S1: Welcome to Hit Parade, a podcast of pop chart history from Slate magazine about the hits from coast to coast. I’m Chris M.A. chart analyst, pop critic and writer of Slate’s Why Is This Song Number One series on today’s show? Eight years ago this month, the world lost one of the most exceptional voices ever to top the charts, Whitney Houston. Her death at age 48. One day before the 2012 Grammy Awards stunned the music world and left reverberations that are still felt today. Indeed, discussion and debate about Houston’s legacy persists into this new decade. Just last month, it was announced that she will be honored this year as a new inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
S2: That rock fall induction has come with its share of controversy, with some critics arguing that Houston is primarily a pop act whose body of work is only adjacent to rock. Of course, not only rock fans have questioned Houston’s bona fides over the years during her lifetime.
S3: Whitney’s successful crossover to a mainstream audience complicated her relationship to R&B, the African-American audience and the black musical tradition that spawned.
S4: But one thing that can’t be taken away from Houston is her list of musical accomplishments, particularly her roster of billboard feats, including some chart records she still holds to this day.
S5: Today on Hit Parade, we’re going to go in greater depth on those chart feats than any biographical program about Houston has before.
S6: And we’re going to focus not just on the most staggering achievements, but how Whitney’s chart history decodes the essence of her career.
S2: Sure, we’ll talk about greatest love of all. And I want to dance with somebody.
S6: And I will always love you. But some of Whitney’s most revealing hits are the ones that receive less attention today, such as the moment she openly campaigned to win back the affection of the R&B audience.
S7: And that’s where your hit parade marches today. The week ending December 1st, 1990, When I’m Your Baby Tonight by Whitney Houston rose to number one on both Billboard’s Hot 100 and its hot R&B singles chart. And that crossover is just one of the details we will dissect in painting a picture of 2020’s newest female Rock Hall inductee.
S8: The nominees for best R&B, urban, contemporary single by a female are.
S6: This footage is from the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards. As you can probably hear, the audience at this televised program honoring achievement in African-American music is actually booing Whitney Houston, a nominee that night. Then at the very zenith of her popularity, this footage has become the Zapruder film of Whitney Houston Law. Versions of it feature prominently in a pair of documentaries about Houston that improbably both appeared in movie theaters just in the last three years. Whitney Can I Be Me? By British director Nick Broomfield and Whitney by Scottish director Kevin Macdonald. Both films have their merits. Watching them both, you get a decent sense of the triumphs, challenges and tragedies Houston faced in her life, even if, predictably, each film leans heavily on the sensational aspects.
S7: Why didn’t Cissy do more? It was Whitney’s drug of choice. What was it that drove them apart? How much do you think you spent? Did John ever try to get rid of Robert? Were they in love?
S3: But what neither documentary fully portrays, in my opinion, is exactly how Whitney’s catalog of songs and the chart performance of her songs and albums brought her to that Soul Train moment, or how her material helped her persevere beyond that moment. So hit parade listener, while I expect this podcast episode is not the first biographical material you have consumed about Whitney Houston either before or after her passing.
S6: I am hoping to bring some different angles to this story. Not so much to contradict the record as too complicated and give it nuance. It goes without saying that we will not delve into the more tabloid worthy details of Houston’s life, not because the stories of her relationships or substance abuse are unworthy of inquiry, but because they are not central to a critical assessment of her career. I want to help reframe the way we think about that catchy and hip, packed and slick and soulful and now Rock Hall enshrined career.
S9: Speaking of the Rock Hall, Houston’s musical lineage can be traced to some other hall inducted and hall worthy artists after all.
S10: Whitney was descended from gospel and R&B royalty.
S7: That’s Don’t Make Me Over the 1962 debut single by Dionne Warwick.
S11: When this hit reached the Top 40 in early January 1963, Dionne wore Wix.
S9: Aunt Cissy Houston was pregnant with her third and youngest child dating back to the 50s. Cissy, who was born Emily Drunkard before marrying John Houston and changing her first name to Cissy, sang in a gospel troupe called The Drinker’s Singers with her nieces Deon and Didi’s Warwick.
S10: The drinker’s singers were already renowned before the 50s or even over, having recorded what is widely regarded as the first major label gospel album in 1958. By the 60s, the drinker’s singers had evolved into an in-demand R&B vocal troupe.
S3: In fact, the week in August 1963 that Cissy Houston gave birth to that child, Whitney Elizabeth, a former vocalist from the Drinker’s Singers Doris Troy, was in the top 10 of both the pop and R&B charts with the classic hit Just One. In short, the week Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born to John and Cissy Houston. Members of the drinker’s singers were already helping to define the sound of 60s rhythm and blues. Whitney Houston would grow up during a fertile time for pop and R&B crossover on the charts. Her role models were a string of assertive black female performers for whom crossover took many forms. Whitney’s cousin, Dionne Warwick, represented one crossover model, scoring a string of refined R&B and pop hits written by white Brill Building songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. On the Motown label, the Supremes, the label’s flagship group scored a staggering 27 Top 40 pop hits in the 60s by fusing sharp pop melodies with an irresistible R&B derived backbeat as Diana Ross was pushed forward as the Supremes star performer.
S12: She proffered a poised but soulful take on love and heartbreak.
S3: Or Gladys Knight, who was signed with her group the Pips to Motown in the late 60s.
S13: They fused that polished Motown sound with a grittier, more Southern flavored R&B.
S14: And then, of course, there was the Memphis born daughter of a Detroit preacher. The woman who had come to be known as the Queen of Soul, Miss Aretha Franklin.
