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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561. ‘Saving All My Love for You’, by Whitney Houston

The second last chart-topper of 1985 (an eclectic year of decidedly mixed chart-topping vintage) introduces one of the most famous, most powerful voices in pop history.

Saving All My Love for You, by Whitney Houston (her 1st of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd December 1985

And it’s a pretty low-key entry for such a mighty voice. The intro is very of-its-time, soft, soft soul… Elevator-soul, I’m going to call it from now on, even though playing muzak in lifts hasn’t been a thing for many years. Houston’s voice also comes in very softly. A few stolen moments, Is all that we share…

Following on from Wham’s ode to spontaneous and anonymous (and possibly gay) sex, this record is keeping the illicit theme going. You’ve got your family, And they need you there… Whitney, the homewrecker, is having an affair with a married man! They’re making love the whole night through, while his children ask why daddy’s not home for dinner… Whitney’s mother, Cissy, was against her daughter recording such an immoral song, but to no avail.

Personally, I like the fact that she’s completely unrepentant. Her friends warn her off, she pines away lonely at home… But, she sings, no other man’s gonna do…. So I’m saving all my love for you… She doesn’t come across as very sorry about it at all. The way she slams her fist down on lines like For tonight, Is the night…! In the video, she’s having a great time at a club with her lover, as the wife serves side-eye from the balcony. (In the end, though, the couple re-unite while Whitney walks home alone. You wonder if this scene was thrown in last-minute, by a nervous record label…)

It’s very classy, and well-produced. I’m even enjoying the lounge-bar saxophone that’s crooning away in the background. I could complain about the slick-as-a-seal’s-arse eighties production, but by this point I’d just be shouting into a typhoon. It’s December 1985, things are glossy, and they’ll be staying that way for some time to come. It does feel like a slightly understated song to have been the breakthrough hit for a voice such as Houston’s, but there are moments where she shows what she’s capable of. The that’s just an old fantasy… line, for example, as well as some impressively long notes at the end of the choruses.

I may well be pining for this understated version of Whitney come her final, monster #1 (you know the one). Here she was just twenty-two, with a massively successful career ahead of her. It’s elegant, and very well sung: a grower not a show-er. In the US, ‘Saving All My Love for You’ was the first of seven chart-toppers in a row for her. While never quite as successful in Britain, she would be a big chart presence for the next twenty years. More to come very soon, then, from Miss Houston …

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