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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Story Behind "All The Man That I Need"

Okay, so just before I go ahead with today's scheduled blog entry, I just wanted to take the time to give a huge shout of support to all the athletes that competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia.  Certainly the Olympics weren't without their share of controversy (broken hotel rooms, the protests, etc), but one thing is for sure.  Those who did compete and won a medal should feel proud.  And, hey, those who walked away empty-handed this year should still feel proud.  As far as I'm concerned, anyone who makes it on the Olympic team deserves a pat on the back.

A special shout-out goes to my birth country of Canada for winning ten gold, ten silver, and five bronze medals in the games.  You all did our country proud, and I am sure that Canadians everywhere are saluting you today!

And, now...on with the show.

It's time for another edition of the Sunday Jukebox today...and this week will go much like all of the others for the year 2014 thus far in that each song that is featured in this and every Sunday was a song that topped the charts.

After all.  Every single artist loves to have a number one hit single, don't they?

Well, for today's look back through music history, we're going to go back to a palindrome of a year, as today's song flashback hit the top of the charts in February 1991.  The song topped the charts in both the United States and Canada that year, and interestingly enough, the singer who performed this song was not the one who wrote the song.  In fact, the song was actually written and recorded over a decade earlier in 1980 - which was five years before our featured singer recorded her debut album.

On a sad note, February ended up being the cruelest month for our featured singer, as it was a little over two years ago this month - February 11 to be exact - that she drew her last breath.

By now, I'm sure you have guessed that today's featured singer is the late Whitney Houston, and yes, I am in absolute agreement that her death was absolutely preventable and that had she sought help and really made it a mission to get clean, she might very well still be here with us.  Of course, none of us really knew what transpired the afternoon of February 11, 2012 that lead to Whitney's drug overdose in a hotel room...and perhaps we might never know.  The only thing that we're all certain of is that a woman with real, genuine talent is no longer here because drugs destroyed her life, and she let it happen.

It's such an ugly ending, no matter how you spin it.

I suppose that if there is one thing that is positive about this (and really, there's not a whole lot of positive feelings floating around when someone dies), it's that Whitney Houston managed to release dozens of singles and successful albums which showcase her at her prime.  I think that any of the songs that she released between 1985 and 1998 were among some of her best, and I readily admit that I have a few Whitney Houston songs downloaded onto my iPod. 

(Well, mostly the ones you can dance to such as "How Will I Know", "So Emotional", and "I'm Your Baby Tonight".)

But there happens to be a couple of ballads on my iPod as well - and, I suppose that in my opinion, Whitney Houston sang best when she slowed things down instead of sped things up.  If that at all makes any sense.  I'm not sure exactly.

But what I am sure of is that I really wanted to showcase Whitney in a ballad instead of a dance song because I think that she really showed just how talented she was when she sang love songs and powerful songs that had meaning, like "I Have Nothing", or the now eerily ironic song "Greatest Love Of All".

And, then there was this single...released at the tail end of 1990 and hit the top of the charts beginning the week of February 23, 1991.

ARTIST:  Whitney Houston
SONG:  All The Man That I Need
ALBUM:  I'm Your Baby Tonight
DATE RELEASED:  December 4, 1990

So, are you ready for the discussion of "All The Man That I Need"?  It's quite the powerful song, and we have a lot to talk about. 

Starting with the origin of the song.

As I mentioned before, the song was originally written in 1980 by Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore, and was meant to be a single for singer Linda Clifford's album, "I'll Keep On Loving You". 

And, just who exactly was Linda Clifford?  Well, she was a former Miss New York State who embarked on a career as a disco/rhythm and blues artist who had several chart-toppers on the dance charts between 1977 and 1981.

Well, Linda Clifford did record the single in 1981, and she did release it one year later.  However, the song failed to chart.  Sister Sledge tried to strike gold with their version of the song which was released months later, but it too never did that great.

