Whitney Houston’s ‘The Bodyguard’ Soundtrack Turns 20: Backtracking
Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
The Bodyguard — the film and soundtrack — was arguably the zenith of Whitney Houston’s glittering career. She achieved a superhuman level of stardom in 1992 and 1993, ruling the box office and smashing chart records at will. The hits continued to flow for the rest of Nippy’s career, but she became a mere mortal in the years that followed that era. As such, the ultimate date movie and its unashamedly soppy soundtrack need to be celebrated as the last time we saw Whitney sparkle without the dark cloud of personal drama blocking her shine.
Whitney’s first film role was a risky proposition. Many a multi-Platinum-selling diva had tried their hand at acting. But, as Madonna would prove time and again, chart success does not equal box office receipts. That said, at that stage of her career, Whitney was immune to failure. The Bodyguard overcame negative reviews (it was, after all, nominated for seven Razzies) to become a box office phenomenon.
The Mick Jackson-directed film grossed $410 million worldwide and was ranked the second highest-grossing movie of 1992, behind Aladdin. The idea of America’s golden girl sharing the screen with Kevin Costner, the heartthrob du jour, proved irresistible to moviegoers, and the soundtrack rode the wave of interest into the Zeitgeist in way that hadn’t been seen since Grease in the late 1970s.
Let’s talk numbers. The Bodyguard soundtrack went 17 times platinum in the US and sold 45 million copies worldwide. It spent 20 non-consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, a feat only recently bettered by Adele’s all-conquering 21, and remains the highest-selling soundtrack album of all time. And speaking of time, it has been somewhat unkind to the non-Whitney contributions on the LP. But the first half of the album plays like a mini greatest hits compilation, and holds up as a veritable how-to manual for aspiring songbirds.
Of Whitney’s six tracks, three were cover versions. The unavoidable anthem that spearheaded the juggernaut was the sorely missed superstar’s interpretation of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Her version skilfully transformed the country song into a soul ballad, and proved to be chart dynamite. It tapped into everyone’s inner-softie as the song racked up 14 weeks atop the Hot 100 and sold 12 million copies around the world. While many dismiss the Houston’s rendition as the slightly less embarrassing counterpart to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” the final, goosebump-inducing note remains the measuring stick by which female vocalists are judged to this very day.
Another cover – Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” – followed “I Will Always Love You” to the upper echelons of the chart, but Whitney’s new material proved just as popular. “I Have Nothing” showcased the sheer power of The Voice’s golden pipes like few songs in her entire glorious career, and lives on as a talent show staple. The same goes for the swoon-worthy “Run To You,” which remains one of the her best-loved ballads and earned songwriters Jud Friedman and Allan Rich an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Co-written by the star herself and early ’90s go-to hit-makers L.A. Reid and Babyface, the camp dance anthem “Queen Of The Night” performed well internationally and garnered a loyal gay following. Along with “I’m Every Woman,” it helped to break up the ballads on the soundtrack, and stands out as the album’s least self-conscious offering. It’s one of the rare moments in her career that Whitney just let her hair down without carrying the burden of perfection.
Of the non-Houston tracks, two stand out. Lisa Stansfield’s “Someday (I’m Coming Back)” – a top 10 hit in the UK – is slick dance track that showcases the Brit’s silky smooth vocals, while The S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M.’s “It’s Gonna Be A Lovely Day” – a rap song built around Bill Withers’ soul classic – was the only track not performed by Whitney to be released as a single in the US. It features the vocals of Michelle Visage (now a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race). The perky jam peaked at #34 on the Hot 100. As for the rest of the cuts, they’re best described as pleasant filler.
The Bodyguard had a huge impact on Whitney’s career. Its success no doubt accounted for the fact that there were eight years between 1990’s I’m Your Baby Tonight and 1998’s My Love Is Your Love, and she filled the gap with film roles and the occasional contribution to a soundtrack.
It’s hard not to wish that life had imitated art. Unlike Rachel Marron, her character in the film, Whitney didn’t have a knight in shining armor to come to her rescue. At that time she had to make do with Bobby Brown.