Since its opening in theatres on December 23, 2022, the Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance with Somebody has earned over $56 million internationally, attesting to the ongoing power of its subject and her enduring music. I Wanna Dance with Somebody is now available on home video and digital formats, and along with the digital-only soundtrack release, her first two albums have recently returned to print in vinyl editions from Legacy Recordings.
The 21-year old's debut album arrived on Valentine's Day 1985 from Arista Records, home of her cousin Dionne Warwick and close family friend Aretha Franklin. When Arista founder Clive Davis saw the young singer performing at a tiny New York City club (a moment dramatized in I Wanna Dance with Somebody), he was determined to make his label her home. He enlisted four producers to shape Whitney Houston: Kashif, Jermaine Jackson, Narada Michael Walden, and Michael Masser. Each would bring their own style which Houston would then personalize.
Kashif, who made his own Arista debut in 1983 and would team with Warwick in 1987 on "Reservations for Two," was responsible for the album's first two tracks. The shimmering "You Give Good Love," written by La Forrest "LaLa" Cope, was youthfully fizzy yet sensual and just suggestive enough to attract minor controversy. The uptempo dancer "Thinking About You" by LaLa and Kashif emphasizes the rhythm in rhythm and blues. Kashif joined her on the light, bright duet. Recent Arista signing Jackson, fresh off a long run at Motown, got the plum assignment of producing three tracks including Peter McCann and Steve Dorff's pulsating duet "Take Good Care of My Heart" which had previously appeared on his eponymous label debut in 1984. Jermaine is also heard on James P. Dunne and Pamela Phillips' "Nobody Loves Me Like You Do." The dreamy, teenage dance-pop of Raymond Jones and Freddie Washington's "Someone for Me" was one of many tracks on Whitney Houston alluding to the singer's youth.
Narada Michael Walden, who played a crucial role in Aretha Franklin's career at Arista, produced Whitney's perky rendition of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam's ebullient confection "How Will I Know." Sparkling and joyful, it was originally offered to Jermaine's little sister Janet. She passed on it, but her loss was Houston's gain. "How Will I Know" was the perfect crossover, a fizzy dance groove that was, at its core, pure pop.
Composer-producer Michael Masser would provide the LP's heart and soul, bringing the same yearning, melodic quality he had contributed to such songs as Diana Ross' "Touch Me in the Morning" and "Do You Know Where You're Going To (Theme from Mahogany)." His quartet of tracks were designed for the adult contemporary charts, part of Davis' plan to make Houston a cross-generational star from the first.
Marilyn McCoo introduced Masser and Gerry Goffin's seductively romantic "Saving All My Love for You" on her 1980 LP Marilyn and Billy (with husband Billy Davis, Jr.) but Whitney made the smooth, soaring ballad her own. Following in the footsteps of the effortlessly elegant yet sultry McCoo is no small feat, but Houston added an urgency and fire to Gerry Goffin's lyric and channeled deep soul in the sleek, pretty production. Masser co-wrote the heartbreaker of a ballad, "All at Once," with former L.T.D. lead vocalist and future Warwick duet partner Jeffrey Osborne. While it was never released in the U.S. as a single, it received plenty of airplay anyway. It's not hard to see why as its emotionally-escalating melody inspired a vocal tour de force from Whitney. The moving "Greatest Love of All," co-written by Masser and Thom Bell's frequent lyricist Linda Creed, already had been a hit record in George Benson's rendition; in fact, the guitarist-singer's 1977 recording gave Arista Records its very first top ten R&B chart entry. Houston had been singing "Greatest Love" in her club act which both Davis and Masser saw earlier in the '80s. The Arista chief was initially reticent about her cover, relegating it to B-side status of "You Give Good Love." But the public couldn't get enough of it, and when released it on 45 RPM, it became not only a No. 1 hit but the most successful song on Whitney Houston and the third biggest single of her career - perhaps the ultimate Houston anthem.
Masser and Creed's smoldering "Hold Me," a duet with Teddy Pendergrass, had previously appeared in 1984 on the deep-voiced Philly soul man's Love Language; Diana Ross had introduced the composition as "In Your Arms" on her RCA album Silk Electric a couple of years earlier. Masser freshly adapted and tailored his typically melodic, dynamic tune as a duet for Houston and Pendergrass who had an undeniable frisson.
Clive Davis' confidence paid off. Upon its release, Whitney Houston became the first album by a female artist - as well as the first by a debut artist - to yield three Number One singles. Whitney would shatter another record, too; those three Number Ones turned out to be just the first of seven consecutive chart-toppers. It also reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 after a staggering 55-week climb, and occupied that position for 14 non-consecutive weeks. To date, the album has sold over 22 million copies worldwide.
How to follow it up? 1987's Whitney did more than just that: it actually yielded four Number Ones, with the artist breaking her own record for the most chart-toppers from one album by a female artist. It also gave Houston the most consecutive No. 1s of all time, surpassing The Beatles and The Bee Gees who each had six. Kashif, Narada Michael Walden, and Michael Masser were all back, along with new recruit John "Jellybean" Benitez. The resulting album was every bit as exciting as its predecessor. Walden, who helmed a full seven tracks, shares a remembrance in his new liner notes: "In the very beginning, I asked Whitney, 'Are you nervous? Like what we call a sophomore jinx?' And she looked at me like I was crazy. She said, 'No, if they loved me the first time, they'll love me now all over again.'" And they did.
