Celebrating 35 Years of ‘Whitney’

Mack Mendenhall

Imagine: it’s the summer of 1987, and Whitney Houston just dropped “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” The R&B-influenced, dance-pop song would become a timeless classic of social gatherings and influence countless future generations. For the past few years, the young singer has been breaking into the music industry, but her superstardom is about to reach new heights with her sophomore album, Whitney

June 2nd marked the 35th anniversary of the Whitney album release, a landmark moment in Houston’s career. She was in her early 20s, dominating the charts and establishing herself as a magnificent vocalist and commanding stage presence. Her legendary voice was arguably at its best – clear and strong, jumping octaves effortlessly, overflowing with emotion and soul. Her gospel inflections and vibratto-heavy high notes pierce through every recording. To me, what’s most impressive on Whitney is the singer’s range of emotion, vocal abilities, and stylistic elements.

The album produced four number-one singles (“I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”), scored Houston a Grammy win among three nominations, and became one of the best-selling albums of all time with over 20 million copies sold worldwide. Thanks to the album’s hit singles, Whitney holds the record for most consecutive number one songs at seven, an impressive feat no other artist has surpassed.

Everyone knows the iconic drum hits and synthesizers that characterize the album’s opening song, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” But other upbeat tracks, such as “So Emotional,” “Love Will Save the Day,” and “Love Is a Contact Sport” rival the lead single’s explosive ’80s energy. “So Emotional,” which incorporates Whitney’s sultry vocals and rock elements of grungey electric guitars, was especially popular as a number one single.

But who can forget jaw-dropping ballads like “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” and “You’re Still My Man”? In these mournful songs, Houston’s voice is a force of nature, and her spectacular five-octave range is on full display. Other tracks like “Just the Lonely Talking Again” and Whitney’s cover of the Isley Brothers’ hit “For the Love of You” feature a more urban, R&B production.

The album closes with a special treat: a duet featuring Whitney’s mother, legendary gospel singer Cissy Houston. They gracefully bring the powerful ballad “I Know Him So Well” from the musical Chess to new heights of soul, passion, and anguish.

All in all, Whitney was a critical and commercial success that effectively followed Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut album and continued spreading her influence to international audiences. It remains a shining example of one of the peaks of Whitney’s iconic career and the magic that happened every time she opened her mouth to sing.

35 years later, Whitney still has us dancing.

 

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