I think Whitney Houston was the best singer ever. I once compared her to Lawrence Taylor (easy comparison, two unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime talents who succumbed to crack), but now I think I want to revise my comparison, basically only for one reason.
I’ve argued for years and will continue to argue (despite the fact that it completely invalidates the thesis of this paper) that Michael Jordan is not the greatest player to ever play the game. It goes Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson then Michael Jordan.
SIDE NOTE: I could go on for days about the fact that Magic was only in his 12th season when he contracted HIV and could easily have played another four or five seasons, demonstrated by the fact that he came back and played half a season while still sick with HIV in 1996 and still averaged 15 points and 7 assists and that had Oscar ever had a competent teammate he could have challenged Russell for at least five titles during his career, demonstrated by the fact that when he finally got a competent teammate, a young man named Lew Alcindor, he won a championship. All the while Jordan played with one of the 50 best players of all-time and the greatest rebounder ever. But whatever. Ignore all that.
Whitney Houston is the Michael Jordan of singing. She was the greatest ever and we will never see another Whitney ever. People love to compare things – mostly because old people need to bring up the fact that they’re old and have seen things that young people haven’t – and a lot of names get thrown around. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard a competent and credible person ever compare any singer since Whitney to Whitney.
Listen to this isolated vocal track from “How Will I Know.” Do it. Listen to it now. You don’t even have to stop reading this blog, you can read it while you listen. It’s mind blowing. It’s the most incredible vocal performance I’ve ever heard.
I think two things will always detract from Whitney’s legacy and will somehow engender people to even have a debate about who the greatest singer of all time was.
The first is obvious – crack. (I’m also tying the relationship with Bobby Brown in with crack, because while they are separate issues that will allow the aforementioned conversation, I think crack and Bobby Brown will forever be linked in the history of Whitney.)
The second is the fact that there was never any question of how unbelievably talented Whitney was. We all recognized it from day one and it was never up for debate. Because we all knew how amazing and talented she was, when she blew us away with something amazing like the “And I…” sequence from “I Will Always Love You” it didn’t really blow us away. We sort of expected it. It seems crazy to think you could expect something that spectacular, but that’s what we did. We expected Whitney to come with that (note: I’m fully aware of my effusive use of synonyms for the word great and I plan on stopping soon).
That’s how it was with MJ in the mid-90s. We all just sort of expected him to do the amazing things he did, to the point that when he did them we were somehow unimpressed. When you go back and watch old Michael Jordan tapes and compare him to David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olijuwon and others of his ilk who robbed him of the MVP Award (actually Karl Malone is the only other one) it makes you a little queasy.
Watching the NBA, people keep looking for the “next Jordan,” but the thing is there will never be another Jordan. No one could ever replicate what he did. No one will ever be that talented, that driven, that focused and that determined. And there will never be another Whitney. Never. Not never, ever, ever. I don’t mean that we will never see anyone who can recreate her unique stylings and particular commercial pop, R&B appeal. In that sense – in the we’re-all-special-snowflakes sense – we’ll never see another Mariah Carey or another Liz Phair or Joni Mitchell. What I mean is we will never see anyone who sings that God damn good ever again.
Whitney is gone and we will never see another singer as supremely talented as long as we live.