S5: When Franklin broke through with her 1967 Atlantic Records debut, I never loved a man the way I Love You. She not only brought the Muscle Shoals rhythm section to the top of the charts, she also defined the gospel to pop path of R&B crossover for a generation of singers, particularly female singers.
S13: And soon enough, Aretha success boosted other careers.
S16: By 1967, the drunkard’s centers had transformed themselves into the sweet inspirations Deon and Didi’s warwhich have long since left for their respective solo careers. But Cissy Houston still led the remaining quartet. The Sweet Inspirations had already provided backing vocals for a range of 60s recording artists from The Drifters to Jackie. Dushan and Cissy was a prominent backing vocalist on Aretha Franklin’s Atlantic debut album.
S17: That success, in part, led the label to sign the sweet inspirations to their own contract.
S16: Sweet inspiration and eponymous song by the Sweet Inspirations reached number five on billboards, R&B chart and number 18 on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1968.
S9: The sweet inspirations were essential to R&B and pop cross-pollination in this period. While continuing to score R&B hits through the end of the decade, they became the premier backing vocal group of their era heard prominently on hits not only by their peer, Aretha Franklin.
S12: But also on massive pop hits by Van Morrison.
S18: And Dusty Springfield.
S4: And for several years, the sweet inspirations became king of rock and roll.
S3: Elvis Presley’s go to vocal troupe both in the studio and on the road.
S9: As for Cissy Houston, she had issued a handful of solo singles during the 60s, and in the wake of the Sweet Inspirations success, she broke away permanently for a solo career in 1970. But she didn’t reach the heights of Aretha Franklin or her niece, Dionne Warwick.
S10: Sissy’s biggest hit, A Torch Soul Cover of the Ronettes Be My Baby, reached number 31 on the R&B chart and number 92 on the Hot 100 in 1970.
S4: During the 70s, Cissy Houston’s limited chart success was not the norm.
S3: It was a great decade for black female crossover, whether it was the multiple chart toppers by classical pianist turned pop superstar Roberta Flack, the first. Or Dionne Warwick, who finally topped the hot 100 with the Philly soul hit.
S2: Then came you a duet with R&B veterans.
S14: The Spinners or the frontwoman of the funk band Rufus singer Chaka Khan, who eventually started scoring solo hits on both the pop and R&B charts.
S3: The rise of Disco 2 was good for black female performers, whether it was former Supreme Diana Ross.
S19: Original queen of disco, Gloria Gaynor.
S5: Or all time queen of disco Donna Summer, to whom we devoted an entire episode of Hit Parade in the late 70s.
S3: Summer was hybridizing disco with synthesizers and even rock guitar, pushing crossover further and topping the pop, R&B and dance charts.
S19: Disco was such a powerful force that even Cissy Houston scored a sizable hit late in the decade. The dance floor classic. Think it over. While it missed the Hot 100, Sissy’s biggest club hit made the R&B charts Top 40 and number five on billboards disco chuck. All of the other black female legends I just ran down, scored a massive crossover hits in the 60s and 70s, but this crossover was fleeting and African-American female superstars found it difficult to build a consistent chart record.
S3: The quiet overachiever among them, Roberta Flack. Scored three hot 100 chart toppers in the 70s and even for top 10 albums.
S6: But Flack would follow a massive selling hit like Killing Me Softly with his song with albums and singles that would miss the top 20. Even the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. She built one of the longest R&B charts streaks in history, including 17 R&B number ones between 1967 and 1970. But even Aretha went more than a decade without a top 10 pop hit from the early 1970’s to the mid 1980s. This glass ceiling on black female crossover achievement would change eventually. The 1980s would see an explosion of black male crossover from Michael Jackson to Lionel Richie to Prince.
S20: But on the other side of the crossover equation was what was dominating the R&B charts and black radio in the late 70s and early 80s. The music was strong enough that some would argue crossover was simply not necessary. Since Teddy Pendergrass, former lead singer of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, scored only one pop, Top 40 hit Close the Door, which peaked at number 25. And it didn’t matter. Pendergrass was an R&B legend, performing sell out concerts composed largely of black listeners and racking up a string of black radio hits, a dozen R&B top five hits and nearly 30 that reached the R&B Top 40.
S6: Indeed, by the 80s, the R&B chart was its own universe with its own lineup of stars who would rarely or never cross to the pop charts. Singers from Luther Vandross to Frankie, Beverly and Maze.
S18: To Jeffrey Osborne. Again, and Stacey Lavis saw.
S5: All of these artists scored strings of R&B top 10 hits. And in this period, none of those hits would touch the upper reaches of the hot 100.
S9: In the early 80s, both white and black audiences had certain expectations for what pop crossover by black artists sounded like. And what didn’t. I offer this preamble to depict the musical world. A young Whitney Houston entered when she emerged as a recording artist in the early to mid 1980s, even before she had issued a recording. Houston had a very auspicious television debut in 1983 on The Merv Griffin Show. She was introduced not only by Griffin, but by the man who signed her Arista Records, President Clive Davis. And from the start, Davis had a vision for Houston’s career.
S21: You have signed her to Arista? That’s correct. You’ll probably start off with an album. That’s correct. She is gorgeous. She’s how old? Nineteen. This girl is 19 years old or she is DMX cousin. You see, she is the odd first cousin. But if the megalith the path to somebody who’s 19, who’s elegant, sensuous, who’s innocent, who’s got an incredible range of talent but guts and soul at the same time, it will be Whitney Houston. In my opinion, she’s Goshi. When you hear here’s Whitney.
