Let’s Talk Whitney

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Today would have been Whitney Houston’s 54th birthday.

August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012

So let’s talk about Whitney and her talent, legacy, and so many gifts she gave to all of us.  I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly with the band The Killers.  In the article, lead singer Brandon Flowers talked about one of their new songs, “Tyson vs. Douglas” named for the 1990 boxing match in which then champion Mike Tyson shockingly lost to Buster Douglas.  Flowers says the song, “explores what it is like to lose a hero.”  I immediately thought about my hero, Whitney Houston.

On January 26, 1987 Whitney became my biggest hero the night she won five American Music Awards and sang her hit “All At Once”.

As an 11 year old boy she stood ten feet tall that night and every night there after.  What is so sad to me is that Whitney Houston fell.  In the late 90s until she passed away she fell from grace and that is what people remember.  Whenever Whitney comes up in conversation (which actually happens all the time around me) people immediately say, “What do you think about Bobby Brown?” “What about the drugs?” You know what, she was SO much more than either of those things and right here, we are going to celebrate “The Voice” as Oprah called her.  We are going to celebrate my hero, Whitney Houston.

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In the coming weeks Showtime will air a documentary called Whitney Houston: Can I Be Me?  I want to explore this, one of her favorite sayings, as we celebrate Whitney.  She really was never able to be herself.  She was pure pop music and her persona took on a life of its own and her mother and manager marketed her to be WHITNEY HOUSTON, but Whitney Elizabeth Houston was a much different girl.

When Whitney was a young girl growing up in Newark, New Jersey she would go to church and sing.  She loved to sing.  Whitney was also a model.  She was the first African-American to ever grace the cover of Seventeen Magazine.  Before Whitney Houston became Whitney Houston, she was way more her than the person we would grow to know and love.  There are no wigs.  Whitney was a beautiful, natural teenager.  She was happy.

When her first album, Whitney Houston, debuted in 1985 we saw a slicked back haired Whitney on the cover, but soon after the 80s pop princess would be created.

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By 1986 and 1987 Whitney was America’s pop princess and her persona as a bubble gum pop beauty was set.  This wasn’t necessarily Whitney, but this was WHITNEY HOUSTON.

I remember when “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” came out in June of 1987 and in the video Whitney had several looks.  She has three distinctive looks in that video and I remember wondering about that because in January she had a shorter and full curly style.  Then a few months later she had really long curly hair.  It blew my mind being a white kid from west Michigan I had no idea what African-Americans did to style their hair.  Some process it, some use weaves, and some wear wigs.  Whitney wore wigs.  I remember asking my mom, “How can she have so many different looks in one video?”  And here you have why Whitney used to always say, “Can I be me?”  This wasn’t her but it very much was the pop persona created to be Whitney Houston.

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The Voice — Whitney had one of the most amazing vocal instruments of our time.  She was one of the most, if not the most, gifted recording artist of our time.  The purity, the power, the range make her voice one of a kind.  She remains the most awarded artist ever with over 600 awards and her record of seven consecutive number one hits stands to this day (Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, The Greatest Love of All, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, So Emotional, and Where Do Broken Hearts Go).

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If you wonder why she has so many awards to her name, take a listen to the raw vocals for “How Will I Know.”

Awards over the years and Whitney looks.

 

From an Entertainment Weekly article about when Mick Jagger to come into Whitney’s studio as she recorded her mega hit, and my favorite, “So Emotional.” Her producer Narada Michael Walden,  “Houston headed to New York City to lay down vocals for “So Emotional” at Right Track Studios, and her powerhouse pipes caught the ear of the Rolling Stones frontman. “Mick was recording next door and he had to come in and witness it,” says Walden. “He started jumping around, as he does, and he just couldn’t believe the sound. Whitney was so excited about that.”

Sometimes it isn’t the studio versions or the huge live concert performances that show Whitney’s pure talent.  Take a listen to this clip with Paul Shaffer on the show Friday Night Videos from 1986.

It was recently the 30th Anniversary of Whitney Houston’s iconic Whitney album this summer.  There were a lot of articles that you probably missed (hahaha, but I didn’t) about this album, like, rating the Whitney album’s 11 songs.  Also with the new documentary coming out there have been articles rating her 25 best songs.  NPR recently rated her Whitney Houston album as the 14th best album by a female artist out of 150 albums.

