Originally published on So So Gay on 20 November 2014
‘We won’t forget that name – Whitney Houston,’ Merv Griffin prophetically states in the closing seconds of this album’s opening track, the aforementioned singer’s US network television debut appearance, where she performed ‘Home’ on his show at the tender age of 19.
Incredibly, for an artist so often cited as an influence by other performers for her near unparalleled vocal, this is Whitney’s first live album. Undoubtedly opening the door for future live collections, …Her Greatest Performances has the straightforward concept of chronologically charting her career. It includes obvious moments like the Merv Griffin Show debut, her famous delivery of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at the Super Bowl in 1991, and highlights from her Welcome Home Heroes concert. As such, this album is perhaps best viewed as remembering the legend that is our Nips, rather than claiming to be a definitive live compilation.
Her rousing performance of ‘One Moment in Time’ is where this collection really starts to hit its stride, and we hear Whitney arguably at her finest during the very early 90s when her third studio album, I’m Your Baby Tonight, was released but cruelly overshadowed by the blockbuster soundtrack for The Bodyguard. Swiftly followed by her spine-tingling tour de force that is her 1990 performance of ‘The Greatest Love of All’ at the Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert (previously released on the 25th anniversary reissue of her self-titled debut album), this is a sublime example of why Whitney was simply known as ‘The Voice’; the skill and verve of this performance are stunning.
It’s not a perfect album: the unfortunate quality limitations of the ‘Home’ recording from the early 80s are unavoidable, even with all the mastering in the world; while the ‘I Loves You, Porgy / And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going / I Have Nothing’ medley she performed at The 21st Annual American Music Awards is an overblown, 10 minute honkathon that lacks the nuance and deft usage of crescendos Whitney effortlessly displays elsewhere on the album. Nevertheless, …Her Greatest Performances is clear justification for her industry-given nickname.
If you’re willing to pay a little extra for the CD/DVD package (or alternatively, the separate movie on iTunes), the footage of all these performances enhances them further still. Even the loud and occasionally god-awful fashions of the time aren’t enough to overshadow The Voice in her prime, whose runs and playful mixing up of the phrasing and melodies of her hits just effortlessly pours out of her. You also get to witness the clear joy she had for performing, particularly when she beams her infectious smile.
While many fans will undoubtedly claim other performances as superior, as a collection of moments that trace the key musical footsteps of one of the most remarkable voices from the modern music world, Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances is a wonderful album that all her fans should be eager to own. One can only hope it prompts further live records to be produced from her many and varied performances.
Standout Tracks: ‘Greatest Love of All (Live from That’s What Friends Are For: Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert)’ / ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Live from That’s What Friends Are For: Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert)’ / ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight (Live from Welcome Home Heroes with Whitney Houston)’ / ‘I Will Always Love You (Live from The Concert for a New South Africa)’