In praise of Whitney Houston

Last year I was in a shop changing room, and they were playing an Amy Winehouse song, and I almost tweeted “I’ve never really heard an Amy Winehouse song that I thought was all that great” or something along those lines. I decided that the world really did not need to hear my idle musings on the works of Amy Winehouse… thank God, because as I discovered very soon after, that tweet would have exactly coincided with the news of her death breaking on Twitter. And I’d have looked very mean indeed.

And last night I was watching Dionne Warwick perform “Walk on By” on the Jonathan Ross show, and musing on the talent that was Whitney Houston…. People would probably expect me to be dismissive, but actually I thought she was a huge talent. I didn’t like her records much, but the raw talent was exceptional: the power of her voice, the ability to convey genuine emotion, and the immaculate phrasing. Listen to the end of I’m Your Baby Tonight, when she starts scat-singing. The phrasing is as good as Dionne’s. Or the verses on “It’s Not Right but It’s OK”. In fact there are lots of great bits in her songs. It’s just the overall product that doesn’t do it for me.

I remember first seeing her first hit, “Saving All my Love For You”, when she looked absolutely great in the video and sang like a true soul diva. I was living at the time with someone who was the biggest musical snob ever, but he totally fell in love with that video, and not just because she was cute. She definitely had something special.

I just wish she’d been around in the Sixties, when the songwriters and the production would have done justice to her talent. No over-produced ballads, no bellowing, no holding one note for half an hour just because you can. Just pure soul. She needed a Burt Bacharach, a Smokey Robinson, a Holland-Dozier-Holland.

It wasn’t only the songs that didn’t do her justice. The moment in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas when Dolly Parton sings “I Will Always Love You” to Burt Reynolds with that little quiver in her voice is heart-breaking. It’s one of Ed Balls’ favourite songs; he’s a big softie really. But Whitney’s version replaced the tremor and hesitancy, the vulnerability, the choke in the voice, with just a great big bellow. That’s how things were in the Eighties and Nineties. Everything had to be big and bombastic.

I’d always hoped that one day Whitney would sort out her problems, and do a Rick Rubin/ Johnny Cash type project that showed what she was really capable of. Back to her gospel roots perhaps. Or covering some of those songs Dionne Warwick made famous. I suspect that the world she inhabited and the business interests around her would never have let her do that. It’s a real shame.

Here’s a Richard X track that takes the good bits of Whitney and adds it to some Kraftwerk. Enjoy.

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Comments

  • Quietzaple  On February 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Whitney Houston had a great voice and I’ll check your suggestion.

    Have you heard Donne Warwick’s original recording of “Don’t make me over”? As per ” “Anyone ..” the grace notes are breathtaking.

  • Fiona Scott  On February 12, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    I loved some of Whitney’s work and I loved the Bodyguard at the time – though it was a film of its time.
    What makes me sad is that, it appears, the addict was unable to break free and enjoy being a mature woman. We never saw a gorgeous woman in her 40s moving on to other things, enjoying other experiences. What we saw was, someone struggling with her age, her addiction and the waning of her career. What was crazy was that she would have re-ignited her career as the power of her voice was awesome.
    I feel sorry for her children and her family at this time. It’s hard to deal with the fact that, perhaps (clearly we don’t know for sure) that the addict couldn’t move beyond her addiction. That’s not a criticism, it’s a fact.

  • Bevavoncowan  On February 13, 2012 at 12:35 am

    ”I’d always hoped that one day Whitney would sort out her problems, and do a Rick Rubin/ Johnny Cash type project that showed what she was really capable of. Back to her gospel roots perhaps.”

    Love this comment of yours Kerrymccarthy – as I too always felt she would do a Johnny Cash type comeback. An excellent blog – but to let out the secret that Ed Balls is a bit of a softy, romantic mmmm 🙂

    • kerrymccarthy  On February 13, 2012 at 12:41 am

      Oh, that’s in the public domain about Ed. I think during our leadership campaign he listed not only Dolly, but also Elvis doing Falling in Love. And he duets with Yvette on Endless Love at karaoke!

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