‘Whitney’: Ranking every song on Whitney Houston’s seminal 1987 album

The 25 best Whitney Houston songs

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So here are my lists of Whitney songs.  We all have our favorites.  What are yours?

Top 5 Whitney Pop Hits

  1.  I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
  2.  I Will Always Love You
  3.  How Will I Know
  4.  So Emotional
  5.  The Greatest Love of All

My Top 5 Ballads

  1.  All the Man That I Need
  2.  I Have Nothing
  3.  Didn’t We Almost Have It All
  4.  You Give Good Love
  5.  Where Do Broken Hearts Go

HM. Exhale(Shoop Shoop)

My Top 5 Uptempo Songs

  1. So Emotional
  2. I’m Your Baby Tonight
  3. I Wanna Dance with Somebody(Who Loves Me)
  4. I’m Every Woman
  5. My Love Is Your Love

HM. Million Dollar Bill

My Top 5 Performances

  1.  All the Man That I Need – Welcome Home Heroes Concert 1992
  2.  Star Spangled Banner – Super Bowl 1991
  3.  One Moment In Time – Grammy Awards 1989
  4.  I Love You Porgy, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, I Have Nothing – American Music Awards 1994
  5. Didn’t We Almost Have It All – Saratoga Spring Concert 1987

HM. Loverman, My Man, All the Man That I Need – Billboard Awards 1991

My Top 5 Favorite Whitney Songs

  1.  So Emotional
  2.  All the Man That I Need
  3.  You Give Good Love
  4.  I’m Every Woman
  5.  Where You Are

HM. Nobody Loves Me Like You Do

*In future blog posts I hope to explore each of these lists with thoughts and insights and clips.

So here we are celebrating Whitney on her birthday.  Whitney was and still is so important to me.  People just know and have since I was in elementary school that I am her biggest fan.  The night she died, between Facebook and text messages I had well over 150 condolences.  I don’t know why but I just connected to her and here is why.  The Whitney Houston persona took over her life and led her away from her greatest gift.  We lost a legend and I lost a hero the day she died.  I will always continue to sing her praises and will always remind people that she was a gift and there was so much more to her than the negative 2000s.  She was a performer, a vocalist, a talent like we have never seen before.  Whitney was at her prime in this video and it is one of my all time favorite video clips.  Enjoy and always remember Whitney the way she should be remembered — for the gift of her voice that she shared with us all.

 

Waving Through a Window

“On the outside always looking in. Will I ever be more than I’ve always been? ‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass. I’m waving through a window.”

Two really important things, at least to me, are happening right now.  I’m planning a wedding with my fiancé AND the Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast Recording has been released to Spotify.  IMPORTANT THINGS I SAY! Over the last week, if I’m at my desk, the songs from Dear Evan Hansen are on repeat, over and over again. I’ve also been, like I said, planning a wedding so if anyone asks, I’ll talk about it. Planning a wedding was never something I ever really thought about as a kid. Do boys think about their wedding day? Do gay boys think about their wedding day? The answer for me is, no, I never really thought about a wedding. The perfect day and setting and person was never really something on my mind growing up.  Geez, my life was filled just trying to figure out if it was going to be a woman or a man for crying out loud. I didn’t have time to think about an actual wedding until recently.

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 So while I was figuring all of that stuff out my friends were dating and getting engaged and getting married. Oh did I attend a lot of weddings in my 20s and 30s. That was a lot of cake and alcohol and dancing. It was fun, so much fun. However, it wasn’t for me. Somehow I didn’t fit in that societal norm of finding someone, getting engaged and planning a wedding. I didn’t really spend too much time thinking about it, rather I went about my life and enjoyed those people around me who were in love and getting married and getting all those gifts and inviting all those people to celebrate with them. On June 26, 2015 our societal norm changed. The Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in favor of equal dignity and marriage for all citizens of the United States. Then, lucky me, on June 26, 2016, exactly one year later the man of my dreams asked ME to marry HIM!

