Whitney Houston – You Give Good Love
Probably the two most common words in modern music are “yeah” and “baby,” and strangely these tiny four letter words can often be the thing that elevates a song to greatness. Deliver either one of these in the perfect way and you’re all set for pop longevity. The undoubted queens of “yeah” are Madonna (sexy and dirty, as in Justify My Love) and Kylie Minogue (sexy and breathless, as in Slow) – but there is only one queen of “baby” and that’s Whitney Houston.
In 1985 Whitney was on the brink of superstardom, having caught the eye of Clive Davis at Arista Records some two years earlier. Showing a restraint you couldn’t possibly imagine now, time was taken to develop her as a performer before unleashing her on the public. The songs for her debut, self-titled album were chosen meticulously and her first few – including a duet with the legendary Teddy Pendergrass – were serviced to R&B radio rather than pop. The strategy paid off: by the time You Give Good Love was released the buzz around Whitney was becoming deafening, and it crossed over to the mainstream, peaking at no.3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her next seven singles all peaked at US no.1, a record no other artist has matched (The Beatles and Bee Gees are closest with six apiece).
I can’t quite work out what’s going on in the video – it appears Whitney is performing in a hospital chapel of rest moonlighting as a supper club while a none-too professional photographer takes snaps and some orderlies on their break have a bit of a dance. There’s also a quite astonishing pink pantsuit that looks it like was constructed from fudge Quality Street wrappers. Beyond all that, there’s simply a flawless performance, exuding control and confidence at the same time as a yet-to-be-corrupted innocence. And then there’s that “baby” ; in the first chorus it’s perfectly pleasant, but in the second – at 2:20 – it’s the sound of a woman perfectly in control of her voice, knowing just when to unleash its full power. It’s genuinely spine-tingling.
Britain – mainstream Britain anyway – has never really paid that much attention to what’s going on in the R&B chart in America, and so You Give Good Love was released with minimal fanfare, limping to no.93 while Madonna ruled the roost with Into the Groove. It was only after Saving All My Love For You hit no.1 in the US that we sat up and took notice, sending it to the top here in November 1985. The era of Whitney Houston had begun.
Entered chart: 18/08/1985
Chart peak: 93
Weeks on chart: 1
Who could sing this today and have a hit? If it turns out she can still have hits, Leona Lewis.