S22: I wish the conventional wisdom on the Svengali like Clive Davis and the ocean to Whitney Houston was that Davis from the jump pushed Houston toward more white friendly pop, certainly in his Merv Griffin interview. You can hear Davis verbalizing his crossover dreams for his new protege. But the reality was more nuanced. For starters, the song Whitney was singing that day on Merv Griffin was best known by serious R&B fans. It was home from the musical The Wiz, a track that had been sung only by Stephanie Mills on Broadway and Diana Ross on film. But to that date had never been issued as a singles if home was played on the radio at all. By 1983, it was a black radio deep cut. So both Davis and the 19 year old Houston must have known that while her stellar performance of home would impress all audiences, it would be most resonant with black audiences. This is the subtler truth of the campaign to break Whitney Houston on the charts.
S6: She was first pitched largely to African-Americans and given the chart history of everyone from Aretha Franklin to Dionne Warwick to Roberta Flack to Diana Ross to Whitney’s own mother, Cissy Houston. There was every reason to expect that Whitney’s crossover to pop audiences could be huge, but might be fleeting.
S14: Another telltale sign of the effort to establish Houston with black audiences was whom she was paired with on her very first single.
S20: Teddy Pendergrass had enjoyed a stellar solo career with a streak of R&B hits between 1977 and 1982.
S22: Most of them top 10s.
S6: But after his 1982 top five hit your My Latest Greatest Inspiration, Pendergrass experienced a personal trauma, a car accident that left him paraplegic from the chest down as he spent the rest of 1982 and 83 recovering and looking to return to music. Pendergrass ultimately switched record labels and he needed a single that would reintroduce him to the public.
S20: And he got his assist from Arista Records newest signing. Billed as a duet of Teddy Pendergrass with Whitney Houston was a top five R&B hit in the summer of 1984. It reinvigorated Pendergrast, his status as a leading figure on black radio while also serving as Houston’s formal recorded debut.
S10: Hold Me was almost exclusively an R&B hit on the Hot 100. It peaked just outside the Top 40 at number 46.
S9: Though Pendergrast took lead credit on Hold Me, the song would reappear the following year on Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut album, an LP released 35 years ago this month on Valentine’s Day 1985. But again, it’s crossover with pop audiences did not happen overnight.
S23: The choice of you give good love as the first single from the Whitney Houston LP was a signal to black audiences, a smoldering, mid-tempo soul number produced by multi-instrumentalist Kashif, an artist himself with a string of black radio hits. You Give Good Love topped Billboard’s R&B chart, then called Hot Black Singles in the spring of nineteen eighty five.
S2: In a year when the top R&B artist was not a pop crossover star like Michael Jackson, but rather slow Jam King, Freddie Jackson, who’s hit Rock Me tonight, topped the R&B chart back to back with Houston.
S3: Whitney’s own slow jam seemed right on trend, not a naked crossover bit.
S24: And Arista Records spent practically the entire first half of 1985 working.
S23: You give good love to Top 40 radio. Eventually, their effort paid off as the single reached number three on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1985, alongside current hits by Tears for Fears.
S3: Duran Duran and Sting. Very impressive for a first solo single by a new R&B star. But Houston would do even better with her follow up hits.
S10: Saving All My Love for You was a poison torch song that had been first recorded in the late 70s by former Fifth Dimension singer Marilyn Macoute.
S3: It was written by a pair of veteran white male songwriters, legendary Brill Building songwriter Gerry Goffin and Chicago born Michael Masser songs of theirs.
S20: Like Diana Ross’s theme from Mahogany had long established their crossover bona fides. And as recently as nineteen eighty three, Masser and Goffin had scored an enormous R&B crossover hit by Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson The Ballad.
S25: Tonight I Celebrate My Love.
S24: Among Masser and golfing songs, Saving All My Love for Use, sung from the point of view of a mistress of a married man, had never reached its full potential.
S3: But in the voice of Whitney Houston, the track took on both youthful innocence and soulful grit. It became Houston’s first number one on both the R&B and pop charts in the fall of 1984.
S22: By the end of 85, the Whitney Houston album had emerged as the year’s sleeper hit rising into the top 10 on the Billboard album chart and going double platinum even as the LP generated a pair of big pop hits.
S9: It was still dominating the R&B chart. Arista took this moment to promote an uptempo funk and dance song, Thinking about you exclusively to Black Radio.
S5: It reached number 10 on hot black singles in the closing weeks of the year and did not make the hot 100 at all.
S13: If Whitney Houston, the album, had generated no further hits, it would already rank among the most successful debut albums ever.
S9: But early 1986 is when Arista deployed the album’s secret weapon.
S2: It is telling that Aristos saved the ridiculously catchy. How will I know for Whitney Houston’s third pop single and fourth R&B single? The song’s backstory is a quite literal struggle for white and black influence in Houston’s sound. Written by the then husband and wife pop songwriting team of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. How Will I Know? Was originally penned for Janet Jackson a couple of years before her control album. Janet’s team ultimately passed on the song, feeling it did not jibe with her new sound.
S24: That’s when Arista executives acquired it for Whitney arist as director of R&B Music later told Fred Bronson, writer of the Billboard Book of number one hits, that they heard it as an unabashed pop crossover single, a contrast from the other, more R&B driven material on Houston’s debut album. But when it came time to record, how will I know? Arista begged Narrow to Michael Walden, a producer and songwriter busy working on a comeback album for Aretha Franklin to work on the song with Houston. Walden told Bronson that he was fairly unimpressed with the Merryl Route Occam demo, and he asked to not only produce it, but also rearrange and even co-write new parts of the song.