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Well now this whole marriage thing got really real and really fast. My fiancé said he would be fine just going to the courthouse and getting married.  I said, “Do you know who you just asked to marry you?”  Haha, wait, I hadn’t ever really thought about a wedding, that is true, but now that I have the chance, I’m taking it.  People have said, “You’ve gone to your share of weddings over the years, now it is time for those people to buy you gifts!” Sure, I guess that is part of the celebration, but that’s not all it is for me.  I told my fiancé that the reason I want a wedding is because as I sat at all those weddings in the past I thought to myself, “I wonder if it will ever be legal for me to get married?” “Sure we have ‘civil unions’ in my state but that isn’t the same. That isn’t equal.” The reason I want to have a wedding is to celebrate with those people who have loved me for me. It is now my time to step inside and stop “waving through a window.”

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That brings me back to Dear Evan Hansen the new musical on Broadway. It’s about a boy who watches life pass him by due to severe social anxiety.  But why, to me, isn’t he point. Have you ever spent a portion of your life “looking in from the outside?” That is why I connected to this music and that is why I want to celebrate my love and my marriage because after June 26, 2015 I no longer had to look in from the outside.

“While I’m watch watch watching people pass I’m waving through a window, oh can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?”

Unlike Evan Hansen, I have never been socially isolated or lonely, luckily. But I have waved through the window while people who are accepted pass by. I’ve tried really hard not to get political in my blog, as far as this past election, but just briefly I have to. It really frustrates me when people say, “I support gay marriage and equal rights”, but that person voted for the Republican platform, one that does not promote equality. They might say, “Well gay marriage is a done deal.” Sure it is the law of the land, but depending on who the new Supreme Court justice is, that ruling could be overturned years down the road. Likely or unlikely, why chance it? And it isn’t all about equal marriage. It is about equal rights for all people. It is about accepting refugees and immigrants into our country. It is about accepting and loving others no matter their gender, sex, race, sexual orientation or other. Why make people in America wave through the window and hope that one day their difference will be just as accepted as someone else? Why? Why not share love and spread love and think about all those people who are waving through a window?

In this clip, Cynthia Erivo Tony Award winner from The Color Purple sings “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen.

Even when the dark comes crashing through/ When you need a friend to carry you /When you’re broken on the ground /You will be found

Why don’t we work on loving each other, all of us, and helping each other out. You are not alone I wish was the mantra of our country because far too many people don’t have the same power, privilege, and acceptance. Don’t wait until it is your time to suffer to “get it” and start thinking about others. Let’s help each other now.  Let’s share and care, just a little more. Let’s notice each other more. Let each other know, we all matter.

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So that brings me back to why I want to have a wedding; a celebration of our love, an acknowledgment that our love matters and our love is important too. It’s not about the gifts (but I’ll take them, I guess) it’s about being surrounded by the people who love us; the people who have lifted us up when we were down; the people who, no matter what, have been with us throughout life to say, “hey, hey you, you matter.” 

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Is That Carly Rae?….A Late 80s History Lesson

Ahhhh, the late 80s and pop music, there isn’t much that brings greater joy for me to think about than those days. Life was easy back then. I ranged in age from 10-13. 1986-1989 were the years that some of our pop divas made huge marks on popular music and me. The American Music Awards held in January 1987 saw Whitney, Janet, and Madonna all take home awards AND they were all there to accept.

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All of these late 80s music memories came rushing back recently when I was sitting at my desk pretty much jamming to the new Carly Rae Jepsen album, Emotion, and a student of mine entered my office, sat down, and said, “Is that Carly Rae?”

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“Why yes it is,” I responded. We proceeded to briefly talk about the hot lead single, Run Away With Me and why it isn’t a bigger hit. This song opens with a sax solo straight out of 1987 and a steamy fire escape set video staring Richard Marx. But what ensued, much to my delight and probably much to the dismay of my student, was a late 80s diva history.

First and foremost, The Queen of Pop, Whitney’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). It is pop perfection. What I didn’t tell my student in our history lesson was how I used to act it out leaning up against the house like Whitney did when she had the leather jacket on and leopard print scarf in her hair. IWDWS is quintessential late 80s. The horns, the pop beats, the bright colors in the video, the make-up on Whitney. It all goes down in history as one of my favorite songs and definitely a late 80s favorite. It is interesting to note that IWDWS was written by the same duo who wrote How Will I Know, which was originally intended for Janet Jackson, but helped cement Whitney as a pop icon in the making. The duo of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, of the group Boy Meets Girl fame (another favorite song of mine, Waiting For A Star To Fall) wrote both pop hits for Whitney and actually intended Waiting For A Star To Fall for her but Arista declined so they made a hit out of the song. Whitney received song writing credits for coming up with the ending, “Don’t you wanna dance, say you wanna dance, don’t you wanna dance (dance)”.  She won Best Pop Female Vocal at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards for I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).