The album opened with a blast of sheer effervescence. The "How Will I Know" team of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam supplied "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," capturing Houston's youth and energy in an irresistible entreaty. The tight track was played by Walden's band, their presence throughout the album adding unity and consistency. Narada held down the drum kit, with Randy Jackson on bass, future "All I Want for Christmas Is You" co-writer Walter Afanasieff on synthesizers, Corrado Rustici on guitar synth, and Preston Glass on percussion programming. (Marc Russo played the alto saxophone part.)
The tougher, edgier groove of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly's "So Emotional" gave Houston an opportunity to use her rock chops, though the chorus was built around as strong a pop hook as any. Preston Glass' playful, bouncy, and confidently youthful "Love Is a Contact Sport" welcomed another Clive Davis discovery, Kenny G, on tenor saxophone. The smooth jazz saxman is even more recognizable on the dreamy cover of The Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You" which features layered harmonies sung by a multi-tracked Whitney. The slow jam "Just the Lonely Talking Again" had been penned by southern soul tunesmith Sam Dees and introduced by The Manhattans; like "For the Love of You," it showed off Houston at her silkiest.
Two tracks produced by Walden emphasized the singer's inherent theatricality. "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" was written by Chuck Jackson (the songwriter, not the "Any Day Now" vocalist) and future Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll and Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel), while "I Know Him So Well" was plucked by Clive Davis from the score of the musical Chess. The duet, written by ABBA's Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson with Tim Rice, was introduced by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson on the 1984 concept album. It went to No. 1 on the U.K. Singles Chart and won an Ivor Novello Award. Joining Whitney on the showstopper was her mother Cissy Houston. Naturally, Cissy brought her soul-deep grit and power to the song of yearning and regret.
Jellybean's production contribution, Toni C (Colandreo)'s lively, uptempo "Love Will Save the Day," surrounded Houston with beats, clattering percussion, and a Latin-tinged flavor (plus a guest appearance on vibes from jazz great Roy Ayers). It's a bit of an outlier on Whitney but further displays her versatility. Kashif's lone production for the LP, LeMel Humes, James Calabrese, and Dylan Humes' "Where You Are," is a velvety ballad offering without the grandiosity of Masser's productions. Veteran arranger Gene Page brought his usual elegance to the string and horn charts.
Michael Masser was once again called to provide Whitney with its big ballads. "Didn't We Almost Have It All," with Will Jennings' lyrics, duplicated the soaring formula of "The Greatest Love of All" to equally stirring effect. The sweeping nature of the song played to Houston's strengths, as she deftly belted her way through its modulations as if conducting a master class in the power ballad form. Masser also co-wrote, with Gerry Goffin, and produced the ardent "You Are My Man," but despite another powerhouse performance, it doesn't generate the emotional frisson of "Didn't We Almost Have It All."
Whitney debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 1, making her just the first female artist in history to accomplish that feat, and only the fourth overall (behind Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Bruce Springsteen). "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," all went to No. 1 on the Hot 100. The fifth and final single, "Love Will Save the Day," peaked at a more-than-respectable No. 9.
With her third studio album, 1990's I'll Be Your Baby Tonight, Whitney embraced the new jack swing sound and a persuasive blend of dance, pop, funk, and R&B. Whitney Houston and Whitney remain complementary albums today, and the bedrock of Houston's legacy. The new reissues from Legacy recreate the original artwork, and feature embossed covers and four-page inserts; Whitney Houston has an essay by Mitchell Cohen and Whitney boasts one by Narada Michael Walden. (Two pages of fan testimonials are also included in each package, though one wishes for fewer testimonials and more liner notes.) Lyrics are reprinted on the inner sleeve, and original period Arista labels have been retained. Remastering credits are absent, but the sound is good on both discs which are quiet and pressed on black vinyl.
Sadly, Whitney still hasn't received a deluxe edition release on CD or vinyl while Whitney Houston has at least received unique ones in both formats: a 2010 CD/DVD Legacy Edition and a 2020 double-album set from Vinyl Me, Please. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab will soon be offering Whitney as a 180-gram audiophile vinyl edition as well as an SACD. While fans and collectors wait (im)patiently for an expanded reissue of Whitney, these two standalone vinyl editions are a fine introduction to both albums for those fans who don't already own them or are looking to hear them in the format on which they were originally introduced.
- You Give Good Love
- Thinking About You
- Someone for Me
- Saving All My Love for You
- Nobody Loves Me Like You Do - with Jermaine Jackson
- How Will I Know
- All At Once
- Take Good Care of My Heart
- Greatest Love of All
- Hold Me - with Teddy Pendergrass
- I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
- Just the Lonely Talking Again
- Love Will Save the Day
- Didn't We Almost Have It All
- So Emotional
- Where You Are
- Love Is a Contact Sport
- You're Still My Man
- For the Love of You
- Where Do Broken Hearts Go
- I Know Him So Well - with Cissy Houston