S2: At first, Merryl and Rubicam balked at Walden’s demand. They had never worked with an outside co-writer before, but they eventually compromised, allowing Walden to add a new verse and change the song’s key and tempo.
S24: After making his refinements, Walden not only recorded Whitney, but invited her mother, Cissy Houston, into the studio to sing backing vocals. In fact, the pileup of multi-tracked background vocals you hear on how well I know includes both Whitney and Cissy Houston.
S2: How will I know became the fulcrum for Whitney Houston’s career? A sleek Frankenstein’s monster that hybridize the R&B and pop elements of herself on the radio and on MTV. It vocalised like a soul song, but played like New Wave pop. Indeed, its video was the first by Houston to receive any appreciable MTV play. The clip was vintage MTV. As Houston strutted through a paint splattered set filled with both white and black dancers like a United Colors of Benetton ad come to life. At one point in the video, when Houston says she’s asking you cause you know about these things, an image of Houston’s honorary aunt, Aretha Franklin, flashed on the screen when it came to crossover. How will I know? Tried to leave no audience behind. How will I know? Topped both the hot 100 and hot black singles. But this time it topped the pop charts first about a month before it topped the R&B chart when it hit number one pop. Houston actually ejected a song by her cousin, Dionne Warwick, the charity Mega Single. That’s What Friends Are For. It was the first time an artist succeeded a blood relative at number one in eight years since the BeeGees and Andy Gibb traded off at the top of the chart in 1978. A couple of weeks after the song hit, number one, the Whitney Houston LP topped the pop album chart for the first time in its 50th week, the slowest rise to number one since Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album a decade earlier. Arista Records had pulled off one of the most painstaking artist introductions in pop history. One last note on how will I know it would be the last Whitney Houston song to top the R&B chart.
S6: For more than four years, it was as if black audiences got the memo around early 1986 that Houston was moving away from them. Of course, as I said earlier in the show, the 1980s was a watershed decade for black to white crossover on a blockbuster scale.
S3: But prior hits by black male superstars had pulled off similar pop crossover without alienating the African-American audience. Whether it was Michael Jackson recording hits penned by white songwriters. Lionel Richie scoring hits that spanned the R&B, pop and even country charts.
S19: Or Prince hybridizing his R&B with guitar rock and even appearing on album rock stations.
S6: In any case, Houston’s next single would be an interesting test of her crossover status, especially since its roots ran deep on the R&B chart.
S14: The greatest love of All was first written in 1977 for a movie called The Greatest. A biopic of boxer Muhammad Ali. And it was first recorded by jazz and R&B singer and guitarist George Benson, who took the song to number two on the R&B chart that year. It was also a number 24 pop hit songwriter Michael Masser coming off several hits for Diana Ross and lyricist Linda Crede co-wrote the song to reflect the achievements and inspirational symbolism of Ali’s career and oh Marsh to a towering African-American sports figure.
S10: Eight years later, for Whitney Houston, the song became an athletic feat of a different variety.
S24: Greatest Love of All became the biggest pop hit from the Whitney Houston album. Spending three weeks at number one on the Hot 100. Meanwhile, on Hot Black singles, it peaked at number three, a respectable showing, but it was Houston’s first single to peak higher on the pop chart than on the R&B show.
S26: An ironic turn of events for a song that in the 70s had been more warmly embraced by the black community, were R&B audiences turning away from Whitney Houston?
S3: It was too soon to say the week greatest love of all peaked on the R&B chart. It was topped by a blockbuster hit from a soul queen achieving her own crossover. Patti LaBelle with her Michael McDonald duet On My Own.
S14: One of the top pop and R&B hits of the year.
S5: Clearly, R&B listeners were not issuing pop crossover entirely in 1986 at the end of the year.
S9: Billboard named LaBelle’s duet with McDonald, the top black single of the year, but they also named the Whitney Houston LP The Top Black Album. In fact, Houston’s self-titled debut was the top album of any genre in 1986.
S10: Also topping all pop albums that year.
S5: Houston had sold truckloads of music to a spectrum of listeners. And with just one album, she had achieved a feat that had eluded everyone from Aretha Franklin to Roberta Flack to Donna Summer, the first black female artist to have the year’s top album and the first LP by a black woman to generate three number one pop hits.
S9: It was going to be a tough act to follow, but in a way what came next was even more stunning and in ways that Whitney Houston, Clive Davis and Arista did not expect more divisive.
S1: When we come back, a chart feat of Houstons that has long gone unheralded and how it ultimately led to her Soul Train moment.
S6: By 1987, anticipation for Houston’s second album would be sky high. And yet somehow commercially, if not artistically, Team Whitney managed to beat expectations again by giving pop fans exactly what they wanted.
S13: I want to dance with somebody who loves me was in every way a sequel. Like, how will I know it was written by the couple. George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. It was specifically requested of them by Arista Records. Once again, it was produced by Narada Michael Walden. Once again, Walden wasn’t a fan at first of Merrill and Rubick, Cam’s original composition. He later told the Billboard book of number one hits, quote, I thought it was to country and Western. I felt there’s gotta be some way I can make its funkier, unquote. Walden, who rearranged the song but did not take a co-writing credit this time, might have succeeded in making the song passable as R&B. But it was clearly the populist song Houston had released to date. For proof, just listen to the other song.
