Whitney Houston’s estate is in overdrive lately, trying to burnish the singer’s legacy after a couple of less than flattering documentaries and Robyn Crawford’s loving but flawed “tell what most already knew” book.
This morning, I got an email from Houston’s estate, reminding me that the world met Whitney Houston 35 years ago today, with the release of her eponymous 1985 debut album. Humorously, it positions Houston as the perfect Valentine’s Day messenger.
Why’s that humorous? The singer’s first of a series of chart toppers, and the one for which she was awarded her first Grammy, was an ode to love for a man who was married to someone else, “Saving All My Love For You.” Deniece Williams reportedly had turned the song down a year or two earlier, because of the immorality of the lyric. I guess what was too racy for Niecy was just fine for an emerging Nippy.
While “Saving All My Love For You” is hardly a tune I’d play for my honey on Valentine’s Day, Houston undoubtedly sang a few on that album that would work. Both “Hold Me” (her duet with Teddy Pendergrass that had been recorded a few years earlier by Diana Ross) and “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” (which had previously been a hit for Anne Murray) would stoke the V-Day embers.
However, Houston’s signature tune, a masterful cover of Dolly Parton’s country chart topper “I Will Always Love You,” is often mistakenly considered a love song. It’s even played at weddings, despite a set of poignant opening lines that make it clear that candy and flowers aren’t in order:
If I should stay, I know I’ll be in your way
And so I’ll go, but I know, I’ll think of you every step of the way
That relationship is done. And some of Houston’s other stuff? “Didn’t We Almost Have It All?” Close, but no cigar. “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” Not to the altar.
If you’ve not seen The Bodyguard — SPOILER ALERT! — they break up at the end, as Whitney begins to warble “I Will Always Love You.” And if you know any of Parton’s versions (she’s recorded it multiple times, and enjoyed #1 hits with it in two different decades before Houston got a hold of it), you know it’s a tear jerker.
So Houston isn’t my favorite Valentine’s Day messenger. Houston was a lot of things: a tremendously talented singer, an emerging actress, and a stunning beauty — but in this writer’s opinion, she was much better with the heartbreak than the romantic love songs.
I don’t begrudge Pat Houston trying to make a buck on Houston — she always has, after all — and we undoubtedly can and should reflect on how quickly 35 years has flown by since the first time we heard Houston’s glorious voice, but positioning her as Cupid’s messenger is more than a bit of a stretch.