Needless to say, I was taken aback by the disco beat when I finally heard Summer's original version.
I haven't been writing much lately, but I couldn't let the passing of this timeless talent go by without comment. Like Houston before her, she was a great singer who went too soon, and country music's legacy was just a little bit richer for her passing through.
On the eve of the Grammy Awards, music lost one of its greatest voices, as Whitney Houston died at age 48.
Her only tangential connection to country was a big one. Her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is one of the most successful singles in history, spending 14 weeks at #1 and pushing its parent album, The Bodyguard soundtrack, to sales of 44 million worldwide.
When Michael Jackson died in 2009, it was the first time it felt like we lost an icon of our generation. But Jackson hit the charts with his brothers in 1969.
Whitney Houston was all eighties. Everyone my age can remember the first time they heard her sing, back when “Greatest Love of All” and “How Will I Know” dominated the airwaves. There was no matching that voice.
In the years that followed, many superstars would surface who could hit the big notes like Whitney, but not one of them came even close to doing it with her soul and her style. She’s best known for her eighties pop classics and soundtrack hits from the nineties, but her best work was her underrated studio albums from the latter decade.
Watching the Super Bowl Half Time Show this year, I was again struck by how the eighties icons are surviving the test of time. Madonna’s still at the top of her game, as are U2 and Bon Jovi. Prince and Bruce Springsteen aren’t getting a lot of love for their new music, but are still amazing live and are still making excellent music.
But Michael Jackson’s gone, and now Whitney Houston is, too. There was something so unique about the eighties that produced these larger than life stars. I don’t know that the various mediums will ever be aligned well enough to create stars that big again. We’re always going to have ladies with big, booming voices, but there will never be another who makes our collective jaws drop like Whitney Houston did.
This afternoon, it took me seventy minutes to get to my final and fifteen minutes to actually take it. It was the traffic jam to end all traffic jams, requiring navigations of Brooklyn and Queens that were mind-numbingly convoluted.
What kept me from losing my temper? My iPod. Nothing quite like Todd Snider and Rodney Carrington to lighten the mood.
We haven’t had an iPod Check in a long time, so given that it was my sanity-saving device today, it’s as good a night as any.
No funny rules or complicated instructions here. Just turn on your iPod/mp3 player and hit shuffle.
With more than a hundred chart hits to her name, including 25 #1 singles and 57 top tens, Dolly Parton is the most successful singles artist in country music history. But even before she was a hit on the radio as a singer, her songs had already been in heavy rotation. They were just sung by different artists.
Throughout the past five decades, there have been countless versions of her songs recorded, so narrowing them down to six is no easy feat. It might be best to look at this list as an introduction, rather than a conclusion. Either way, these six cuts are essential listening.
“The Last One to Touch Me”, Porter Wagoner
from the 1971 album Simple as I Am
Parton and Wagoner recorded quite a few of her songs together on their various duet albums, but Wagoner had a hit on his own with a Parton composition as well. This touching ballad is a forward-looking declaration of love, with one lover wishing the other is the last one to touch them – at the end of every day, right up until the last day of their life.
“Down From Dover”, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood
from the 1972 album Did You Ever?
This is Parton’s heartbreaking tale of a shunned daughter sent away from home for being pregnant out of wedlock. It’s transformed into a downright creepy duet here, with Hazlewood cruelly mocking Sinatra as he repeats the promises he has no intentions of keeping.
“Kentucky Gambler”, Merle Haggard
from the 1975 album Keep Movin’ On
Haggard and Parton’s mid-seventies touring produced two #1 hits. One is “Kentucky Gambler”, which Parton penned. It remains the only #1 country hit that she’s written for another artist. It’s a great song, and is included on the same album as “Always Wanting You”, a #1 hit that Haggard wrote about Parton and his unrequited love for her.
“To Daddy”, Emmylou Harris
from the 1978 album Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town
On her fourth studio album, Harris was determined to prove that she could record a collection of all-new songs by contemporary songwriters. Parton helped her along by giving her a masterpiece.
“I Will Always Love You”, Whitney Houston
from the 1992 album The Bodyguard
There have been so many great recordings of this song, including three hit versions by Parton herself, and solid covers by Linda Ronstadt and Melissa Etheridge. But none of them hold a candle to the tour de force that is the Whitney Houston recording. The a cappella opening verse, the slowly building emotional intensity, the explosive final stretch. If there was a better vocal performance anywhere on the radio in the nineties, I didn’t hear it.
“The Grass is Blue”, Norah Jones
from the 2003 album Just Because I’m a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton
Putting Parton’s bluegrass arrangement to the side, Norah Jones went with her signature piano-based style instead. The result was a great song made even better, so much so that when Parton performs the song today, she uses Jones’ arrangement instead of her own.