I know that I am going to catch hell from many of my friends and former students who think rock music starts and stops with the artists played on classic rock radio here in Central Indiana. Of course, since I have a very liberal definition of what rock music entails, and since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has previously set up the parameters of rock music by inducting Little Richard and James Brown alongside Elvis Presley, then voting in Motown artists in addition to many of the soul, disco, funk and rap stars of the past then I feel extremely endorsing this artist for induction in 2020. So, today, I am covering the voice of my generation, Miss Whitney Houston.
Sure, Whitney is a pop diva, but no artist was made for the Gen X world of MTV like Whitney was. When she burst onto the scene in 1985, she matched her unparalleled vocals with the beauty of model. That package, along with Clive Davis’ magic touch in guiding her career, made her not only a pop superstar but a video star. Sure, the image was probably diametrically opposed to her true self, which might have contributed significantly to her untimely passing, but she became the video era’s own Aretha Franklin. And although she relied upon outside writers for her music, remember that Elvis Presley did as well. And, ever pop- and R&B-singing diva who has followed gets compared to Whitney, not Aretha. Go read any early reviews of Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera or Kelly Clarkson, and tell me they all were not compared to Whitney Houston somewhere along the line.
But, Whitney’s vocal prowess and beauty alone could not have made her a video star. No, it was her effortless relate-ability and vivaciousness that was contagious when her videos played between Poison and White Lion crap. Everytime one of her videos first played, they were like a breath of fresh air filled with joy and popping with optimism during a time of uncertainty.
So, sorry my friends, especially my huge Aerosmith fan of an All-State higher jumper Curt Martin, Whitney Houston does deserve induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So don’t complain that “she isn’t Rock!” Just revel in her timeless talent, even though some of her biggest hits still sound like Eighties soft rock radio hits. But, those great songs she left us are pure gold.
With all of that said, here is my first vote for induction into the RRHOF, Whitney Houston, as well as my 20 favorite songs of hers.
20. “Run to You” (The Bodyguard OST, 1992)
19. “Love Will Save the Day” (Whitney, 1987)
18. “My Name Is Not Susan” (I’m Your Baby Tonight, 1990)
17. “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay” (My Love Is Your Love, 1998)
16. “All the Man I Need” (I’m Your Baby Tonight, 1990)
15. “I Have Nothing” (The Bodyguard OST, 1992)
14. “My Love Is Your Love” (My Love Is Your Love, 1998)
13. “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (I’m Your Baby Tonight, 1990)
12. “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” (Whitney, 1987)
11. “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” (Whitney, 1987)
10. “Greatest Love of All” (Whitney Houston, 1985). The video absolutely made this song transcendent. It was a nice little song by George Benson in 1977, but Whitney found so much more in the song, creating an emotional vocal storm. Then, it was coupled to great effect in the video in which a young Whitney performing melds into the current Whitney in concert was an absolute stroke of genius.
9. “I’m Every Woman” (The Bodyguard OST, 1992). In the late Seventies, no one could touch Chaka Khan’s vocals, especially with this song being Khan’s calling card. Then, Whitney comes along and just steals the song from Chaka. This song alone should make Houston a RRHOF lock.
8. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (Whitney, 1987). Just when the public was getting a little tired of all the powerhouse ballads coming off Houston’s classic debut album, she fires of this perky little pop/dance ditty that would have been lame in anyone else’s hands. Instead, this became a little dancefloor hit.
7. “Heartbreak Hotel” (My Love Is Your Love, 1998). I love this song! Everything about it, from the production, to the guest vocalists, to the hip hop vibe tells me to hate it. Yet, when Whitney sings, I just say, “Yes please!”
6. “Saving All My Love for You” (Whitney Houston, 1985). Once again, this was recorded by a lesser artist (former 5th Dimension lovebirds, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.), but Whitney just knocked it out of the park.
5. “How Will I Know” (Whitney Houston, 1985). This cute little pop ditty became something much more when Whitney got a hold of it, turning it into something of an empowerment statement.
4. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” (Waiting to Exhale OST, 1995). When it came to taking a simple early-Nineties Babyface R&B song and making it into a song that sounds like a neo-Motown hit, Whitney was the singer to do. And, this was the song with the “shoop” hook.
3. “You Give Good Love” (Whitney Houston, 1985). This hit was Houston’s first big one, and it pulled me in immediately. Her soulful vocals showcased just how influenced by Aretha she was.
2. “I Will Always Love You” (The Bodyguard OST, 1992). How could I NOT have this one at the top? This will always be her calling card tune. Dolly Parton wrote it, but Whitney took it to heaven.
1. “So Emotional” (Whitney, 1987). As she sings at the beginning, “I don’t know why I like it, I just do!” That opening salvo just struck my twenty-four self right in the hormones at the time. This is Houston at her most rocking, but it’s the vocals that leave me stunned to this day. Block out all the mid-Eighties production gimmicks and simply listen to her vocals. This is the song that should have told us all that “I Will Always Love You” was coming. This tune is the John the Baptist foreshadowing to “Always” Jesus Christ. I know, that was a little blasphemous, and maybe a bit hyperbolic, but I’m a believer.