Oct 09

WHITNEY HOUSTON – “Saving All My Love For You”

FT + Popular104 comments • 5,387 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. 76
    Tim on 23 Oct 2009 #

    @73: I agree with pretty much all of that (apart from the “most critics” bit which I don’t know how to quantify at all) are there times when the critic shouldn’t be examining their own response mechanisms? Is the case of (for example) someone not getting the soul in Ella different from someone not getting it from any other artist?

  2. 77
    Tom on 23 Oct 2009 #

    One of the many reasons I like doing Popular is that – unlike reviewing for Pitchfork, where there’s no comments box – I don’t feel any compulsion to get a record right: if I can’t find a way into a song, maybe I will when other people have their say. Or maybe I’ll find their ways in unconvincing. So the ‘crowd’ (not The Crowd) forms a nice safety net around ‘getting it’ or not.

    Most criticism doesn’t seem to work like this.

  3. 78
    Jungman Jansson on 23 Oct 2009 #

    Lex (#72) – that’s just what I was thinking as well, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that you’re “responding to excellence”. I think it’s often the case that people enjoy music (or films, or games or whatever) that’s outside their own genre preferences when they find instances that in some way are close to what they already like. But both may well be true simultaneously, in a way, otherwise you wouldn’t get those cases where almost everyone enjoys something regardless of what they usually tend to like.

    Swanstep’s observation about genres that you truly like being revealed by the enjoyment of c-grade material is absolutely spot on, though. My shelves are stacked with compilations of everything from mainstream mid-’90s German rave to progressive trance to speed garage. I’ll lap up anything that can be classified as house or techno in the very broadest sense, as long as it’s cheap enough (rummaging through budget bins for new “finds” is a long-standing hobby). And I have a very high tolerance for crapness within those genre parameters.

  4. 79
    Izzy on 23 Oct 2009 #

    Vocal technique is the most fundamental blindspot I have in my appreciation of music. I’ve never been able to spot good singing from bad, or even known what ‘good vocals’ were supposed to be. In my indie years I was happy with stuff I could relate to, like an passion or personality, so I put up with a load of dross but never really got round to appreciating technique as something one could use. Too often I associated it with the foghorn track that no-one’s mentioning.

    I am interested in it – I enjoyed reading a long interview with Robert Plant once where he dismissed his vocals in Led Zeppelin’s early years as histrionics, but said he got good on their later albums and praised what, to my ears, seem like fairly mundane performances. But I just never got it. That said, I saw x-factor for the first time recently and it was easy to see, amongst the individuals at least, which ones had the weapons in their armory and which didn’t, so perhaps I’m getting better. I do try to take a little care now when I’m singing in the shower, maybe that helps!

    Anyway, I can’t put this song on right now, but I just wanted to drop in while thread is still going to say: fantastic discussion, there’s lots I can work with when I do get round to listening.

  5. 80
    Steve Mannion on 23 Oct 2009 #

    “Am I the only person who much prefers ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ to this, by the way?”

    what, even Eddie Murphy’s rendition in Coming To America?

  6. 81
    LondonLee on 23 Oct 2009 #

    The difference between Ella and Billie seems to me the be the same as that between, say, Smokey Robinson and James Carr. Both very soulful but painting in different colours and tone.

  7. 82
    AndyPandy on 23 Oct 2009 #

    75: “All By Myself” uses Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto of course and a rare instance of a classical melody being used in pop music without making a complete pig’s ear of it – the longer album version being even better.

    80:I much prefer The Greatest Love Of All – both her and George Benson’s version. Think George’s is just an amazing track and although Whitney houston’s is not up there wit that thin it’s easiest the best thing I’ve ever heard by her. Not fussed about any of her other stuff except possibly “Queen of the Night” (one of the few of her tracks that I remember being taken seriously in club/dj charts).

  8. 83
    Billy Smart on 23 Oct 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Whitney’s been on both Wogan and Des O’Connor a few times;

    THE BRITISH RECORD INDUSTRY AWARDS: with Curiosity Killed The Cat, Whitney Houston, Spandau Ballet, Five Star, Level 42, Simply Red (1987)

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Thelma Barlow, Peter Baldwin, Joe Longthorne, Cliff Richard, Whitney Houston (1990)

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Whitney Houston, Donald O’Connor, Luke Perry, Leslie Nielsen (1992)

    THE MONTREUX GOLDEN ROSE IMMC GALA: with Jean Beauvoir, Whitney Houston, Cutting Crew, Smokey Robinson, Alison Moyet, Boy George, The Cure, The Communards, Mel And Kim, Terence Trent D’Arby (1987)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Whitney Houston, Smokey Robinson, Alison Moyet, Boy George, The Cure, The Communards, Mel & Kim, Terence Trent D’Arby, Samantha Fox, Robbie Neville (1987)

    WOGAN: with Edwina Currie, Lee Durrell, Gerald Durrell, Whitney Houston, Anthony Perkins (1986)

    WOGAN: with Doris Collins, Susan Hampshire, Edna Healey, Whitney Houston (1988)

    THE WORD: with Flavor Flav, Boy George, Whitney Houston, Jesus Loves You (1990)

  9. 84
    Pete on 24 Oct 2009 #

    #21 Oddly (or not oddly due to the colour) the cover of the sleeve remins me of Joni Mitchell’s Blue more (and whilst they are at a different angle they seem to be doing similar things).

    I was an eleven year old boy with a fourteen year old sister who loved this. I therefore always hated it. Now? Yes, its pretty good isn’t it?

