As the ever-more saddening images of Whitney Houston’s final days and hours are thrust into focus via the tabloids, I can’t help but want to push them from view – but the multiple pile-up that was her life of late seems impossible to look away from. For a girl who grew up in the 80s though, Whitney represents whirlwind teenage years – and to me and my mates, her lyrics seemed to spell out the life that was to come for us all…
In 1985 when Whitney released her eponymous debut album, I was Smash Hits-worshipping pop oficiando and duly shelled out to buy her opening opus – as well as Whitney’s single All At Once. It was played till it warped, slowed down to sound like the devil and after spinning it incessantly, I believed the children were our future, if only we’d treat them well and let them lead the way. Suddenly, in my bedroom in Essex, Whitney had all the answers. All at once I was drifting on a lonely stream; wondering how I would know if he really loved me; and proclaiming that learning to love yourself is the greastest love of all. Whitney had stumbled upon the truth and was sharing it with us. She was pop’s chosen one.
Just starting out on her career, Whitney appeared to have it all. Amazing voice, great looks and a contact book that read like a who’s who of soul music. Her mother was Cissy Houston; her godmother Aretha Franklin; her aunt Dionne Warwick. If there was ever any other career plan, it was never going to be far away from music. And then here she was, a gospel-trained voice that could break through even the slickest production techniques and give you an emotional wallop up the head.
She sparkled for a few years, scoring seven consecutive Billboard No.1 singles and defining the mid- to late-80s with hits like Where Do Broken Hearts Go, So Emotional and One Moment In Time. Whitney flitted between glittering R&B and lighter-aloft stadium belters – there was no middle ground for her. The 90s saw her step into acting and get hitched, and after her cover of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You went global and became the biggest-selling single by a female in music history, it seemed like Whitney did indeed have it all.
Only she didn’t. Despite the fame, despite the voice, despite the wealth, something was missing and so Whitney turned to drink and drugs. Turns out, Whitney hadn’t learnt to love herself, even though she knew it was the greatest love of all. But despite the fact that Whitney didn’t get it, we did. Way back in 1985, Whitney opened a whole new world to me and my friends and our universe was never the same again after that. I, for one, will always love her.