Oct 09

WHITNEY HOUSTON – “Saving All My Love For You”

FT + Popular105 comments • 7,927 views

#561, 14th December 1985, video

The chiming, soft-focus keyboards that open “Saving All My Love For You” suggest late-night romance, low lights and the chink of glasses. This is a bluff and a lie: “Saving” isn’t a song about romance, it’s a song about pain and anger, and how its singer copes with and channels those. On its – pretty obscure – original recording, by Marilyn McCoo, the arrangement is richer and McCoo sounds rueful but warm, almost good-humoured. She’s calculated the angles as much as her married lover has, and knows that what she has is the least worst option: it’s a compromised sort-of happiness, but it’ll have to do.

“It’ll have to do” is not a concept the Whitney version recognises. This “Saving” smarts with the unfairness of the situation, the shock of crushed expectations. The winsome sax-and-keys arrangements (so bland, to be honest, that their bluff goes too far and spoils the record) are a taunt for Whitney: this isn’t a slow dance, it’s a bad deal, and she’s on the end of it. Houston isn’t at her best on sweet songs – harshness and force have always been weapons available to her and on “Saving” they come out at just the right time: “To-NIGHT, Is the NIGHT. For feeling al-RIGHT.” – you can almost hear the cutlery slamming down on the table as she lays it, ready for him to walk in the door. In McCoo’s version, the man-and-mistress arrangement is stable. In Houston’s you feel something’s going to give, not tonight, no, but soon – and it won’t be pretty when it happens.

It’s a great performance, and an important single. Because of all the versions of pop we’ve seen in 1985 – good, bad, old-fashioned, cheap or ugly – this is one of the most enduring: the glamorous young soul diva with the colossal voice. It’s the kind of pop stardom which turned out much later to transfer best to reality TV, but the astonishing success of Whitney and her successors means we’ll see plenty of it before that. So it’s good that we’re meeting the style at close to its best. The schlocky arrangement of “Saving” hides a fine, moving song, and the scale of Whitney Houston’s performance shouldn’t obscure how much conflict and nuance she puts into it.



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  1. 91
    Brooksie on 16 Mar 2010 #

    I don’t really know why this is being considered as “pop”? Is it because of the 80’s sheen, or because it hit # 1? In the 70’s this would be “soul”, and in the 90’s and beyond it would be something akin to “R & B”.

    It’s a good song, and partly because Whitney doesn’t do her famous over-the-top vocals on it, I find myself still enjoying it all these years later. “Subtlety” is something Whitney would later lack, and – in my opinion – she always lacked honesty. I can still recall her trashing Madonna for her slutty image back in the day, and yet to me Madonna’s “Live to Tell”, while being only as sincere as pop stars can be, seems infinitely more believable the Whitney’s bellow on “Didn’t We Almost Have it All”. The fact that Madonna never succumbed to the temptations of fame that could derail or submarine her career, while Whitney became a drugs-vacuum, is richly ironic in the light of those earlier comments.

    The fact that Whitney would go on to inspire Mariah, and a million teenage “Look at me listen to me I have such BIG emotions” girls, taints her for me. Her later histrionics are also burned into my brain. But at this point in her career, she was an attractive young woman with a great voice singing soul-pop at a time when so much of it seemed inauthentic, and that justifiably made her a star. There were a good few years when she was the anti-Madonna, and for some reason, she was respected all the more for it.

  2. 92
    koganbot on 11 Dec 2011 #

    Recently read Ken Emerson’s Always Magic In The Air about Brill Building pop and got all excited discovering that Gerry Goffin had co-written this — which means I totally forgot that not only had Marcello given the same information on this thread, but that I’d commented on it. Anyhow, I don’t have much to add to what Marcello already said regarding Goffin except that the extreme self-denial of “Take Good Care Of My Baby” is as relevant as the uncertainty of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” (but “Take Good Care Of My Baby” tastes like a day old lollipop in comparison to both “Saving” and “Tomorrow” and is plenty disturbing for that very reason, the combination of self-abnegation and icky sweetness). But then, equally relevant is “Touch me in the morning/Then just walk away/We don’t have tomorrow/But we had yesterday,” in a song co-written by “Saving”‘s co-writer Michael Masser. (According to Emerson, it was definitely Goffin not King who wrote the lyrics to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” But I can’t tell you who contributed what to “Saving” etc.) For further resonance, the line “‘Cause tonight is the night, for feeling alright” recalls my favorite Shirelles song “Tonight’s The Night”*, which like “Saving” is set not in the night but in its lead-up, anticipation being necessarily uncertain.

