Jul 10

WHITNEY HOUSTON – “One Moment In Time”

FT + Popular79 comments • 5,453 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.”)

  7. 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.

  8. 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.)

  9. 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.

  10. 35
    Matt DC on 15 Jul 2010 #

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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…

  19. 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.

  20. 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:

  21. 46
    Kat but logged out innit on 16 Jul 2010 #

    Snooker Loopy, dudes…

  22. 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

  23. 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 !”

  24. 49
    wichita lineman on 16 Jul 2010 #

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

  25. 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….

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