Jul 10

WHITNEY HOUSTON – “One Moment In Time”

FT + Popular80 comments • 7,660 views

#617, 15th October 1988

Written for the Seoul Olympics, “One Moment In Time” makes an age-old connection between sport and character – if you want to win, you have to suffer, be more than you thought you could be, and so on. Do this, and you might be rewarded with your moment when you’re “racing with destiny” – only caring about the Track And Field is a classic US Olympic-watching stereotype, of course, though I guess all your dreams are a heartbeat away in the dressage or synchro too.

We’re a long way from “it’s all about the taking part”, but in a sporting context I’ve no real problem with the message. This generic glory-of-sport stuff doesn’t quite work as a song though, for two reasons: one sporting, one pop. First of all, the thing about glory is that it isn’t generic. Every triumph comes with its own story, which is why the most effective sporting songs are often from the fan perspective – people with a powerful investment in that story. “One Moment In Time” is more like sport as understood by ‘the neutral’, people who care about the effort of winning, but not who the winner actually is.

I should point out that if the Guardian’s What’s Rocking Sport columns are anything to go by, actual sportspeople often love this kind of stuff. So it’s emotionally true and resonant for some. As a spectator, I can’t really relate, not just because I’ve never won a race but also because from the outside the moment of triumph needs no empathy or elaboration: it stands by itself. And here’s my pop reason for not feeling “One Moment”: something I think pop music is amazing at is capturing and condensing feelings, putting an emotion or situation you recognise into a song. Winning a gold medal honestly doesn’t need that kind of capture – it is what it is, already so focussed and concentrated that it makes pop seem clumsy. Something not helped by “One Moment” moving at the pace of an action replay, and in the process setting a grim template for every winners’ single in 00s reality pop.

But Whitney Houston’s two earlier number ones were superb examples of the pop song as emotional snapshot, so if anyone could make “One Moment In Time” mean something, it would be her. But the brief glimmer of hope that she might is snuffed out when those painfully sedate drums pad their way into the song, and from then she’s bracing herself against the arrangement. Key changes – she’s ready. Brass – she’s ready. Strings – SHE’S READY. And actually, by the end you realise there is an Olympic sport “One Moment In Time” evokes perfectly: weightlifting.



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  1. 1
    MikeMCSG on 14 Jul 2010 #

    This would be my nomination for the most depressing chart topper of the 80s. Two of the best songwriters of the 70s , Albert Hammond and John Bettis selling their souls to cobble together this Reaganite shite for Ms Houston to shout her way through.

    I’m tempted to think that its successor was bought as an antidote to this one but we’ll come to that soon enough.

  2. 2
    flahr on 14 Jul 2010 #

    It’s a bit “My Way”, isn’t it? I was listening to it as I read through the review and the final score seemed a bit harsh – until that dreadful brass section wanders in, as if they were recording in the adjacent studio and some of the sound leaked through. It really is laughable.

    The drums, on the other hand, I think I’ve built up an immunity to. I know that they’re ridiculous but stately dull drums which speed up to telegraph a Big Moment are pretty much the bread and butter of some pop nowadays.

  3. 3
    TomLane on 14 Jul 2010 #

    By the time this came out, Whitney already had 7 #1 singles in the States. So who better to do the big Olympic theme than her? Lord knows she give it her all, but she does indeed get tripped up by the overblown arrangement. Yet again, it’s an Olympic theme, so why wouldn’t it be going for the sky?
    Like Tom, the message doesn’t bother me, but the record is a big lead balloon. The sort of song the winning contestant would sing at the finale of American Idol.
    And all in all it peaked at #5 in the States.

  4. 4
    Tom on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Yeah it’s the brass not the drums that really kill it, you’re right.

    Fair play to the sleeve designer for giving you a pretty good warning of what you’re getting though.

  5. 5
    Tom on 14 Jul 2010 #

    #3 were there big Olympic themes before then? Was there a record for the 1984 one? (I can’t imagine there was for 1980, maybe BORIS GREBENSHIKOV did it)

  6. 6
    Kat but logged out innit on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Ohhhh I have a big old post brewing about what is on swimmer’s ipods.

  7. 7
    Stevie T on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Supposedly this by Sergio Mendes was the 1984 theme :

    Sounds like a Gilette ad.

  8. 8
    Stevie T on 14 Jul 2010 #

    And there’s a whole bunch of them for the 1980 Moscow games!:
    Doubtless better than Orange Juice’s effort.

  9. 9
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jul 2010 #

    “all your dreams are a heartbeat away in the dressage or synchro too”

    no! this is false:

    a) because dressage and synchro are GENUINE sports requiring the TIMELY JUDGMENT of the judges, not just all this running and lifting not-a-actual-sport foolishness — hence all your dreams take a little while to be realised
    b) see (a): pop based on the metaphor of winning at synchro or dressage would WIPE THE FLOOR with pop based on the non-sport “objective measurement” events (as if nine seconds isn’t ALWAYS LESS THAN TEN SECONDS zzzz)

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 14 Jul 2010 #

    “Love Will Save The Day” was a Top 10 hit for Whitney earlier in 88. It’s the last uptempo funtime song I tend to associate with her. Produced by John Jellybean Benitez, with that lovely mix of glockenspiel, cowbells and milk bottles driving the song along, how could you not dance to it?

    Then along comes “One Moment In Time”. Written by John Bettis and Albert Hammond, it’s awfully stodgy in comparison. NBC commissioned it for their Olympics coverage. I’m unsure if Whitney performed it during the Opening Ceremony, but this is the point where my admiration for Whitney began to be tested. She’s bang on every note, but although the melisma is kept to a minimum, it just feels bogged down by it’s own worthiness. I can’t help feeling the song is weighing her down, so Tom’s weightlifting reference strikes a chord with me.

    I won’t go as far as saying the song is “bad”, because I feel it serves it’s purpose very well. OMIT sweats struggle. It’s seeping from every pore. It’s a challenge for the listener to “enjoy” it. You feel a huge sense of relief when it’s over. Put a medal round my neck. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 14 Jul 2010 #

    it starts off sounding a little bit like ‘The winner takes it all’ before Whitney opens her lungs and the producers start hitting every effect button they can find. Bombastic, sententious overblown rubbish.

    I was at a conference in Nottingham yesterday with some of the people responsible for the 2012 Olympic ceremonies and the Cultural Olympiad leading up to the games. The regional group for the East Midlands played a promo video featuring Take That’s ‘Greatest Day’ and that worked a whole lot better – brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 14 Jul 2010 #

    The gorgeous 1964 Olympics theme, ‘Tokyo Melody’ by Helmut Zacharias & His Orchestra, got to number 9, and is one of my favourite hits of the 1960s;


  13. 13
    Billy Smart on 14 Jul 2010 #

    This is one of my unfavourite singles of the 1980s, however… Toothgrindingly tedious, I think that its the lack of any sense of playfulness – and the interminable length of the thing – that really grates. Being told that I can achieve the dream, have to go for it 101%, etc, by some managerial type with no sense of irony, will always bring out the misanthropic slacker in me.

    Its mildly interesting to hear something that I dislike in precisely the same way now that I did when I was sixteen, I suppose, but I really am clutching at straws here. The one point in its favour is that it seems to have left little trace in popular memory – The only times that I’ve heard it since has been when Dale Winton is doing October 1988. A small mercy.

  14. 14
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jul 2010 #

    I have to say — given such a pifflingly composed and arranged song, repetitively based on a not-uninteresting idea that isn’t in the slightest allowed to evolve or be explored (“if i ever get a moment where i better myself in that moment i will be free”) — that whitney gives a pretty awesomely controlled performance and (technically) fascinating* not-quite-perfect performance**

    towards the end it’s like they’re tossing flaming chainsaws of effects at her and she’s catching them casually in her teeth (“now suddenly make her sound like she’s teenytiny and far away in a stadium the size of a galaxy!” “ok she handled that, now unleash the rubbish trumpets!”)

    *i don;t think there’s anything emotionally interesting to find the the song, unless you read her reading against its grain (and claim that she’s runnign a marathon in order to mock the 100-yard-dash-centrism of the lyric-writer)
    **ilx’s dan perry — himself a semi-professional singer — used to say that whitney tends sharp, and there’s a couple of slightly uncharacteristic yelpy swoops, which i guess i like because you don’t often catch her out being less than goddess-size

  15. 15
    Billy Smart on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Number 2 Watch: A week of Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’.

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Oh, and Orange Juice’s joyous unofficial 1980 Olympic theme, ‘Moscow’, is perhaps the binary opposite of ‘One Moment in Time’;


  17. 17
    Rory on 14 Jul 2010 #

    @15 – We had six weeks of “Don’t Worry” at number one in Oz, by the end of which everyone was thoroughly sick of it. And zero weeks of Whitney, mercifully. No quibble with Tom’s 2 from me.

  18. 18
    swanstep on 14 Jul 2010 #

    And I thought Weezer’s World Cup song was bad… blimey this is horrible. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to watch Olympics coverage in the US (almost everything’s delayed, compressed and repackaged with lots of backstory spliced in about, esp. US, athlete struggles, events get cut away from before you’ve had a chance to figure out how they work etc.) then you’ll probably agree that this record captures some of that 4-yearly torture on NBC or CBS or whichever main network has it. Americans who live close to the Canadian border get to watch the vastly superior Canadian coverage, but everyone else is stuck with a travesty that’s a lot like having to listen to OMIT for an hour or two straight.

    I agree with Lord Sukrat’s suggestion at #14 that Whitney’s not really to blame here (any more than Katie Couric or whomever is personally to blame for wretched network Olympics coverage).

    @Billy Smart, 12. I’ll see your Helmut Z. and raise you a Paul Mauriat

  19. 19
    thefatgit on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Rory, am I right in thinking Whitney did diddly squat with this in Oz?

    I’m just thinking that Australians’ attitude to sport is much more pragmatic than the Brits, and superfluous bullshit like this wouldn’t chime well with those Down Under. Not wanting to generalise of course.

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Just read your post Rory, and it confirms my suspicions.

  21. 21
    Rory on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Thefatgit, I meant zero weeks at number one – this appears to have peaked at number two in Oz, according to Wikipedia; but the usually reliable australian-charts.com says it peaked at 49. Hmm.

  22. 22
    Tom on 14 Jul 2010 #

    #9 the idea of a pop song about synchro is ringing bells with me somehow, it’s the kind of thing Foals or someone might have done, except a bit softer than them… hmm.

    And yes, I don’t think Whitney’s “to blame” here – for some she’s not someone I tend to ascribe with a lot of agency in her song choice: she seems very concerned about inhabiting a song but not especially bothered about what it is. I guess my grounds for this is the way her material tends to fit the public image of what she can do/ought to be doing at a given time, i.e. Whitney is in a Troubled Marriage to an R&B star, ergo she will sing Troubled R&B. (Britney is someone else whose material is a bit too neat in this way).

  23. 23
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Well there’s an entire whole excellent LP by King Sunny Ade called “Synchro System”: I shall have to relisten to see if it fits the bill as I envisage it… (it’s largely in Yoruba so i don’t know the precise subject)

  24. 24
    Tom on 14 Jul 2010 #

    #19 this is actually something that hadn’t occurred to me writing this – we know that Brits in the 80s weren’t as sentimental about football as they later became, but what about other sports? Why WAS this such a hit here, if as Swanstep says it’s so keyed to a US perception of the Olympics. It feels ahead of its time almost, a record I’d expect to be a hit in a post-Gazza, maybe even post-Diana culture.

    (OK Chariots Of Fire is a semi-precedent but it’s not really SPORT that’s getting sentimental about.)

  25. 25
    Mark G on 14 Jul 2010 #

    The last line of this song rings “I will be freeeeeee… righto I’m off, cheers.”

    It’s built to be the sort of song someone might do on GenericCountry’s got talent show. But have they?

  26. 26
    thefatgit on 14 Jul 2010 #

    It’s like the Boat Race. In the pre-race build up we’re encouraged to share the pain of the rowers in training, with their extended training montages (SWEAT PAIN SUFFERING). The race itself lasts about 10 minutes. Then more lingering shots of the losers’ (usually Oxford) SWEAT PAIN SUFFERING, with voyeuristic relish. Like we’re almost made to feel guilty in sharing the victors’ elation. Even the winning cox gets a dunking.

  27. 27
    Elsa on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Maybe 22 years is an awkward interval in pop history, but many of these recent entries sound like parodies of the type of song they are, as might be seen on some sketch-comedy program.

  28. 28
    MikeMCSG on 15 Jul 2010 #

    #22 Tom, one of Frazier Chorus’s singles – I think it was “Nothing” – had the band doing synchro in the video. Youtube is firewalled here so I can’t link it.

  29. 29
    punctum on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Here is some commentary that I wrote, privately, about this record a few years ago:

    “One argument at the time of the assorted 1988 Olympics scandals suggested that if athletes of the modern age were to be disqualified and/or banned from competition, then the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan et al should be excluded from all of those Greatest Albums Ever Made lists on the grounds of being out of it. But sport isn’t pop, or even rock; whereas the culture ties between music and drugs are so intimately, if not umbilically, bound that much of the former would be unimaginable without any of the latter, sport still signifies, if only just, an aura of purity; that men and women can compete on honest and fair grounds and strive for physical and spiritual nobility; become, perhaps, outside themselves, prove an example, an inspiration, a paragon of virtue where all else is greased with greed.

    ”It is fitting that the sinisterly pompous 1988 Olympic anthem, “One Moment In Time,” should have been the theme to the year when sport revealed itself to be as dirtily venal and grasping as any other twentieth century activity, when nothing was demonstrated to matter except winning (and gratifying the winner’s sponsors/bank manager) at whatever cost. Thus records were broken to virtually inhuman – or superhuman – levels, and then routine testing took them all away again. Carl Lewis’ exasperated, raised eyebrow as Ben Johnson swept past him in preparation for disgracing his country said it all – no wonder Canadians prefer to honour the clean memory of Jack Donohue, the Canadian basketball coach who guided his team from total obscurity to fourth and sixth place in the 1984 and 1988 games respectively; better a sporting sixth than a false first. And there was Florence Griffith-Joyner, winner of three track golds and systematic breaker of records in 1988, who tested clean but retired abruptly thereafter and was dead before she was forty of causes which may or may not have been steroid-related.

    ”This, then, was the background to “One Moment In Time” which, with its careful, escalating architecture of synthesised orchestra, synthesised tubular bells and synthesised choir, was false to its would-be supremacist gym shoes. Co-written by the inescapable Albert Hammond, Whitney does her best with such crass metaphors as “racing with destiny” and “you’re a winner,” but there is something vile and repulsive about the Reaganite vibrati of “I will feel eternity,” “I want it all, no time for less” and the final “I will be free” with its echoes of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” and general air of Leni Riefenstahl. But free market economics have prevailed; sport having long since descended into another cynical money-generating machine, and its decline probably terminal. Who wants to watch programmed machines routinely beating each other? Dare I even contemplate that question’s gruesome answer?”

    Subsequently, I read Simon Barnes’ book The Meaning Of Sport. In it he reckons that the 1988 100 metres final is the second greatest sporting event he’s ever seen (and he was there in Seoul, reporting on it for the Times) – well, of course it was brilliant, the greatest run any man had undertaken up to that point; never mind the tools Johnson had used to enable it, wasn’t it just superhuman? Wasn’t that the point? And what’s all this about “aura of purity” anyway – the modern attitude towards sport stems, as with so many other inconvenient things, from the Victorians; it’s all a sham, a ploy to keep manners and classes in their place (Murray lost to Nadal in the semis? Shoulder shrug. Murray beat Nadal in the final? Polite clapping; not one of “us,” everyone’s an Endersby in this world). Yes, it was fake, but no more so than the construct of civilising sport, and eventually it was always going to come down to the question of which brand can best propagate itself rather than providing entertainment, or art, or with any luck both, for the people who are supposed to be watching it and for whose benefit sport is supposed to be – World Cups where teams close each other down, knowing that one goal is enough to get them through, and play cynical softball for the other 83 minutes (and isn’t Barnes correct that the format of the football game itself is the chief thing that’s holding football back, since everything else, including financial gain, is necessarily secondary to that one-goal advantage?) – but we’d never seen it done before, it was man exceeding himself, and so what if he achieved that excess by means of biochemical enhancements? Becoming closer to God, or to a machine – the race is still running. But Ben and Florence; they were never going to be “us” and a sneaky but truthful part of ourselves recognises how awed we might still be by their fatal examples.

  30. 30
    swanstep on 15 Jul 2010 #

    @punctum, 29. I’m not sure why you say “we’d never seen it before” 1988, given that Soviet Bloc athletes had been piling up medals and records (some of which still stand) all through the ’60s and 70s in ways that everyone suspected was artificial (and what’s emerged since as the truth about esp. East German women’s programs during that period is truly horrific). The ’80s just saw western athletes belatedly adopt the same techniques (albeit privately, individually). Win-at-all-costs (and cheat if you have to) evidently appeals across economic and political systems!

    Relatedly, an snl classic on the topic from the period.

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