in The People's Album

I’m finding that a lot of the albums over the course of this series were owned by one of my family members on CD (and by “family members”, I mean my mom or sister since my dad basically stopped listening to music once he was out of his twenties).  If you’re wondering (which I can’t imagine you are), the tally for number of People’s Albums I can remember lying around my childhood home is 7 so far.  Which I honestly thought would be higher, but I’m nonetheless still using as a segue into the fact that the album I’m about to talk about is one of them.

Album: The Bodyguard Original Soundtrack
Artist: Whitney Houston & Various
Release Date: November 17, 1992
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 13.5 million

Why Was This Popular?

Because America Loves Those High Notes

As any dietician will tell you, Americans like things big.  Be it our SUVs, our cheeseburgers, or just our egos, we like things that are big and boisterous, and I think this easily carries over to our pop singers.  In regards to Whitney Houston, I’m clearly not talking about her physical appearance (since later in her career she often looked quite frail), but I am of course referring to that voice of hers’.  No where is that more evident than the rousing rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner that Houston performed at the 1991 Super Bowl in lieu of America’s always great idea of getting involved in a war in the Middle East.  Actually, there is a place where there’s an even better example of Whitney Houston’s all-encompassing voice, and it happens at precisely 3 minutes and 8 seconds into her smash hit cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”.  You know the moment I’m talking about, the moment where after gradually ramping up the intensity and vocal register of each chorus of the song, Whitney just goes for it and lets out such a piercingly strong note coupled with about the most affecting sentence you could possibly say to a person.  To put it lightly, it’s pretty powerful stuff.  So powerful, that like myself, you probably couldn’t even tell me how any of the verses to that song goes, even though you probably have a perfect representation in your head of how Houston sings that one line.

Going into this album, I pretty much figured that “The Note” and “I Will Always Love You” in general were the only reasons this album could’ve possibly sold over 10 million copies.  Though after looking at so many of these mega-selling albums over the course of this series, you’d think I’d be able to tell that that’s never the truth, because for any album to sell this many copies there almost in every case has to be more than just one hit single on the album.  Also, by the way, The Bodyguard Soundtrack is made up of roughly 50% Whitney Houston songs and 50% other people’s songs, because apparently even the most well-known and successful soundtrack albums are inherently lazy.  As you might guess, the other big hits on the soundtrack come from Whitney, as “I Have Nothing” is another solid — if schmaltzy — ballad from an artist that could knock a schmalzy ballad out of the park.  Then you’ve also got “I’m Every Woman”, which probably isn’t a good song, but nonetheless has that ‘90s girl power thing going for it, and therefore can’t help but be both more infectious and more empowering than it has any right to be.

Also, you wouldn’t think so, since the movie seems not just forgotten, but practically non-existent at this point, the success of the film The Bodyguard might have actually had something to do with its soundtrack’s success.  I know, it’s hard to believe that this movie was actually super popular (it was the second highest grossing film of 1992 behind Aladdin), but I guess that’s just the plight of everything Kevin Coster has ever done.  And if you’re like me, because this film has been so utterly forgotten, you probably couldn’t tell me what this movie is about (judging from the soundtrack cover, I always assumed it was about Kevin Costner protecting a nun).  But it in fact stars Houston as a successful pop singer who seeks the help of a former secret service agent as her bodyguard, and they like fall in love or something.  Clearly I haven’t seen it, but it sounds like The Bodyguard falls into that category of A Hard Day’s Night, Purple Rain, 8 Mile, etc. in which a pop singer plays a version of themselves in a movie, and said movie/soundtrack can’t help but be successful since the star of this movie/soundtrack is on an unstoppable track towards conquering all of media.

Did It Deserve To Be Popular?

As you may or may not remember (much like the fact that the movie The Bodyguard exists), I’ve already talked about one particular Whitney Houston album before on The People’s Albums.  And I’m kind of glad that this series has forced me to seek out some of Houston’s work, since she’s never seemed like an artist who you absolutely have to listen to at some point, even despite her being one of the biggest forces in pop music ever.  To that end, I can see why Houston hasn’t held as high of a critical standing as, say the artist I remember declaring as her male counterpart, Michael Jackson.  And the main reason is that a lot of Houston’s recordings just don’t hold up.  The production usually has a lot of that limp, silky keyboard sound that seems so emblematic of that brand of soft R&B from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and even though there’s always hope of that kind of sound coming back in vogue (since it feels like anything can at this point), to my ears it just sounds like such a hokey product of its place and time that I can’t get into it.

So instead of really enjoying Houston’s music, mainly all I can do is marvel at her talent, while also wondering what might have been if she’d actually had a decent studio band backing her up.  Which I think brings us back to “The Note” on “I Will Always Love You”, and why that moment is probably Whitney Houston’s finest hour.  That’s the one moment in an in otherwise schmaltzy discography, and for that matter entire career — which was for the most part dominated by overbearing men — in which she completely takes over.  Her voice is so powerful and so overwhelming that she completely drowns out her crummy backing band, and all that we can see or hear in that moment is pure Whitney.

As for the music on here that wasn’t made by the former Ms. Bobby Brown, it’s pretty hit or miss.  There’s a song on here by a group called S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M. and it’s basically the epitome of what you imagine a hip-hop/R&B/pop hybrid from the ‘90s sounding like, which I can’t quite tell if that makes it stupid, or if I’m all about it.  Maybe it’s a little of both.  Also, there’s a pretty Motown-y sounding cover of “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, And Understanding” by Curtis Steiger, which is pretty sweet, because I guess it’s really hard to fuck up a cover of that song.  Unfortunately, our old nemesis Kenny G makes an appearance on this soundtrack, on a super crappy collaboration with Aaron Neville, which sounds like a rip-off of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready”, but if instead of being about civil rights it was about being a giant pussy. [note: I made this conclusion less from listening to the lyrics than from being punished by Kenny G’s intermittent sax solos.]

Would I Pay Money For This?

Did I mention that this album has Kenny fucking G on it?  I simply cannot sign off on anything that has that motherfucker anywhere near it.  And yeah, I know.  It’s weird that I’m still railing against Kenny G in 2015, but god dammit, I forced myself to listen to Breathless in its entirety twice in preparation for that entry of The People’s Album, and considering that that album is 75 god damn minutes long, that is 3 hours of my life I will never get back. 

Also, if it was possible to spend money on the 20 seconds of “The Note” and all of its ensuing vocal flourishes, I would.  However, that moment has and continues to be used in so many movies and TV shows and just all kinds of distant regions of the pop culture universe that such a thing hardly seems necessary.  I will always love you indeed.

Next Time On The People’s Albums: I will get up, stand up, and talk about deese songs of freedom on Legend by Bob Marley.