S9: Merrill and Rubicam, who also recorded as the duo.
S12: Boy Meets Girl had offered to Team Houston first. Waiting for a star to fall was rejected by Arista as not on brand for Whitney. Picture a song that’s so Poppy. Even Clive Davis didn’t think Houston should record it yet. Many of its sonic hallmarks are the same as on I Want To Dance With Somebody, especially the bright, frothy keyboards issued a year later as a single for boy meets girl. Waiting for a star to fall was a top five pop hit, riding the coattails of Merryl and Rubick Occam’s earlier hits for Houston. But back in 1987, that broadly similar single they dashed off for their number one client.
S27: That one was a blockbuster released in May 1987 I Wanna Dance with somebody took just seven weeks to top the Hot 100, becoming Whitney Houston’s fourth straight pop number one. But that wasn’t its most impressive chart feat. The single set up the June release of Houston’s second album, simply titled Whitney.
S9: And it would set a record that literally no one can take away from Houston and is actually quite misunderstood. If you’re not a chart nerd to explain this record, I have to go back briefly to the 70s.
S2: In our Elton John episode of Hit Parade, I described an amazing chart feat. Elton pulled off in 1975 when his LP Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy entered the chart on top.
S3: Elton achieved something that had eluded everyone from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin in those analog days of the charts.
S9: It was extraordinarily unusual for music retailers to collectively report a new album as their best seller. In fact, Billboard would not computerize its charts with the SoundScan system until the early 90s, after which no one debuts on the album chart became commonplace. But in the mid 70s, Elton John had done something previously thought impossible, and he did it twice.
S12: In 1975 alone, his follow up album, Rock of the Westies, also the top.
S5: In fact, the list of albums in the pre SoundScan era that debuted on top of the album chart is so short I can run it down for you right now.
S9: There were exactly a half dozen number one album debuts before the 1990s. The first two were those 1975 albums by Elton John.
S13: The third, released in 1976, was Stevie Wonder’s hugely anticipated magnum opus songs in the Key of Life.
S12: The fourth number one debut in album chart history didn’t come for another decade. The 1986 Bruce Springsteen box set live 1975 to 85. His follow up to the blockbuster 1984 album Born in the USA.
S19: Before I reveal the fifth of these six albums, let me skip ahead to the last one. That was Michael Jackson’s bad. His follow up to Thriller, which came out in the late summer of 1987 and surprised absolutely no one when it debuted on top.
S9: But the pre SoundScan number one debut that I can safely say no one saw coming again except maybe Clive Davis was Whitney Houston’s Whitney in June of 1987. It stunned the music business by entering the chart on top.
S13: Some statistics this made Whitney Houston, the first female artist to debut at number one on the album chart and the only woman to do it before SoundScan. This was only Houston’s second album, those two Elton John. Albums were the ninth and tenth of his career, respectively. Songs in the key of Life was Stevie Wonder’s 18th studio album. The Live Box Set was Bruce Springsteen’s first concert album, but of course, it followed his seventh studio album. And finally, Bad was Michael Jackson’s seventh studio album. Simply put, in the pre computerized era of the charts, the youngest artist ever, barely three years after she started recording, had America’s top album out of the box, and she had gone where no black female artist had gone before.
S27: Forget crossover. This was cross cultural dominance.
S9: Unsurprisingly, I want to dance with somebody peaked at number 2 on the R&B chart. This would not have been remarkable except for what happened over the next year as the Whitney album kept generating hits.
S2: Didn’t we almost have it ball? Another torture ballad co-written by Michael Masser reached number one on the Hot 100 in late September 1987 on the R&B chart.
S9: Like I want to dance with somebody. Didn’t we almost have it all peaked at number 2?
S12: So Emotional was the third single from Whitman, written by veteran song Smiths Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who had penned previous pop chart toppers by Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Hart, the light synth funk track reached number one on the Hot 100 in January 1988.
S3: It was Houston’s sixth consecutive number one pop hit on hot black singles.
S28: It reached number five.
S24: When where do broken hearts go? Another Narada Michael Walden production, co-written by future Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn, topped the Hot 100 in April 1988.
S5: Whitney Houston achieved yet another chart record that she holds to this day.
S9: It was her seventh consecutive number one pop hit, breaking her out of a tie with two legendary groups, the Beatles, who scored six straight number ones between 1964 and 1966.
S3: And the BeeGees, who scored six straight chart toppers from 1977 to 1979.
S5: Like all of its chart-topping predecessors, where do broken hearts go?
S9: Fell short of the top spot on hot black singles topping out at number two. In fact, of the singles released from the Whitney album, the only one to perform better on the R&B chart was the album’s fifth and final single. The Latin flavored jelly bean Benitez produced dance track Love Will Save the Day.
S12: It reached number five on the R&B chart and number nine on the Hot 100.
S2: So it’s important to clarify. All five singles from the Whitney album made the top 10 on both the pop and R&B charts.
S9: Even if four of them were pop number ones and none of them were R&B number ones, black audiences did not abandon Whitney Houston en masse when she broke into a greater level of pop fame. Frankly, the biggest warning sign of Houston’s ebbing black audience came just after her second album when she was invited by broadcaster NBC to record the theme song to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
S29: The stately anthem One moment in time, this song reached number five on the Hot 100 and a more distant number 22 on the R&B chart.
S9: But still, to varying degrees with pop and R&B audiences, even this Olympian hymn was a hit. So what was going on that night in 1989, when large swaths of the Soul Train Music Awards audience booed the very mention of Whitney Houston?
