Music soothes the savage beast, and high school was a beastly experience for me. I couldn't really rely on anybody outside of one friend and one teacher in those days. What I could rely on was music, and an artist who gained a lot of play on my various devices in my high school days was the late Whitney Houston.
When my cab driver informed me of Houston's death, I wasn't quite sure what to think. On the one hand, considering her health issues, it was to be expected that something like this would happen. On the other hand, I hadn't heard anything involving drugs and her for a long time, although rumors have been circulating about what she might have been doing.
I feel that Houston's memory would be best served not by remembering her problems, but by remembering her music.
Her 1987 album "Whitney" is a cassette that I played a lot in my high school days.
Her vocals had a power that could remove you from the everyday toil of your chores (and for me, school was a chore). It could take you away from all that and to a place where the excitement never ended, and things only looked up. That was best reflected in the song "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)", which was written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. For more on their experiences with Whitney, check out this interview I did with them in 2008: http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/4041/.
The song had a great sense of romance and adventure to it, as many dance songs do, and I think we can all relate to the experience of wanting a certain someone, hoping that they'll be a perfect match for us. Houston bought the passion of the lyrics to life, and she sounded great doing so:
As Houston's vocals could capture the joy of love, she could also showcase its' heartbreak. That was best utilized on another track from "Whitney", the song being "Didn't We Almost Have It All?".
Listening to this performance, I can hear her reaching into her soul and ripping out something primal. That primal element is the sadness that lays at the center of every great romance. Love withers eventually, whether it be through time or interactions with other people. When you think that things are going right, they can be erased in the blink of an eye, and Houston was able to zero in on that.
Heartbreak is a theme that ran through much of Houston's 90s work, especially with her contributions to the soundtrack of her 1992 movie "The Bodyguard".
My favorite song of her's from that soundtrack is not her cover of "I Will Always Love You", but instead "Run To You", which was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin".
As much as I enjoyed "Aladdin", I think the Oscars got it wrong in 1993. This song deserved it more. There's another element of love that isn't always discussed. That element is desperation. Whether it's a want of acknowledgment or a yearn for sex, there's something in love that exists behind all the flowers, cards and chocolate. Houston manages to find that in this song, a song that defines the fears of loneliness that lay beneath romantic proclamations.
To return to the 80s, I go back to her debut album, 1985's "Whitney Houston".
One of the biggest singles from that album was another song co-written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. The song was "How Will I Know?". That song is special because, for a period of a few weeks back in 2009, RetroJunk had a music video section, and the video for "How Will I Know?" is one of the many videos I submitted.
Houston had done some modeling before she was a singer, and you can tell that from this video. I can imagine many people looking at the style of this video and recoiling in embarassment, but not me. I think this is a colorful video, as bright and cheery as the song itself sounds. The song is a rapturous piece of 80s pop, and Houston brings out the joy inherent in the song. Her voice was amazing with its' abilities to zoom all around like a jet at turbo speed, and you never knew where it was going next.
To end this article, I would like to make mention of a song I talked about in another 2008 article. That article was entitled "Under The Covers", where I discussed some of my favorite cover songs. Houston was in that article, and I mentioned her cover of George Benson's "The Greatest Love Of All": http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/3820/
4 years after that article, it's now sad to listen to this song:
Once again, it all comes back to these lyrics:
"I decided long ago,
Never to walk in anyone's shadow.
If I fail, if I succeed,
At least I live as I believe.
No matter what they take from me,
They can't take away my dignity".
Her life was rough, but listening to this song, I hear a voice resonant with hope and confidence. I hope that her family can find strength, whether it be through love or something else, in their time of need. Houston was a wonderful singer who always bought great excitement to each song she sang. Whether a ballad or a dance song, when I heard Whitney, I knew that I was going to be blown away. There will never be another voice like Whitney's, and I hope that she is at peace.
R.I.P Whitney Houston: 1963-2012: