617. ‘One Moment in Time’, by Whitney Houston

It’s well known that songwriters aim to write songs for the radio, for TV shows, for streaming playlists… Do some, I wonder upon hearing this next #1, write songs that they hope will be sung by school choirs from here to eternity…?

One Moment in Time, by Whitney Houston (her 3rd of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 9th – 23rd October 1988

Probably not, for where are the royalties in that? But ‘One Moment in Time’ does sound like the love-child of a hymn and a school song. It’s got a heart-tugging, traditional-sounding chorus, and lots of inspiring lyrics: I’m only one, Though not alone, My finest day, Is yet unknown… It was written for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which makes sense, as it is all about seizing the day, racing with destiny, and similar inspirational twaddle.

The school choir comparisons fizzle out pretty quickly, though. For all their merits, not many school choirs sound like this. Whitney Houston could, fair play to her, sing. And this is the first of her chart-toppers, after the sultry ‘Saving All My Love for You’, and the poppy ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’, where she’s been allowed to let loose. And boy, does she let loose

There’s not a school choir on earth that could keep up with her past the three minute mark, when the tempo changes: You’re a winner, For a lifetime… Whitney tells us, before embarking on what has to be one of the most technically impressive displays of singing we’ve heard in a #1 so far. Trumpets come in too, as if heralding the arrival of royalty. It’s a moment.

It’s also way too much. By the end, when Whitney holds the I will be free line…, it produces a sensation not so different from being walloped around the head with a bag of sand. It’s not often that you finish listening to a song and come away feeling like you’ve just done a couple of rounds in a boxing ring, but you do here (apt in a song written for a sporting event, I suppose). The legendary songwriter Albert Hammond wrote it with Elvis in mind, apparently. I can see it, but I also think Elvis would have given a more nuanced performance.

At the same time, perhaps there’s no room for nuance in a song written for the Olympics, required to appeal to people from all around the globe, and to recreate the moment a sprinter crosses the finish-line in first place. In the right time and place, this could really work. Unfortunately, I’m writing this on a cold Thursday evening, after a long day at work, and the last thing I need is someone howling in my ear about all of my dreams being a heartbeat away…

There are ballads, there are power-ballads, there are eighties power-ballads, then there’s this. I can’t think of many more bombastic chart-toppers, or of one belted out with as much gusto. And there possibly won’t be again, until Whitney’s final #1 some four years from now…


15 thoughts on “617. ‘One Moment in Time’, by Whitney Houston

  1. As a technical performance I suppose it’s hard to fault, but I’ve heard it all before and I can’t describe it as anything other than ordinary. It’s certainly not Albert Hammond’s finest four minutes as a writer. I think there’s another power ballad on the way before 1988 is through which I enjoyed rather more.

    • If it’s the one I’m thinking of, is that a power ballad…? Or a rock ballad? Either way, I did enjoy it more, though I do somewhat admire the sledgehammer approach that Whitney takes to this one.

      • Ahhhhh…I can see a discussion developing along the lines of ‘when is it a power ballad or a rock ballad?’. The one I’m thinking of is closer to Pat Benatar and it’s not Enya! (As for personal taste, I’d take both of those over Whitney).

  2. She does a great job on this song…and she had an awesome voice but I am not a fan of vocal gymnastics. I did respect her talent but the songs were not in my wheelhouse. This is coming from a Janis Joplin fan…I like roughness and rawness…not picture perfect.

  3. Correction: like being hit in the head with a hardened bag of sand 🙂

    Bombastic and everything about OTT Whitney that i hated. Oddly i dont recall Albert Hammond doing this on his tour. I may have just blotted out the memory. He did Little Arrows though. Way better.

    • I agree that it’s completely OTT and almost painful by the time it gets to the climax, but at least it’s not a song that calls for much subtlety. Have at it, I say. Her final #1 is the far greater crime against music, imo…

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