S8: The nominees for best R&B urban contemporary single by a female are.
S9: At least one of the recent documentaries about Houston, Kevin McDonald’s Whitney attributes the backlash to a white knee campaign ginned up by the Reverend Al Sharpton and to be sure, some black radio programmers had turned their backs on spinning Houston’s records, believing that after hits like I Wanna Dance with Somebody, her material leaned decidedly more pop than urban. On the other hand, it has also been pointed out that many of Houston’s awards show competitors that night, from Anita Baker to Vanessa Williams, had also crossed over successfully with white audiences.
S6: To me, the explanation lies somewhere in all of this chart data, and it is one simply of magnitude, even in a decade that saw crossover dominance by Michael Jackson in music. Eddie Murphy at the movies and Bill Cosby on TV, Whitney Houston’s success was perceived as perhaps too much, too soon. Houston had achieved a rapid crossover that was quite literally unprecedented among black female artists. It was Bruce Springsteen level Beatles level, Elton John level. So as unfair, even sexist as it might have been, if relate ability is vital to a popular artist’s success, particularly a female artist success. Whitney Houston may have been perceived as a bit too untouchable.
S3: Has for Houston herself, she reportedly took the Soul Train incident hard, and observers say the fact that she met her future husband on the Soul Train Awards. That same night was no coincidence.
S19: Again, I will not be delving deeply into Whitney Houston’s tumultuous relationship with Bobby Brown.
S9: However, I will say that most accounts of Houston’s life unfairly underplay the magnitude of Bobby Brown’s career and the role he played in helping to redirect her career. At the moment, she met him. Brown was an honest to goodness R&B, to pop crossover megastar.
S12: Bobby Brown got his start with new additions, a Boston based boy band who are often seen as the 80s bridge between the Jackson 5 and New Kids on the BLOCK. They were very popular with both white and especially black audiences between new editions launch in 1983 and 1986 when Brown left the group.
S9: They scored a dozen R&B hits, including eight top 10s and three number ones. When Brown left the group to go solo, he began scoring R&B hits of his own immediately. And by the end of the decade, even before he met his future wife, Brown had entered a whole new realm of fame.
S12: Released in the summer of 1988, Bobby Brown’s. Don’t Be Cruel. Album synthesized multiple strains of late 80s Black Pop on its most famous single. The pop and R&B chart topper.
S9: My Perogative.
S4: Brown worked with Teddy Riley, the producer king of New Jack Swing.
S30: It’s the way that it’s.
S2: But Bobbi’s even smarter move was teaming up with a rising pair of writer producers who had just had a romantic R&B smash.
S5: Antonio Reid and Kenneth Edmonds were better known by the so briquettes. L.A. Reid and Babyface. As members of the vocal group The Deal. L.A. and Babyface had scored a 1988 top 10 hit on both the pop and R&B charts called Two Occasions, but they quickly established themselves as even more successful behind the boards with a smooth but kinetic pop and B sound.
S6: In 1988 and 89, L.A. and Babyface were producing smashes for everyone from Karen White to Paula Deuel to after seven.
S24: Reid and Babyface co-wrote and produced half the tracks on Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel. Album, including all of its hit singles.
S19: That Weren’t My Perogative.
S9: In fact, the night in April 1989 that Whitney Houston met Bobby Brown at the Soul Train Awards. Brown had the number one R&B song in America with the L.A.
S12: And Babyface composition. Every little step at the end of 1989, Billboard named Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel album, the number one pop and R&B album of the year. It had generated five top 10 hits and was certified Sex Toppled Platinum.
S9: For the record, as of 1989, Houston’s most recent album, Whitney was also certified for 6 million in sales. In short, hard as it may be to grasp decades later, for that brief moment, at least on the charts, Brown was about as popular as Houston. And thanks in large part to his work with L.A. and Babyface, he had achieved his pop crossover without alienating his black fan base. All of the Don’t Be Cruel hits had reached the hot black singles top five and three had hit number one there.
S6: So it made sense when in 1990, Clive Davis asked L.A. Reid and Babyface if they would produce tracks for Houston’s third album, Reid and Babyface wound up producing just three tracks for Houston’s new album and the most important of these.
S10: The album’s title track heralded Houston’s new sound for the 90s.
S7: Hi, I’m Your Baby Tonight, which topped both the Hot 100 and the R&B chart, found Whitney Houston getting right with the audience that brought her to the dance. Its sound called back to 60s R&B and its video evoked Diana Ross and the Supremes.
S2: Many hits in Houston’s career can be termed pivot points.
S9: But though it now ranks among the middle of the pack among Houston’s catalog of radio classics, I’m Your Baby tonight really is a dividing line in Houston’s URV. Never again would she veer too far from the preferences of African American listeners.
S6: Maybe Houston was also trying to stay ahead of some new competition. The week in December 1990 that I’m Your Baby tonight topped the Hot 100.
S14: It replaced the latest hit by a newcomer, a crossover pop and R&B singer named Mariah Carey.
S2: Whatever Whitney’s motivations, her career balance had been put back on track.
S9: In early 1991, another lung busting ballad, All the Man that I Need, topped both the pop and R&B charts.
S3: But Houston’s most athletic vocal feat in early 91 came not in the studio, but at a globally televised live event, the 25th Super Bowl.
S31: There have been numerous accounts of Whitney Houston’s now legendary performance of the Star Spangled Banner. Many attribute its outsized popularity to the coincidence of the January 1991 launch of the first Persian Gulf War.
