591. ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’, by Whitney Houston

And so on to one of the decade’s biggest voices, with her poppiest moment…

I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), by Whitney Houston (her 2nd of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 31st May – 14th June 1987

Her poppiest #1, at least. ‘Saving All My Love for You’ was slinky jazz, and the following two are Whitney Ballads™. Here, though, she sings like the young woman she was, and sounds like she’s having one hell of a time.

Clock strikes upon the hour, And the sun begins to fade… It’s girly-pop 101: the need to dance with somebody, anybody, as long as they love you; from ‘Dancing Queen’ to ‘Just Dance’. It’s slightly contradictory, she is looking for an anonymous encounter with someone who already loves her… A man who’ll take a chance, On a love that burns hot enough to last… but really, who’s looking for lyrical depth?

This is cheese. The lyrics, the castanet flourishes between lines, the strident synth chords before each chorus, and a peach of a key-change. But, there are levels of cheese. And there are two things that save this from being cheesy pop of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman variety. The first is that it’s being sung by Whitney Houston. SAW never had a singer of her capabilities (sorry, Kylie). Check out the way she breathes the ‘falls’ then belts the ‘calls’ in the When the night falls, My lonely heart calls… line. While Sonia ain’t never hit notes like Whitney does in the fade-out. The usual complaints about her over-singing don’t apply here either: it’s much harder to over-sing a bubbly pop tune like this. And even if you do, people are less likely to notice.

The second is that, under all the cheese, the production has quite an edge to it. The squelchy bass in the intro is fun, and the middle-eight breakdown especially has a Prince-like funk to it. It’s worth contrasting the ‘cool’ production on an American hit like this, with the most recent British equivalent, ‘Respectable’. As much as I did enjoy it, and I know it sounds like I’m picking on SAW here, there is a big difference in quality…

Critics picked up on ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’s similarity to Houston’s own ‘How Will I Know?’, and Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, similarities which are there for all to hear, but they didn’t stop it from being a worldwide smash. And, in the UK at least, it marks a significant milestone: the first single issued on CD. The future is rapidly approaching…

And as fun as this song is, it’s skirting very close with being overplayed to oblivion. At hen-parties and ‘80s nights you can safely bet your house on hearing it. I’d suggest it be retired for a decade or so, in order to preserve what is one of the most enjoyable moments, for me at least, in Whitney’s discography.

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12 thoughts on “591. ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’, by Whitney Houston

  1. Oh i reached saturation point on this by the 90s! So sick of hearing it. I liked it enough to give it a top 5 personal chart placing at the time. But i dont want to hear it anymore. Whitney has quite the range, and she learned to sing and use it properly a decade later, but her range is all technique and show off, not emotion at this stage. I will however raise you one poor forgotten Donna Summer – SAW did an album with her and had hits and that lady could sing and emote, had a way more varied career, she tackled all sorts of genres and of course she was ground breaking musically in a way that Whitney could only dream of. And ill take her SAW biggie This Time I Know Its For Real over Whitneys entire career, oops not even her greatest record! 🙂

  2. It was a good record at the time, but as is so often the case, it rapidly became over-exposed – how can you miss something when it never goes away? Having said that, it was the last one of hers that I really liked . She had her moments later on, but rather went down the diva road. If you give me a choice of Donna Summer or Whitney Ultimate Collections, I’d take the one from Donna any day.

  3. Pingback: 593. ‘It’s a Sin’, by Pet Shop Boys | The UK Number Ones Blog

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