  10. 85
    Jungman Jansson on 24 Oct 2009 #

    Joni Mitchell’s Blue – yes, that’s it, that’s what I was thinking of too but couldn’t quite put a name on.

  11. 86
    The Lurker on 24 Oct 2009 #

    At the time (I was 10) I didn’t think much of this – sounded like a slushy ballad to me. Like some of the other posters, I entirely missed the adulterous theme.

    The next time I probably heard it was about eight years ago on a seven or eight hour taxi drive across the desert in Uzbekistan, where our taxi driver had one tape – Whitney’s greatest hits. That has pretty much killed any chance of me appreciating Whitney – it felt like drowning in syrup.

    Listening to this afresh and actually listening to the lyrics, it is better than I remember. For all the discussion of technique vs soul above, Whitney’s fairly restrained on this one – the only fault I can find is that the opening lines seem sung a little too sunnily and bland. However, those horrible keyboards and the arrangement ensure that this isn’t going to get more than a 5 from me.

    Turning to Ella, I freely admit I haven’t made any great effort to listen to her and appreciate her, or any other jazz for that matter (I reckon I’ll tackle jazz when I finally feel that there’s no more good rock and pop being made anymore). However, I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of Ella via my girlfriend, and it hasn’t tempted me to listen to more. I do feel that she sounds a bit too smooth, too perfect and too detached. I don’t hear Marcello’s “hard-won calmness”, just the calmness. I’m happy to admit this may be my fault rather than hers, but I see why some people don’t like her. (I feel similarly about some, though not all, of Sinatra’s songs too.)

  12. 87
    koganbot on 26 Oct 2009 #

    I loved that Xgau review of album #2 when I read it, even though (or maybe because) I knew practically nothing of Whitney, and was shortly to quite like her next bunnied song. It’s that he came up with the word “Christendom” (think of how ordinary it would have been to say “the most revolting singer in the world” or in “pop” or something of the sort), which I took to mean showbiz glitz funneled and subdued into pious respectability. (Except “glitz” probably is the wrong word.) I also like the quick humorous inversion with which he said that her talents are ill-served by her producers and writers. I’m not unbiased here, obv, but his building the Village Voice music section around freelancers was one of the ways he created the equivalent of comment threads.

    Mariah’s unfunneling the glitz probably had something to do with my Mariah love. (I do think the constant linking and comparing* of Whitney-Mariah overlooks their vast differences, but in the early ’90s the comparison was unavoidable just because their many-octave reach was so in your face.)

    My guess is that Ella Fitzgerald’s music codes too middle class for the sort of middle-class person who becomes a rock or pop critic, neither bohemian enough nor lumpen enough. And her poor and sometimes rough early years are not stapled to her story in the way poor Billie’s are stapled to Billie. As for Ella’s actual music, I barely know it, which may be owing to its coding too middle class etc.

    *I’m treating “the constant linking and comparing” as a singular; just feels right, but I’m not sure why. Or anyway, “the constant linking and comparing… overlook” seems wrong.

  13. 88
    Patrick on 26 Oct 2009 #

    My first encounter with the Whitney/Mariah/American Idol singing style was actually a few months pre-Whitney. Solid Gold was hosted by Marilyn McCoo, and every week she would sing a current hit song (not necessarily a r&b one) and do so in that bombastic melismatic style, whether or not it was appropriate to the song at hand. My immediate reaction was revulsion – what the hell was being done to those poor songs? I was a 12 year-old top 40 kid – no rockist super ego was telling me that I wasn’t allowed to enjoy this, and indie wasn’t even a blip on my radar. However much fun I’m sure it is to cast all of this as an indie-vs-pop fear of straightforward non-ironic emotion, a lot of folks who can’t stand the Whitney singing style are just fine with pre-Whitney-era mainstream rock and r&b, much of which isn’t lacking for direct emotion. As for technique vs soul, I try to stay away from that kind of language, because I have no idea what soul is, besides a genre name. I wonder how Lex feels about Yngwie Malmsteen (I very much like the Vai/Satriani analogy that mark s made upthread, and Whitney-style singing has a not-dissimilar effect of me from what the guitar-mags dudes do – and no, I’m not scared of good guitar playing either).

    (“Saving All My Love For You” = marginally less dull than “You Give Good Love”, nowhere near as good as “How Will I Know”)

    (genuinely sincere question: how does Michael Bolton figure into all this?)

  14. 89
    Steve Mannion on 26 Oct 2009 #

    re #82 “Queen of the Night” (one of the few of her tracks that I remember being taken seriously in club/dj charts).

    I can imagine ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight’ doing well on that basis too – probably my favourite 90s single by her (it’s that or ‘It’s Not Right…’). And ‘So Emotional’ and ‘Love Will Save The Day’ slot in well with Janet tracks from the same time. I like quite a few of her uptempo numbers for that main reason.

  15. 90
    AndyPandy on 26 Oct 2009 #

    @89: and to be honest I don’t really know how “seriously” it was taken as I wasn’t going to the type of places that would have played it by then just remember seeing it in various dj charts and hearing it on Kiss FM a lot in the days when that station still played the music that it won it its license.

    And of course a large chunk of Whitney Houstons “I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me” was sampled on Shut Up and Dance’s massive 1989 M25 party track ‘5,6,7,8’.

  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 93
    Erithian on 12 Feb 2012 #

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

  19. 94
    lonepilgrim on 12 Feb 2012 #

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

  20. 95
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Feb 2012 #

    Very sad but unfortunately not a shock. RIP.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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 :( :( :( :(

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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?

  29. 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)

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