S14: A moment of American pride and jingoism.
S10: But it’s also fascinating as a performance, which, by the way, was prerecorded prior to the big game, but is no less impressive for it. Houston, inspired by an earlier unorthodox national anthem performance by the late Marvin Gaye, wanted to bring gospel flavor to her version of the anthem.
S31: So her musical director, Rickey Minor, who would later become the musical director for t.v.’s American Idol, proposed something invented to give Whitney room to sing in a gospel style. He added the beat to the songs meter, taking our national anthem from its original three four waltz cadence to a 4/4 meter. Because, as one observer puts it in Kevin McDonald Whitney documentary, All Black Music is 4/4. So if you’ve ever heard Whitney’s national anthem and felt somehow like the song had a more dramatic elongated tempo, that’s because it does.
S32: Houston’s Star Spangled Banner was an ingenious form of musical crossover released as a single two weeks after the Super Bowl.
S9: Houston’s Star Spangled Banner immediately became the highest charting version of the anthem in the rock era, peaking in its first run at number 20 on the hot 100 and going double platinum. By 1992, both Houston and her new husband, Bobby Brown, were ready to release new material. And again, hard as it may be to believe this. Nearly three decades later, Brown’s was the more hotly anticipated album, his first new LP since the chart Dominating Don’t Be Cruel. Simply titled Bobby Not unlike his wife’s 1987 album, Whitney Brown’s 1992 Comeback debuted on the Billboard 200 album chart all the way up at number two.
S6: And the albums spawned an immediate number two pop number one R&B smash produced by L.A. and Babyface.
S12: Whitney made her own cameo on the Bobby album, duetting with Brown on the frothy romantic trifle, something in common as late as mid 1992.
S9: Houston was leveraging her husband’s status to burnish her own. The song was later issued as a single and reached the Top 40 on the Hot 100 and the top 30 on the R&B chart.
S5: As strong as Brown’s album was out of the gate, Houston’s next project was much less of a sure thing.
S9: Her first ever role in a feature film, plus a Whitney led soundtrack. But, well, if you know what became of that film The Bodyguard and its soundtrack, you might guess that the music did a whole lot better very quickly.
S3: Store. What more can be said about Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You? One of the biggest songs of the 20th century. Originally written by country legend Dolly Parton. The song was proposed by Houston’s bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner. He even conceived the song Stunning Acapella, opening the.
S22: Dolly Parton not only wrote I Will Always Love You, but had previously taken it to number one on the country chart twice. Few hits in chart history have been quite this multi genre and multi-cultural at their core. It was a song with elements of country, pop, gospel and of course, soul.
S3: Both the film and its soundtrack were mega blockbusters. The movie grossed more than $120 million in the U.S. alone and more than 400 million worldwide.
S28: As for the music, when Houston’s I Will Always Love You arrived just ahead of the film. In November 1992, it took just three weeks to March to number one on the hot 100 and four weeks to top the R&B chart.
S33: It led the R&B chart for 11 weeks and the hot 100 for a then record 14 weeks. As for the album, it spent 20 weeks atop the album chart.
S25: And for one week just before Christmas 1992, The Bodyguard became the first album of the SoundScan era to sell a million copies in a single week.
S9: The bodyguard not only went on to become the top selling soundtrack of all time, with estimated global sales of 45 million copies and the Grammy winner for Album of the Year, it was also packed with hits that seamlessly fused Houston’s black and white influences, whether it was her cover of Chaka Khan’s 1978 R&B smash.
S2: I’m Every Woman, which for Houston became a top five pop and R&B. Or Houston’s varsity level pageant worthy torch song. I have nothing which also made the top five on both charts. It is remarkable for a superstar to have two distinct career peaks.
S6: If Houston’s post bodyguard career cannot quite be called a second imperial period, she did enter a new phase of A-list musical stardom and it was punctuated by more movies and more hits that expertly navigated Houston’s cross cultural fame.
S5: In 1995, Houston returned in another blockbuster film, Waiting to Exhale, a female empowerment melodrama that doubled as a showcase for African-American actresses. Both the film and the soundtrack paired Whitney Houston with a coterie of black sisterhood on screens. She was joined by co-stars Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Layla Rashawn and on the soundtrack LP produced and almost entirely written by Kenneth Babyface Edmonds.
S9: Houston was showcased alongside the cream of current female R&B. Among the other artists scoring Babyface penned hits from the multi-platinum Waiting to Exhale soundtrack were queen of hip hop soul Mary J. Blige.
S3: And teen on Janu Brandee, a multi hyphenate, singer and actress who is starring in the new TV sitcom Moesha.
S9: In a sign of the pent up excitement that greeted Houston’s return both to recording and the screen, her lead off single.
S3: The understated, easy paced Exhale parentheses Shoop Shoop debuted at number one on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts in November 1995. Before the hit packed cycle of waiting to exhale was over, Houston even scored a follow up top 10 hit in a duet with gospel superstar C.C. Winans called Count on Me. Taking inspiration from this spiritual hit later in 1996, Houston co-starred in another gospel inflected movie, The Penny Marshall directed Denzel Washington film The Preacher’s Wife.
S6: Its soundtrack was another smash. In fact, it now ranks as the selling gospel album of all time, with six million copies sold worldwide, outselling even Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace.
S2: It gave Houston a number for hit on both the pop and R&B charts with I Believe In You and Me.
S20: It wasn’t until 1998 that Houston returned with a street studio album not connected to a movie.