It seemed as though "All The Man That I Need" was destined to become a song that would never have its day.  Despite the fact that a few people recorded the song in hopes of making it a huge success, nobody really knew how to take the song and make it their own.

At least not until Whitney Houston decided to take a turn at recording the single.

But do you know exactly how long it took for Whitney Houston to finally get the go-ahead to record "All The Man That I Need"?  Believe it or not, it took three whole years!

You see, at the time, Whitney Houston was signed exclusively to Arista Records, which was headed by record producer Clive Davis.  And Davis really was the man who supported Whitney's career from day one, and was the main force behind Whitney's rise to fame in the 1980s.  

Clive Davis was also really good friends with Dean Pitchford, one-half of the songwriting duo that penned the single "All The Man That I Need".

Both men met each other for dinner one night in 1987, and although it was unknown as to who initiated the conversation, the topic of "All The Man That I Need" came up, and Pitchford handed Davis a demo of the single, believing that if any one of Arista's singers could make the song a huge success, it was Whitney Houston.  Davis took the demo tape, listened to it, and agreed with Pitchford that Whitney could do wonders with the ballad.

The whole problem was timing.

You see, in 1987, Whitney Houston had just finished releasing her second album, "Whitney".  And, by the time that Clive Davis had received the demo tape, there was no time to squeeze in another single.  So, this meant that a painstakingly long three-year wait was in place.  The "Whitney" album came out in 1987.  Whitney spent all of 1988 filming music videos for the album, and embarking on a world tour to promote the album.  And, then in 1989, she began production on her third album, "I'm Your Baby Tonight", in which she finally received the go-ahead to record the single, which was produced by Narada Michael Walden.

And happily for Pitchford and Gore, the single finally became a hit, thanks to Whitney Houston.  And, the song was also rewarded with a nomination for "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance" at the 1992 Grammy Awards, but lost out to Bonnie Raitt's "Something To Talk About".

TRIVIA:  The black and white tinted music video was directed by Peter Israelson, and the saxophone solo performed in the song was courtesy of smooth jazz musician Kenny G.

But perhaps one of the best things about the song were all of the positive reviews from critics, who easily named the song as one of the best ones from Whitney's third album.  Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune said of the song that Whitney had provided "the soundtrack to a million love affairs", while New York Times' reviewer Stephen Holden described the song as a "hunk of gargantuan pop bombast swathed in echo and glitzy astral twinkles".

Not quite sure what that means, but I'm guessing it's pretty good.

But I mean, just looking at the song's lyrics, I can see why it became a hit.  I know that we're now living in an era in which women proudly proclaim their independence from being a part of a couple, and insist that they don't need a man to be happy.  And, that's good!  I absolutely applaud the attitude that you don't need to be coupled up to have a happy, productive life.

But you know, sometimes I think we all want to have that experience where we are with someone that we love more than anything in this world, and that's good enough.  I know I've been looking for that experience for longer than I care to admit, as I'm sure many others have.  And, those who have found it...well, I definitely salute you.

And, I think that's the whole idea of the song "All The Man That I Need".  As I said earlier, the song was written by Pitchford and Gore specifically for Linda Clifford.  The backstory of the song is that years before Clifford had even crossed paths with Pitchford and Gore, Clifford had gotten out of an emotionally destructive marriage, and she had since gotten remarried to a man who she loved with all her heart.  Pitchford and Gore claimed that the song "All The Man That I Need" was written in no time because after seeing how happy Clifford was, the song kind of wrote itself.

And although it took a decade for the song to become a huge hit, the message is made loud and clear.  It's a song all about the pure love, joy, and comfort in being with someone who treats you with honesty, kindness, and respect.  Here's hoping that we all have someone in our life come along and make us feel that way.

Oh, and one final note to point out.  A few years after Whitney's version topped the charts, the late Luther Vandross released his own version of the song...with obvious pronouns swapped.

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