Whitney Houston. The Voice. The unstoppable melismatic vocal force that ruled the world of music for 3 decades. The voice behind the joyful revelry of uptempo dance classics like ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and ‘How Will I Know’, as well as the effortless exuberance and depth displayed on heart wrenching power ballads like the eternally ethereal ‘I Will Always Love You’, ‘I Have Nothing’ and ‘Greatest Love Of All’. When Whitney Houston sang, you listened.
Starting her career in 1985, Whitney Houston is one of the highest selling vocalists of all time. By numbers alone she reigns supreme with almost 200 million records sold worldwide. The Guinness Book Of World Records declared Whitney Houston as the most awarded vocalist of all time, with over 400 awards to her name, including 6 Grammy’s, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards and an Academy Award. She has 11 Billboard # 1 singles, the first 7 of them being consecutive, a record still untouched. The soundtrack to her film, ‘The Bodyguard‘ has sold over 45 million copies worldwide, the highest selling soundtrack of all time.
There would be no Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige, Beyoncé, Brandy, Monica, Lady Gaga, Adele, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and possibly every singer over the past 2 decades who have had the slightest urge to display their vocal prowess, without the influence of Whitney Houston.
The entire Pop Idol franchise and other music based reality shows that keep churning out new vocalists at alarmingly large numbers are all based on Whitney’s voice. In all likelihood, all of the hopeful contestants standing outside the audition room have rehearsed at least one Whitney song to impress the judges. That’s cuz Whitney was, is and shall forever remain THE frame of reference, and no one does it better than Whitney.
Over a period of time, the world witnessed the untouchable diva’s majestic voice being ravaged by drug abuse and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown. The fact that she was a supreme icon made her struggles and inner demons universally known. The album sales plummeted, and the hits stopped coming. Her last top 10 hit was the re-issue of her rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ that peaked at # 6 after the September 11th attacks in 2001.
When she finally made a comeback after a 7 year absence in 2009 with ‘I Look To You’, the album went straight to # 1 globally. There was, quite literally, no doubt at all that the world was yearning for more of that swelling voice that could fill an arena and yet touch everyday individuals with songs of love, loss, hope and joy.
And just when she was about to make a triumphant return on the silver screen this year with ‘Sparkle’ and the sequel to the iconic film that she starred in 1995, ‘Waiting To Exhale’, her voice was tragically silenced forever. Whitney Houston was found dead with her head submerged in a bath tub on the 11th of February, 2012 at the Beverly Hilton by her bodyguard and hair dresser, just prior to her appearance at the pre-Grammy bash hosted by her friend and mentor Clive Davis. She was 48. Instead of slipping into a beautiful gown for the Grammy Awards that night, a regal image that was a staple at the Grammy’s, her body was being autopsied a few blocks away, ironically during music’s biggest night.
To say that Whitney Houston influenced millions across the world as well as me is an understatement. One of the main reasons I write on this music blog is because Whitney Houston’s music has been one of the stepping-stones for me into the world of music in the first place. Growing up and facing my own demons and insecurities, her music was the reliable friend I could always turn to. It was my comfort zone. It’s still difficult for me to fathom that she’s no more.
Today’s Throwback Tuesday is dedicated to the incomparable legacy of Whitney Houston. I celebrate my 10 favorite songs by the fallen angel, who shall forever remain emblazoned in the pinnacle of musical aristocracy.
1. Saving All My Love For You
Whitney’s first # 1 single from her self titled début album released in 1985 was a jazzy ballad with soaring vocals that showcased every bit of Whitney’s vocal prowess. The song won her the 1986 Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female), and the album went on to sell a whopping 28 million copies worldwide.
2. How Will I Know
Whitney’s second consecutive # 1 hit was originally intended for Janet Jackson who passed it, and the breezy uptempo dance number showcased the fun side of Whitney and the video exposed her to a new legion of fans on MTV, with ample testimony of her lung power.
3. I Wanna Dance With Somebody
The first single from Whitney’s second album titled ‘Whitney‘ was released in 1987, and became her 4th consecutive # 1 single, winning her the Grammy for the Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female). This number is a fan favorite, and widely considered as a signature song and one of the biggest hits of the 80’s.
4. Where Do Broken Hearts Go.
Her 7th consecutive # 1 single, this soaring ballad also became the 4th # 1 from the ‘Whitney‘ album, making Whitney Houston one of the 5 female vocalists with 4 # 1 songs from a single album, the other 4 being Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Katy Perry. Easily one of my fave ballads by her.
5. I Will Always Love You
Originally a Dolly Parton hit, this is Whitney Houston’s signature song. Easily one of the greatest songs of all time, Whitney’s magnificent rendition from the soundtrack of ‘The Bodyguard’ released in 1992, spend a whopping 14 weeks at # 1 , and won her the Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female) Grammy’s at the 36th annual Grammy Awards.
6. I Have Nothing
Another classic from the soundtrack of ‘The Bodyguard‘, this song is probably the most performed song on any random reality TV show. A scorcher of a ballad, Whitney’s booming voice carries the song through with an incredibly profound exuberance. One of my fave songs of all time.
7. When You Believe (Duet with Mariah Carey)
My favorite Whitney Houston song, and one of my favorite songs of all time, ‘When You Believe‘ was an all out sonic extravaganza. Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, arguably two of the biggest voices in the history of contemporary music, joined forces in 1998 for a diva-duet for the soundtrack of the film ‘The Prince Of Egypt‘. Still listening to their individual voices blending together to create one of the most powerful vocal masterpieces of all time gives me major chills, and this particular song has a whole lotta childhood memories attached to it. The song went on to top the UK Top 40, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
8. Heartbreak Hotel (Feat. Faith Evans and Kelly Price)
My fave Whitney Houston album is 1998’s classic ‘My Love Is Your Love‘. Critically considered one of her best works till date, the album saw Whitney return to her R’n’B roots with defiant tracks like ‘It’s Not Right, But It’s Ok‘, ‘My Love Is Your Love‘, ‘I Learned From The Best‘ and one of the biggest hits of 1999, the Faith Evans and Kelly Price assisted ‘Heartbreak Hotel‘. This song still remains an anthem for me.
9. Same Script, Different Cast (Feat. Deborah Cox)
One of the most under-rated songs of all time, this duet between Whitney Houston and R’n’B powerhouse Deborah Cox was a masterpiece. Included in her 2000 ‘Whitney : The Greatest Hits‘ album, this song was largely overshadowed by her duets with George Michael and Enrique Iglesias. The vocal duel between the two artists itself is reason enough to give this song a listen, and lyrically, this is one of the most cleverly crafted songs I’ve ever heard.
10. I Look To You
The first single from Whitney’s last and final album ‘I Look To You‘ announced Whitney’s return to form after a gap of 7 years. Released in 2009, the album went straight to # 1 worldwide, and this poignant ballad showcased Whitney as vulnerable and yet in control, and she was seemingly happy to be back where she belonged.
With music that transcends across all barriers including color, race, trends and time, Whitney Houston’s tragic and untimely passing leaves behind a void that will never be fulfilled. I am one of the billions of fans who have been touched and inspired by her music, and I truly feel that a part of me died along with her. I’m still in a daze.
Whitney Houston was quite simply, the best. Period. Her legacy will live on through her ground breaking music. On a clear night, you might just hear her incomparable voice again, commanding a choir of angels in heaven and teaching them a thing or two about perfection.
Thank You, Whitney
Pics from Billboard.com