innocent-sounding here that she can get away with this subtly sexual song. Whitney denied it, and the good love he gives could be purely emotional. But there’s a bedroom-y lushness here that makes me say no, he’s giving her something she can feel.
7 “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”
The relationship is ending, and yet, Whitney is joyous. The song is wistful but majestic. Her performance gives us a thrilling power ballad focused not on the sadness of losing love but the excitement of having had it. She sings, “The ride with you was worth the fall, my friend,” emphasizing ‘my friend’ and speaking to her peace with this ending.
6 “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Whitney and her musical director Rickey Minor created their own version of the song, changing the meter from 3/4 time to 4/4, thus giving her a little more space to do her thing. And, oh, she does. She makes it soulful and powerful. She holds the final “brave” for a stunning 11 seconds, and, at a moment of intense patriotism, when America was mired in the Gulf War, she sings with brilliance, joy and dignity (yes, that word again) that lifts America’s spirits even higher.
5 “All the Man That I Need”
When Whitney opens up and lets loose for the majestic chorus that’s like a cathedral of sound, I’m certain that the man we’re talking about isn’t human. She’s talking about Him. Again, I marvel at Whitney’s smooth transitions, the poised way she leaps from delicate verses to powerful choruses that make it seem as if she’s grown in size because she’s filled with the spirit.
4 “Saving All My Love for You”
A song from the perspective of a devoted mistress is a bold choice for the beginning of a career. And it’s a sympathetic portrayal. She’s not unhinged; she’s understandable. We see why she suffers when we hear how happy she is through Whitney’s soaring voice and gloriously held notes about “makin’ love the whole night through!” It’s a great story song be-cause the character is drawn well, the point of view is unusual, and despite the woman in question being trapped in a tragic situation, Whitney sings in a resolute way, giving this long-suffering lover dignity.
3 “I Have Nothing”
The gigantic, thrilling chorus is the zenith of this song about the intense desire for love. Yet, the woman is clearly not going to crumble if she doesn’t get love because she’s got dignity. She’s been hurt, but Whitney’s voice is so strong, so unwavering, she doesn’t sound defeated or depleted. Even if she doesn’t get his love, she will survive. My favorite line: “Can’t run from my-self/There’s nowhere to hide.” Indeed.
2 “The Greatest Love of All”
This song was written as one of its two writers was battling breast cancer. You can see how that struggle would clear the mind for searching one’s soul. It’s fitting that this is one of the biggest singles of Whitney’s career because, in many ways, the lyrics are the culmination of that career. If you can love yourself, you’re on the path to a love much more powerful and fulfilling than one found in a relationship with another person. If you can love yourself, then you have dignity, the undercurrent for so much of Whitney’s music.
1 “I Will Always Love You”
Naturally, a song all about dignity tops the list. Would that we all could have this much peace, poise, selflessness and generosity of spirit at the end of a relationship. She walks away with her head held high, wishing him well, allowing him to forever occupy real estate in her heart. But what really makes this No. 1 is Whitney’s iconic, unforgettable vocal performance. This is her greatest mo-ment as a singer. The delicacy of the song’s a cappella beginning, the lush beauty of Whitney’s voice, the power of that mesmeriz-ingly long-held note at “I”—the zenith of singing in American music in my lifetime.
Read more in the April 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine!