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. 31
    punctum on 15 Jul 2010 #

    The point is we’d never seen a man run that fast before. Had Johnson not swerved his head and done his wave at the end he would probably have cut a few further seconds off the record. With all due respect to the field aspect of track and field, javelin, weightlifting etc. don’t carry the same symbolic value as events such as the 100 metres.

    (N.B.: Self-correction: “Enderby,” not “Endersby.”)

  2. 32
    swanstep on 15 Jul 2010 #

    @punctum,31. OK, I see what you were saying then. For what it’s worth, the Canadians I knew at the time weren’t at all despondent about Ben Johnson’s cheating, rather they seemed to revel in Canada being badass and losing a little of its ‘nice, inoffensive guy’ image.

  3. 33
    Tom on 15 Jul 2010 #

    I had totally forgotten that this was the Ben Johnson olympics (I remembered Flo Jo because of the nails, of course) – thought it was 92 for some reason. Anyway, yes, that gives One Moment In Time a whole extra layer.

    (This was probably the apex of my not caring about sport, though – the twin anti-sporting pulls of Dungeons And Dragons and indie music meant the whole thing passed me by oblivious.)

  4. 34
    Erithian on 15 Jul 2010 #

    #32 Wasn’t there a bit of the Andy Murray/Lennox Lewis syndrome too? – i.e. he was Canadian until he got found out, whereupon he became Jamaican again.

    Coming four years after the Hollywood treatment of the LA Games, the time must have seemed right for the aspirational/inspirational power ballad anthem – and as pointed out above, this effectively set the template for all those reality show winners’ songs (so we should maybe be careful about judging it in the context of the songs that followed and how fed up we are with them!) Whitney overpitches it a couple of times in the overblown environment she’s singing in, but generally it’s a competent performance.

    Indeed, echoing Swanstep’s comment at #18, our TV coverage of the Olympics is increasingly following the US model, with airtime devoted to sporting action being squeezed between arty and/or sentimental profiles. After all, no two countries’ viewers see the same Olympics – apart from the marquee events a broadcaster will concentrate on its own main contenders’ sports, and not every country will see, for instance, as much rowing, sailing and cycling as we do. And what was our most cherished moment at those 1988 Games? If any non-Brits reading this understand the significance of the commentary line, “Where were the Germans? – but frankly who cares?” hats off to them.

    Another then-unguessed-at feature of these Olympics, the first since 1972 without a major bloc boycott, was that it was the last Games in which the Soviet Union and East Germany would take part, both entities being history by the time of Barcelona ’92.

  5. 35
    Matt DC on 15 Jul 2010 #

    I have no memory of this one at all but the sleeve is awesomely naff.

  6. 36
    thefatgit on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Punctum, re: Leni Riefenstahl… hasn’t the smear of Berlin ’36 been present at every Olympics since, no matter how much the organisers would dearly love to sweep it under the carpet? Recent Olympiads have focused on the World’s Largest Party aspect of the Games, but there’s still that tincture of supremacy in the overall flavour of the whole event. In fact doesn’t the Olympic ideal lend itself to ideological extremes? Compare the Olympics to the World Cup (the 2nd largest global sporting event, and predominantly post-fascist), the differences become even more apparent.

  7. 37
    Kat but logged out innit on 15 Jul 2010 #

    I loved Flo Jo so much that I began running around the back garden as fast I could, asking my Dad to let me know once I’d reached 100 metres. He watched me run round and round for about 20 minutes before admitting ‘that’s probably enough’. It was a good few years before I managed to stop biting my nails though.

    At school we talked about the Olympics, and the teacher asked us who our favourite sportspeople were. Nearly all the kids named footballers or Linford Christie, and when I said ‘Flo Jo’ then Mrs White actually had a go at me for being unpatriotic. “Do you not like any of the British team, Katherine?” What you mean the LOSERS? I mean ffs. I didn’t know about Adrian Moorhouse then obviously.

  8. 38
    Billy Smart on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Martin Grimley, from the British gold medal hockey team was a teacher at my school at the time! I can remember him wearing his medal to school, giving a talk at assembly which climaxed with him – ‘One Moment In Time’-style – holding his medal and saying to us boys “Your destiny”, and him driving a new car which had a sign attached reading “Britain’s gold medal Olympic hero Martin Grimley drives a Metro supplied by Southwark Motors”

    We all thought that he was a cock, gold medal Olympic hero or not.

  9. 39
    anto on 15 Jul 2010 #

    The melody of One Moment in Time being played on tenor horn is oddly redolent of childhood for me. It was one of the tunes my Sister would play for school band practice. The original is very grating mind.

    My Dad is a sports fan and he insists Ben Johnsons chemically enhanced
    ” moment in time ” at Seoul was the most thrilling sports victory he’s ever seen on TV.

  10. 40
    DietMondrian on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Carl Lewis has a go at pop with not quite the success he had on the track:


    If you’ve not seen it I really urge you to. Worth stick with to the end if you can bear it. Astonishing stuff.

  11. 41
    ciaran 10 on 15 Jul 2010 #

    #40. Thanks for that.Now that is Youtube Gold.not the best track (excuse the pun) i have heard.Looks liike one of the jacksons in that.cant think which one.

  12. 42
    LondonLee on 16 Jul 2010 #

    Tom: “only caring about the Track And Field is a classic US Olympic-watching stereotype”

    Actually, they only care about Track and Field (and Gymnastics) when it’s at the Olympics, it’s not shown on television here any other time. Even when the world champions at various races are Americans they’re unknown back home until they compete in the Olympics. Bit like the Brits with Wimbledon, we don’t give a shit about tennis outside that.

    Anything to avoid talking about this record.

  13. 43
    12XU on 16 Jul 2010 #

    Anyone else remember ‘Rust’, Echo and the Bunnymen’s weak, wannabe hit from the late 90s, that they hoped would be as big for them as ‘Nothing Last Forever’?

    The chorus had McCulloch go, “Give… me… one…”

    To which I’d always think, “…MOMENT IN TIME!”

    And its always tickled me, because it’s just when McCull’s forgotten how to be his cool former self, and started trying to do some middle aged post-Liam Gallagher thing- how gutted he’d be to realise he’s doing Whitney.

    Was it just me? Yeah, probably. As you were…

  14. 44
    wichita lineman on 16 Jul 2010 #

    Carl Lewis’s effort is way more enjoyable than Whitney. I’m guessing he wrote and produced it too, keeping the amateur spirit alive in music as well as sport.

    Which other unlikely, non-football sports stars have had a stab at pop? I remember liking John Conteh’s The Boxer – from memory it was rumbling, a bit of wah-wah, a little like early Hot Chocolate. Oh, and not the Simon & Garfunkel song.

  15. 45
    Erithian on 16 Jul 2010 #

    Try this – Surrey and England cricketer Mark Butcher’s tribute to his friend and team-mate Ben Hollioake who died in a car crash aged 24:

  16. 46
    Kat but logged out innit on 16 Jul 2010 #

    Snooker Loopy, dudes…

  17. 47
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 16 Jul 2010 #

    Wikipedia sez: “The lyrics are a mild satire on the style and antics of the players involved: old Willie Thorne; his hair’s all gone for example” — the word “mild” doing a surprising amount of work there IMO

  18. 48
    MikeMCSG on 16 Jul 2010 #

    # 46/7 There was a brilliant review of that in RM (possibly by Eleanor Levy) which ran something like this

    “Steve Interesting Davis and his mates get round the old joanna with Chas and Dave for one of the most gruesome singalongs of all time. But where are Alex Higgins, Kirk Stevens and Tony Knowles ? Having more fun with various of the seven deadly sins no doubt !”

  19. 49
    wichita lineman on 16 Jul 2010 #

    ‘Tony Knowles, the matinee idol of the snooker world’ as Ted Lowe once whispered, with great delicacy.

  20. 50
    vinylscot on 16 Jul 2010 #

    What about Gerd Muller’s “Dann Macht Es Bumm”?


    …one of four singles he released during the best years of his career (1969-74). I think I’ve got one of them in a box somehwere….

  21. 51
    abaffledrepublic on 16 Jul 2010 #

    #15: oh dear. Has there ever been a worse 1-2 at the top of the charts?

    To me this sounds like most everything Whitney Houston ever released, ie horrible, predictable and totally unloveable.

  22. 52
    lonepilgrim on 16 Jul 2010 #

    in a strange piece of loosely linked synchronicity I had my hands on an Olympic gold medal today at a symposium on the Art of swimming and rowing in Oxford – it belonged to Rowley Douglas, the cox of the GB men’s eight rowing team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and was surprisingly hefty

  23. 53
    Erithian on 17 Jul 2010 #

    The only gold medals I’ve handled belonged to Tanni Grey-Thompson, who gave a talk at our workplace – my opinion of her couldn’t be further removed from Billy’s re hockey guy.

  24. 54
    rosie on 17 Jul 2010 #

    My friend Maggie and I called in on some cousins of hers in Edinburgh. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing at a framed, rather tarnished, medal on the wall. It was an Olympic gold, won for hockey in 1928 by grandfather, playing for India as an officer in the Indian Army.

  25. 55
    swanstep on 17 Jul 2010 #

    The discussion here and especially *that* Carl Lewis video has prompted me to read up a little (just wiki+ really) about the guy. He was always just a name to me, but I have to say that he seems pretty fascinating.

    A dropped-by-sponsors-because-of-sexual-ambiguity/not-macho-enough, vegan, relatively drug-clean while all round him were juiced to the gills, 9-time gold medal winner across 4 or 5 different Olympics, loses the biggest race of his career to Johnson on the day, but gets the gold after the cheating is exposed.

    I dunno, but like Freddie Mercury’s story in pop, you just can’t make up that sort of stuff! It’s a biopic waiting to happen if someone can write a good script.

  26. 56
    weej on 18 Jul 2010 #

    Is this the first full-blown example of the mid-syllable-warble singing style which we’ve only begun to escape in the last few years?

  27. 57
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Jul 2010 #

    No, because it’s not at all full blown — it’s surprisingly controlled (or unsurprisingly, if my “marathon mimesis” theory is correct).

  28. 58
    Jimmy the Swede on 18 Jul 2010 #

    # 34 – “Wasn’t there a bit of the Andy Murray/Lennox Lewis syndrome too? – i.e. he was Canadian until he got found out, whereupon he became Jamaican again.”

    Erithian. I had no idea that Andy Murray was a Jamaican..

    Linford, of course, was indeed born on “The Isle” but has never been anything other than British. The case of Lennox Lewis is a tad more complicated. Having been born in London, he was taken to Canada as a small child, grew up there and won a gold medal in Seoul under the flag of the Maple Leaf before coming back to this country to persue a magnificent professional career under the guise of a freeborn Englishman. The remarkable thing to say about Lennox is that whether he was Canadian or British, he certainly was not an American, which is why he was always so lowly-regarded by blinkered correspondents in the United States. An outragious slight, imho.

    Greg Rusedski muddies the waters still further. A Canadian, born to an English mother, he was adopted, so to speak, and enjoyed large support in this country, reaching the final of the US Open in 1997 and subsequently winning SPOTY that year. I saw Greg a couple of weeks ago on court at Eastbourne with Annabel Croft anchoring a Davis Cup tie. And I would gladly be anchored to Annabel any day of the week, I can tell you that for nothing!

  29. 59
    Erithian on 19 Jul 2010 #

    A role should be found in Swanstep’s Carl Lewis biopic (#55) for Daley Thompson, who after retaining his Olympic decathlon title in LA in 1984 responded to those “is the world’s greatest athlete gay?” rumours by donning a T-shirt with the slogan “Is the world’s second greatest athlete gay?” No doubt that was not so much homophobia as a good-natured dig at the assumption that Lewis was the number one while Daley had won the all-round event twice, but like other examples of his humour it was, shall we say, offbeat. On the same day he hinted that he wanted Princess Anne to have his baby and said of winning the gold that he hadn’t had so much fun since his granny caught her tit in the mangle (a Derek and Clive reference if I’m not mistaken). Talked his way into trouble but fun to have around.

  30. 60
    pink champale on 19 Jul 2010 #

    thanks thanks for that erithian – i’ve seen footage of DT in that t-shirt a few times but have never had the slightest idea what he thought he was doing. now it makes (at least some) sense. as you say, DT is quite nuts, isn’t he? *fights urge towards gormless reminiscence about ‘delay thompson’s decathlon’ on the spectrum*

    as for whitney, it’s certainly true that how she sings it is brilliant on its own terms and that she’s got a real discipline and restraint that you don’t normally get in the winners songs, but it’s still pretty painful. in the end it’s kind of the difference between being beaten up by amateurs or professionals.

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