Monday, February 13, 2012
"Whitney Houston" by Whitney Houston (1985)
"I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow."
I am often prone to hyperbole and superlatives, but I don't think it's hyperbole at all to say that Whitney Houston was the most influential vocalist to come around in the last thirty years. I also don't think it's hyperbole to say that she permanently changed the face of popular music in a way that continues to be felt and heard today.
Before Whitney, pop and soul vocals were two separate entities. Sure, pop artists could sing soulfully and soul artists could have pop hits, but they were still different realms - you were always in one camp or the other. In her debut, songs like Nobody Loves Me like You Do, Saving All My Love for You and The Greatest Love of All closed that rift forever. The tracks were one hundred percent, knock-you-in-the-gut vocals paired with great eighties pop sensabilities. The idea of someone trying to marry such intense deliveries over synthy keyboards seems laughable. But Whitney made them more than you could have ever imagined.
I have to wonder if it had to do with her young age at the time. She was still in her teens when she recorded her first record and it showed in the best way on her delivery - that voice, that Hope Diamond voice, was always counterbalanced by a conscious grounding in the here and now. Whitney had a timeless voice that was always of the time. And it made her an absolute visionary in 1985.
And it just kept progressing with 1987's "Whitney" until it had been imitated and approprated so much that it was the status quo of the pop world by 1990. But never Whitney. Her songs were always swimming in the thin air above. Whenever she put out new music, it seemed to reset the bar for everything around it and reinvigorate popular music. She was never following any trends, she was always setting them.
Over the past few days I have heard many Whitney Houston songs and seen many Whitney Houston videos. I never tired of them - not once - because every time I hear that voice I get lost in a joyful place - and that's what music is all about.