Rolling into 1993, I don’t think anyone would be that shocked that the #1 selling album of 1993 was the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard”, featuring Whitney Houston on the album and in the film. I have never seen the film, nor do I have any intention to do so, but I respect the magnitude of success the album attained. Among its many milestones, it is the best-selling soundtrack of all-time, the best-selling album ever by a female vocalist, and the best-selling album of the entire decade. I will admit as I prepared for this record, I wondered if this would this be another Billy Ray Cyrus moment, where the entire album was carried by a single hit, the monster ballad “I Will Always Love You”. I was happy to learn this album had a few surprises in store for me.
It does open with “I Will Always Love You”, and no matter how you feel about Whitney Houston, this remains one of the single-most powerful vocal performances in music history. Her voice is unbelievably strong and pure, as it is throughout this entire record, and the key changes that keep raising the intensity deliver a song for the ages. Even better, it was written by Dolly Parton, and has a long history including a version by Linda Ronstadt. Both are really worth the listen, and I’m glad I took the time to do so. That said, this song belongs now to Whitney, once and for all.
Almost every song on this album by Whitney was released as a single, and “I Have Nothing” was another powerhouse hit and performance. Next came a forgotten treat; I had forgotten that she covered Chaka Kahn’s “I’m Every Woman” on this album and she delivers a worthy follow-up that I really enjoyed. “Run to You”, “Queen of the Night”, and the Christian hymn “Jesus Loves Me” round out side one, all performed by Whitney as well. They were starting to run together a bit and my interest was starting to fade, and then, it happened…
Thankfully, I don’t read ahead to what comes on an album, and at this point, I didn’t even have the song title or artist at my fingertips, which helped set up this great moment, at least for me. “Even if My Heart Would Break” started off simply enough, with a standard sax opening, although I would learn later that sax was none other than Kenny G. However, I was stopped cold when the vocals kicked in. It took me about 0.5 nanoseconds to recognize my beloved Aaron Neville weigh in with his angelic voice. Better yet, I honestly don’t think I have ever heard this song before, and if I have, it has long since faded from my memory. That said, his music has moved me for over 30 years, and the person he remains today is worthy of the highest love and respect I have for him. I have had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions, and he is very bit the gentle giant that he appears to be with his burly frame and unmatched voice.
Nothing else was going to match up after that, but I did hear one more song I really liked. Side two was all non-Whitney performances, and I really enjoyed “It’s Gonna Be A Lovely Day” by The S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M., who was a variant of C&C Music Factory reworking a Bill Withers song. It is a ridiculously simple pop/hip-hop hybrid, but it has the “Paid In Full” drum beat like half of the music from this era, and the hook is difficult to ignore. Songs by Lisa Stansfield and Curtis Stigers were OK if not great, as was the obligatory Joe Cocker soundtrack song I think every movie from this timeframe contained.
Overall, a better experience than I expected. Some of that was due to the performances of Whitney, and the rest of the day was carried by some much-appreciated surprises. I still don’t have any plans to watch “The Bodyguard”, but if I did, at least I know I would enjoy the music more than I would have ever expected.