S3: Although even this album, My Love Is Your Love led off with a spiritual film, tie-ins single. The Mariah Carey duet, When You Believe is from the animated biblical film The Prince of Egypt.
S28: What was more remarkable about Houston’s last multi-platinum album was how cleverly it worked multiple sides of the street, genre wise pop, R&B and even dance music.
S9: For example, the sultry hit Heartbreak Hotel paired Whitney with then cutting edge R&B singers Faith Evans and Kelly Price.
S12: The song was an R&B smash.
S3: Spending seven weeks atop that chart and also reaching a potent number two on the hot 100 for the follow up. It’s not right, but it’s okay. Black radio stations tended toward the original percolating Rodney Jerkins produced album.
S12: But Top 40 stations leaned instead toward a pumping dance club remix by the production team Thunder Push is now in the wake of that top 10 success.
S3: The title track from My Love is Your Love got its own club remix and reached the top five on both the R&B and pop charts in the early weeks of the year 2000.
S12: As has been well chronicled, the final dozen years of Whitney Houston’s life were her most troubled and musically her least prolific.
S9: She did manage one more top ten moment of glory in one of our nation’s saddest moments when her Star Spangled Banner was reissued by popular demand in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It not only returned to the charts, it reached a new peak of number six.
S2: Houston only issued two albums in the 2000s, and neither one was her best work, thanks to a diminished voice ravaged by years of drug and other abuse.
S9: However, her uptempo 2009’s single Million Dollar Bill was acclaimed by critics and did reach the R&B charts Top 20, the last new hit of her lifetime, say.
S13: That same year, with no fanfare, Houston became eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after her earliest recordings past the 25 year mark.
S9: Of course, Houston would not even be nominated for the hall for another decade like Donna Summer. It took her passing to bring about a critical reappropriation of her work and.
S22: Whitney Houston’s death on February 11th, 2012, the day she was scheduled to appear at her longtime mentor, Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy party, prompted an outpouring of grief. And it returned many of Houston’s hits to the radio airwaves.
S28: In fact, as I described in a prior episode of Hit Parade, Houston’s death prompted Billboard magazine to change its Hot 100 policy to allow old or recurrent hits to return to the chart in the streaming and download Heera. Older hits could sell and stream in quantities rivaling current hits.
S33: Just after Houston’s passing her song I Will Always Love You sold more than three hundred and fifty thousand downloads in a single week. As a result of Billboard’s policy change, I Will Always Love You.
S5: RE debuted on the chart at number seven the week after her death, and it rose to number three.
S6: A week later, its highest position since 1993.
S9: Eight years after Houston’s passing her induction into the Rock Hall on her first and only time on the ballot, feels like a reopening of the debate over her legacy. As I said from the top of our show, Houston faced questions of credibility in multiple directions, not just the predictable carping of rock fans, some of whom are this very year interrogating Houston’s rock hall worthiness, but also from within the gospel and R&B community from which Whitney emerged. They questioned her dedication and devotion to that tradition. This is what makes Whitney Houston exceptional. Literally, no other artist of her stature and profile reached the chart heights or faced the backlash that Whitney Houston did either. Hall inducted legends like Aretha Franklin or Gladys Knight or ladies who deserved to be in the hall. Like Roberta Flack or Houston’s cousin, Dionne Warwick and Houston came out the other side, still scoring hits and still influencing generations of vocalists from Christina Aguilera to, of course, Beyonce.
S2: If we accept that women of this vocal caliber belong in the Rock Hall, Houston’s induction is eminently logical.
S9: As a Balloted Rock Hall voter myself, voting for Houston this year was a no brainer. By the way, there’s one last way in which Houston stands apart from every other Rock Hall inductee this year, from T Rex to Biggie Smalls to the Doobie Brothers. She has a current hit on the radio. No, I don’t mean a golden oldie that’s getting played on classic hit stations. I mean an actual relatively new hit song. You see, Houston recorded this cover of the Steve Winwood hit Higher Love back in 1990.
S2: As a bonus track for the Japanese edition of her. I’m Your Baby tonight.
S3: And in twenty nineteen, Norwegian deejay and record producer Cargo resurrected this little heard track and remixed it in a current tropical housemother.
S4: Billed as a duet of Cargo and Whitney Houston, the 2019 edition of Higher Love has landed on multiple Billboard charts. Last summer, it hit number one on the dance club chart. By the fall, it had reached number 29 on the mainstream top 40 chart and number 12 on the adult top 40 chart. As I speak, cargo and Whitney’s higher love is in the top 10 of the adult contemporary charts. It even made a brief appearance on the Hot 100. And it has made the top 20 on the charts of more than two dozen countries around the world.
S5: Her legacy secure Whitney Houston is still scoring hits from the great beyond. To paraphrase the great Dolly Parton. Even when life has not treated her kind. Above all this, we are wishing her well.
S4: I hope you enjoyed this episode of Hit Parade. My producer is Justin D, right. And we also had help this episode from Slate’s Rosemarie Bellson and Asha Saluda, as well as Annie Zaleski. June Thomas is the senior managing producer and Gabriel Roth, the editorial director of Slate podcasts. Check out their roster of shows at Slate dot com slash podcasts. You can subscribe to hit parade wherever you get your podcasts. In addition to finding it in the Slate culture feed. If you’re subscribing on Apple podcasts, please rate and review us while you’re there. It helps other listeners find the show. Thanks for listening. And I look forward to leading the hit parade. Back your way. Until then, keep on marching on the one time XML.