    My reading of “Though I try to resist being last on your list” is a bit different from Marcello’s; I’d put a comma after “resist”; so she’s trying to resist the guy, since she knows she’s last on his list (but she can’t resist him). I like Lex’s idea that the narrator is drawn to the role of other woman on the basis of her own character, though I’d say this is in the song as potential (songs are about what they’re about and are also about what they could be about), and I like MBI correctly pointing out how celebratory this performance sounds (though I don’t see its sounding celebratory being incompatible with its pain; in fact, the two may be linked). The potential I project onto the song is that she’s giving all her love to him not just because she won’t give it to anyone else, but because — what’s always there in this relationship — tonight could be the last time, may be the last time, she doesn’t know. So “all” doesn’t just mean exclusive, it means that tonight she’s giving her all, in the possible last chance for giving.

    *Which is not by Goffin/King

  3. 93
    Erithian on 12 Feb 2012 #

    Such a force of nature she was, and a tragic decline. RIP.

  4. 94
    lonepilgrim on 12 Feb 2012 #

    This is such sad news, I’m at a loss for words. RIP

  5. 95
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Feb 2012 #

    Very sad but unfortunately not a shock. RIP.

  6. 96
    thefatgit on 12 Feb 2012 #

    Just heard the news. Even when a star is in decline, when that light is extinguished, the sky becomes a little bit darker. RIP Whitney.

  7. 97
    enitharmon on 12 Feb 2012 #

    Bloody Erithian woke me at silly o’clock with the news! I won’t ask what he was up to at that hour. Some of us don’t get invited to the wild parfties any more.

    It’s one of those moments to note wryly amidst the carnage wrought by the pressures of pop (and other) celebrity that those founding gods of R&B, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and BB King, are not only still with us but still performing.

  8. 98
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Feb 2012 #

    Bloody Erithian sent me the same text at the same extraordinary hour but I had my phone switched off. HA!!

    Rosie makes a good point about Chuck, Richard and BB. And, of course, Keef is still occupying the crease too against all logical odds and despite several referrals by the fielding side against a succcession of great shouts given not out.

    Meanwhile, someone texted me a message hoping that when Whitney is waved through the gate by St Peter, Serge Gainsbourg is not lurking around in the shrubbery. Made me smile, that one.

  9. 99
    Bloody Erithian on 12 Feb 2012 #

    It wisnae me, Jimmy, that’s more your style!

    Sorry about silly o’clock Rosie, I was on football club business if you’ll believe me…

    The Grammys should be very interesting now.

  10. 100

    Although Whitney was obviously caught off guard by Serge on telly, the idea that she was some kind of naive and dizzy pop flumpkin vulnerable in the bad wolf’s gaze is somewhat daft, given the tenor of the second half of her life. If they do meet again, she’ll eat him alive.

    Or, well, not alive. RIP the pair :( :( :( :(

  11. 101
    enitharmon on 12 Feb 2012 #

    This “football club business”, it wouldn’t involve stoppybacks at a local hostelry would it?

    The Swede can be forgiven on this occasion* on the grounds that it was light when his version came through. But a Sunday morning is a Sunday morning, after all! Anything before the end of The Archers Omnibus is strictly off limits. Not these days because I’m listening avidly but because I refuse to emerge from under the duvet and switch the radio on until it’s safely over.

    * But I still remember being woken for Michael Jackson.

  12. 102
    Erithian on 12 Feb 2012 #

    This isn’t quite the venue to explain! – maybe offline.

    Always sad to see the tributes on the news, this time with the glitterati already in place in LA to comment. And the finality of seeing the dates, 1963-2012. Particularly for those of us approaching the half-century ourselves, seeing a near contemporary who won’t make it. But again, what glorious music when she was at her peak.

  13. 103
    seekenee on 29 Apr 2012 #

    That’s a well written and concise piece, Tom for a song (and video!) I’ve always enjoyed. I immediately/involuntarily chucked out a tear when I heard she died, as in: ah, Whitney, what happened, I knew her back when etc. but also I guess for this and How Will I Know?

  14. 104
    hectorthebat on 1 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  15. 105
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    Not normally my sort of thing, but I can’t argue with Whitney’s excellent delivery of this. A 6/10 from me.

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