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My student of course had heard of Whitney, but really only knew her in reference to the recent tragic loss of Bobbi Kristina and the song I Will Always Love You. I couldn’t help myself but to show her a bit of the video and expound upon her the importance of knowing Whitney Houston and I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). Honestly, when students happen into my office and let’s say Whitney is playing, I try to make sure they know who she is and why she is important, for real.

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The second song that really defines the late 80s for me, and if we are keeping to the three top divas of the time, is Madonna’s Open Your Heart. I have heard that Madonna is performing this song on her current Rebel Heart Tour, which makes me happy. There were very few things that my parents forbid my brother and I to do, to watch or to listen to, but Madonna, especially Papa Don’t Preach was on that short list. Somehow Open Your Heart was not on that list and I remember over and over watching that video on MTV. My dad owned a fedora, though it was more of a beach hat, I wore that and danced like Madonna and the little boy all over my house. I do remember thinking less about Madonna’s spiky bustier leotard and way more about how I thought that boy was cute. Remember I was all of 11 at the time. Another thing I never noticed then, or didn’t think about, is that in the opening of the peep show there are two sailors sitting arm and arm together.  Madonna pushing the limits of equality even in 1988!! When Madonna would hang her head way back over the chair and slide off that black wig to reveal her short blonde cut, I died every time!  Still do! Finally, when the boy and Madonna dance shoulder to shoulder at the end of the video, I was so jealous and would fantasize that that was me dancing with Madonna, for real! What a fantastic, fantastic late 80s song that had such a big impact on me and my love of music. It truly is, maybe besides Borderline the first Madonna song that I absolutely loved, oh and Material Girl too. But anyway, it really set a tone for the type of music I would gravitate toward throughout my life. “Open your heart with the key. One is such a lonely number.” Yup, longing, loving, schmaltzy, can’t live without him songs. All of that, and a gay reference in 1988, Way to go Madonna!

Finishing up three of my defining late 80s diva pop hits history, The Pleasure Principle by Janet, “Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.”

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This was a 1987 hit and seventh single from her Control album which was a pretty big success for Janet, but nothing like her next two albums would prove to be. The Pleasure Principle was Janet’s first real dance video that I remember. It reminded me so much of Ren McCormick in Footloose dancing in the grain elevator. Don’t get me started on the importance of that movie in my life. HA! Anyway, TPP as you can now imagine, was acted out, many, many times in my basement and in my garage as I would try to recreate Janet’s passion. I’m not much of a technical dancer, so I would go more for the passionate hand to forehead move and throwing my body up against the wall. Oh and the taking off of the jean jacket and swinging that about. That was good too. I loved the part where she danced in front of the wood slats with light shining through and in front of the mirrors. This was a perfect dance hit.

So getting back to the late 80s pop history for my student. It really only included the Whitney portion, but brought back many memories of these other two hits as well. I’m sure my student was thankful for the lesson. We then talked about Carly Rae and her super cool pop album that really should be a much bigger hit.

Stop! Stop right now what you are doing and go listen to these songs from Carly Rae Jepsen’s album Emotion.

Run Away With Me

                                                                             Boy Problems

                           Favourite Colour                   

                                                                                                      Making the Most of the Night

Lets Get Lost

                                                                  Your Type

                                         All That

                                                                                                             LA Hallucinations

                                                                                I Really Like You

Seriously, listen to this album now! It is just as good, if not BETTER than Swizzle’s 1989, also a great pop album, but CRJ can ACTUALLY hold a tune!

I don’t remember where I read or heard this recently, online or NPR, but whatever it was, it said that after the age of 33 we really don’t choose to listen to music that is much different than the music we have always listened to. Thinking about this idea, it really is true for me. I don’t listen to much new music and if I do it really is pop stuff, like Carly Rae’s new album. My music interests and the artists I most listen to now are those from the late 80s and early 90s, for the most part. These were all pivotal influences on my life, especially my life in music. Dick Clark famously said, “Music is the storybook of our lives.” What a true statement. When you think about it, music can take you back to good times, sad times, happy times, bitter times, fun times, really the storybook of our lives. Go enjoy some music from your past and take a walk down memory lane, then listen to Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen!

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