Whitney Houston: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition

| December 22, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Whitney Houston
Arista Records/Legacy Recordings
Release date January 26, 2010

“This album is very unique – it heralded a talent that would be with us all over the world for many years to come. The challenge was finding the right material; the right arrangements; production; the hits for [Whitney]. That began the adventure; that began the odyssey. It didn’t have just one classic; it had many.”

 

— Clive Davis, 2009

2009 marked what seemed as a miraculous return for vocalist Whitney Houston to the pop music scene.

Her sixth studio album, I Look to You, recaptured her throne atop the Billboard 200: pushing her highest first week’s sales to date with 300,000+ while upgrading her sound with a fresher urban contemporary edge (collaborating with A-list talents Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, Akon, R. Kelly and StarGate). On the flip side, the singer experienced her fair share of success; media scrutiny and dreams deferred along the way – racking up over 170 million in sales; the first artist to land seven consecutive number one pop singles; 23 top 10 pop records; silver screen smashes; a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the most awarded female artist of all time” with a unprecedented 411 honors ranging from Grammy Awards and an Emmy to the record for the most American Music Awards (21 to be exact); a highly-publicized marriage (and divorce) to R&B singer Bobby Brown; drug addiction and a reputation for being an erratic prima donna. Yes, Houston, a legend in her own right, has seen the ups and downs of superstardom.

Now, 2010 promises yet another monumental revival in Houston’s career – revitalizing her self-titled debut effort.

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In celebration of the album’s 25th anniversary, Whitney Houston revisits the fetal stages of her musical talent. It’s quite conventional to think that American female pop artists, past or present, lack substance and skill if they don’t write and produce their own material; play instruments or become eye candy in streams of music videos or magazine covers. Houston dodged the bullet of becoming a studio concoction; she successfully manipulated her siren-like voice and incredible octaves into an instrument.

The cover art – a peach frame around a bronze-skinned Houston posing in front of a distorted bed of gardening; staring with a wandering eye; wearing a wavy wet hairstyle with a pearl necklace and fabric drenched across her shoulder and chest — is the world’s introduction to the second coming of an elegant singer in an industry then highly saturated with black crossover pop acts (i.e. Michael Jackson, Prince, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner, Anita Baker; Janet Jackson; Sade, etc.). Houston’s incredible range ushered in a new era of black female singers. Sure, Houston didn’t necessarily put pen to paper on the album; neither did she dance in her videos nor did she wear revealing clothing. She didn’t roll around on the floor or play into the hands of overbearing superproducers. Instead, grace and sophistication won. Houston’s mezzo-soprano voice created the infectious melodies. No doubt; she could saaaang.

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Currently the fourth best-selling female artist of all time, Houston used her debut release to give up the goods — belting out intense vocal productions over lush arrangements crafted by some of the 1980s greatest songwriters and producers: Kashif; Michael Masser; Narada Michael Walden and Jermaine Jackson (who also provides featured vocals on “Take Good Care of My Heart” and “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do”). Former Arista Records head/album executive producer Clive Davis was right in saying that Houston possessed “charm; incredible range; guts; power; lyrical expressiveness; poise; innocence and sensuousness all at the same time.”

“She sings with such fervor; such natural vocal gifts; such passion that I was stunned. I knew right then and there this was a very special talent.”

— Clive Davis on “Greatest Love of All,” 2009

“I was a singer who wanted to sing – who wanted to bring singing into the industry. It was post-disco, and singing was kinda missing from the industry I would say. I would ask, ‘Are people ready to hear a good singer? A good voice? Someone who could sing standards? Someone who could sing ballads? Someone who could sing dance songs? Someone who was able to do that?’ It was me. I was worried about being accepted. I didn’t expect for it to be popular.”

— Whitney Houston, 2009

Whitney Houston was pure music in her blood. The Newark, NJ native, daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston and cousin of soul singer Dionne Warwick, sings well-produced pop ballads: “Saving All My Love For You” (which earned Houston her first Grammy for “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance”); “All At Once;” “Hold Me” (her duet with R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass) and her signature “Greatest Love of All.” There’s the soulful “You Give Good Love” along with danceable pop numbers “How Will I Know;” “Thinking About You;” and “Someone For Me.” Now running approximately 79 minutes, the remastered set, in addition to the album’s original ten tracks, includes five extended remixes; acapella versions and live performances.

The deluxe edition, including a DVD, highlights vintage Houston before the standing ovations; critical acclaim and over-the-top teased hairstyles front and center. It’s a brief yet rounded glimpse of a star in the making. She gives an extraordinary performance, also her national television debut, of “Home” from The Wiz on The Merv Griffin Show in 1983 followed by another exceptional organ-drenched bluesy rendition of “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls at Arista’s 10th anniversary celebration in 1985. She sings with such vigor; she sweats profusely. There’s even her performance of “You Give Good Love” on the first ever Soul Train Awards 1987 telecast as well as all four performance music videos for the chart-topping singles “How Will I Know;” “Saving All My Love For You;” “Greatest Love of All” and “You Give Good Love.” Houston, along with Davis, rounds out the footage with candid interviews about making the album and its impact on popular music some quarter of a century later. The road to Houston’s success is quite invigorating.

Whitney Houston marked a time in music when time to actually yield success was a part of the process. The album wasn’t a hit upon its Valentine’s Day 1985 release; it would take a year before the album’s success would see the light of day. Before long, the album seized the top slot on the album charts for 14 weeks and became the best-selling debut album of all time (a record broken by Britney Spears in 1998) – 13 million units in the U.S. and over 25 million worldwide. Whitney Houston clearly sets a precedent for having material to compliment a great vocalist and the time to penetrate the music scene before it would soar to even greater heights. It’s a pioneering effort for classic material to become successful that contemporary music has yet to encounter – favoring the instant gratification of soaring to #1 upon release and moving massive units (even though her sophomore effort, 1987’s Whitney, would become the first female album to accomplish such this feat). Houston’s debut inspired a legion of subsequent hit-making pop/R&B vocalists – Brandy; Monica; Toni Braxton; Kelly Price; Mariah Carey; Faith Evans; Lauryn Hill; Missy Elliott; Mary J. Blige; Deborah Cox; Beyonce and Rihanna among others. Whitney Houston reminds music fans that recognizing good music takes time but always stands the test of time.

It’s true; Whitney Houston goes down in pop music history to prove Davis’ theory; she’s a natural.

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