
This is the song that should have heralded Whitney’s comeback, not the syrupy “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” The Freemansons remix of this song is the definitive version – taking what was already great and making it fabulous.
3) So Emotional (1987)
Probably my favorite of the singles off of Whitney, I also love the growling “ain’t it shocking what…LOVE CAN DO” at 3:44.
4) How Will I Know (1985)
How many people danced to this in junior high? It was with this song that I sat up and took notice of Whitney. Of course, it took a cheesy upbeat song to get my attention. You expected anything less?
5) Queen of the Night (1992)
There are better known songs from The Bodyguard. I still remember reading the review of “I Will Always Love You” in Billboard which said something about how it was “brilliantly undersung.” When I finally heard the song, I wondered if we had heard the same song. Still, “Queen of the Night” is the most enduring song for me from the project, probably because it was not played until my ears bled.
6) Step by Step (1996)
I loved The Preacher’s Wife and have always wondered why it wasn’t more successful. This Annie Lennox B-side is my favorite song from the project.
7) I’m Your Baby Tonight (1990)
For my money, I’m Your Baby Tonight is my favorite of Whitney’s albums. I bought it without having heard a single song on it my first semester of college and that album, combined with Mariah Carey’s debut and Madonna’s Immaculate Collection really defined the music from that time period. Jeff and I saw Whitney in concert in 1991 in support of this album. Glad I saw her when I did because she never came around anywhere close to me again. BTW, does anyone know where I can get my hands on the version of the song in this video?
Finally, Annie Lennox said it best on Facebook this morning:
She had it all…Beauty..exceptional talent.. fame..wealth..But when the life/work/fame balance gets out of kilter, and you start putting drugs into the mix, it’s completely toxic. What a terrible tragic waste. So sad.