Now here’s something I hadn’t known until just now: “I Will Always Love You” was originally written and also recorded by Dolly Parton, equal arbiter of The White Stripes’ magnanimous “Jolene” version, in which Jack White pleads “Jolene / I’m beggin’ of you / Please don’t take my man”. To be honest, to this day, I’ve never heard the Parton version of the Houston track and I don’t really prefer her take on “Jolene,” either. But still, let’s hear it for all-American originals, which is to say nothing of Willie Nelson, whose best piece of music lain to wax to date is his cover of the Muppet Babies theme song “The Rainbow Connection” (granted, that is a pretty bangin’ tune).
I’m sort of on the cusp of Whitney Houston fandom, having started listening to music right around when The Bodyguard (film) came out in ’92. Interestingly, this stands as her de facto fourth studio album, being a soundtrack on which she’s responsible for the main load of musical material.
Owning to several successful singles including “I’m Every Woman,” The Bodyguard did furnish the Dolly Parton cover “I Will Always Love You” as its lead, to seismic results, as the track saw 14 consecutive weeks at #1 on the US Billboard pop charts. This stretch would actually encroach on the running for her next two singles, “Someday (I’m Coming Back)” and “I’m Every Woman”; hence creating quite the Whitney Houston glut on the pops, and quite the jealousy factor on the parts of Vanessa Williams and Mariah Carey, so we’re to presume.
I look at the release date of the “I Will Always Love You” single, anyway, and what should I notice but that it’s the exact month in which my parents got divorced. Now, with as much of a music junkie as I am, this should be knowledge retained by me all this time and not discarded for the birds. Regardless, I recently shared the song as a “slow jam” on my dance party rendition of my Ultimate ’90s Fan Page Facebook DJ-ing (hey DJ-ing is DJ-ing), so naturally, I zoomed back to our old school dances. I imagined dancing with one person and making an eye contact with another, the plurality of people involved all subsumed under this sublime, deeply penetrating and awe-inspiring vocal Houston delivers on this song. Houston’s cathartic, other-worldly wail is something we can all rest on, while it lasts, in all its vibrating glory — it’s something under which we can forgive each other and learn to love each other once again in the holistic way, in terms of acceptance and renewal of the spirits.
And sure maybe songs like this are selfish — maybe the old romantic paradigm of heartbreak is tired and selfish, within pop music or without. But the truth is we don’t actually KNOW what goes on in every relationship, every time a person makes the brash, maniacal decision to let another person into his or her mind, into his or her heart. Whitney Houston’s vocals on this song suggest a brand of “love” that encompasses everything the word should be, in its absolute ideal — things like the restoration of the world and of people’s hearts into absolute glory, as if being a place so perfect it could only exist in dreams.