July 4, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Sizzling 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my method up into the current.


On the absolute peak of her megastar powers, Whitney Houston took an eight-year break from making albums. Throughout that point, Whitney by no means really disappeared from the pop charts. She additionally modified Hollywood. I hope I’m not overstating issues right here, however I imagine Whitney Houston’s presence made a distinction when it comes to which tales have been being instructed in mainstream movies. With out Whitney Houston, it’s arduous to think about 1995’s Ready To Exhale being made or, on the very least, leaving the type of cultural impression that it left. And with out the success of Ready To Exhale, a complete lot of films for and about Black ladies won’t exist.

Earlier than Ready To Exhale, Whitney Houston had solely made one film, however that film was The Bodyguard, a real smash. The soundtrack to The Bodyguard was an excellent greater deal, and it gave us Whitney’s model of “I Will At all times Love You,” which, in its day, was the most important hit in Billboard historical past. Whitney was good in The Bodyguard, however she was basically taking part in a model of herself. Ready To Exhale was the primary time that Whitney Houston really received an opportunity to act, and she or he was good at that, too.

Whitney Houston is billed first in Ready To Exhale, and she or he’s the nominal star, nevertheless it’s actually an ensemble piece. It’s an adaptation of a Terry McMillan novel about 4 Black ladies supporting one another via romantic travails, and Whitney doesn’t have the movie’s most memorable arc. (That’s Angela Bassett, who lights her ex-husband’s automotive on hearth and who finally ends up with Wesley Snipes on the finish.) However the presence of Whitney Houston completely helped promote Ready To Exhale. It helped promote the soundtrack, too.

Ready To Exhale isn’t actually a comedy, and it isn’t actually a drama. It’s received a light-weight, breezy tone, a bit like a shiny cleaning soap opera, nevertheless it’s additionally raunchy and generally actually humorous. The movie reveals its 4 leads as succesful, profitable professionals, and nearly everybody onscreen is completely stunning. It’s clean, escapist mass-market leisure. I might say the identical factor concerning the Ready To Exhale soundtrack, which turned a cultural phenomenon and which featured the final #1 hit of Whitney Houston’s profession.

Whitney Houston didn’t need to document something for the Ready To Exhale soundtrack. She needed her performing to be her focus. However first-time director Forest Whitaker introduced in Babyface to supply all the Ready To Exhale soundtrack and to attain the movie, and Babyface would come to the set and play music for Whitney. Babyface and LA Reid had written and produced “I’m Your Child Tonight,” the tune that received Whitney the R&B acceptance that she actually needed. She was snug working with him, and she or he additionally had a good suggestion for the soundtrack. Ultimately, as soon as she heard sufficient songs, she relented and recorded a couple of.

Whitney Houston’s concept for the Ready To Exhale soundtrack was that it ought to characteristic Black ladies, identical to the film itself. Babyface produced the entire soundtrack, and he wrote each tune aside from Chaka Khan’s model of “My Humorous Valentine.” Babyface put collectively a soundtrack that showcased legends like Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, in addition to lots of the greatest R&B stars of that second: Brandy, TLC, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton. A bunch of the songs from the soundtrack turned hits, however none of them turned greater hits than Whitney’s personal “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” the film’s theme tune.

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Like so many different Babyface tracks, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” is a gradual jam. Not like so many different Babyface tracks, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” isn’t actually about anyone particular relationship. As a substitute, it’s about relationships typically — about prepared your self to the second while you’re snug sufficient to be your self, to loosen up and breathe. Babyface’s lyrics are mainly Hallmark-card banalities, however that doesn’t imply that they’re not true: “Everybody falls in love someday/ Typically it’s unsuitable, and generally it’s proper.” The tune, like Ready To Exhale itself, isn’t terribly judgmental about how that love may work. Just like the film, the tune additionally places a premium on pals and on internal power. However “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” isn’t a message tune. It’s a nice, welcoming breeze — extra about groove than lyrical that means.

In reality, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” is so detached to lyrics that its refrain doesn’t characteristic any precise phrases. In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Ebook Of No 1 Hits, Babyface basically admits that he simply couldn’t consider any phrases for that hook: “When Whitney first heard the tune, she figured I’d misplaced it — I couldn’t give you phrases anymore. And really, she’s proper. I couldn’t consider something for that individual half. It felt prefer it ought to groove there. However I knew it couldn’t groove with none vocals, so I began buzzing together with it, and that’s what occurred. The ‘shoops’ got here. However they felt so good, I assumed, ‘Why not? It doesn’t should imply something.’” That is true! Babyface doesn’t point out that Salt-N-Pepa had scored a serious hit with a monitor actually simply referred to as “Shoop” two years earlier, however that most likely helped make the choice simpler, too. America was prepared for some shoops. (“Shoop” peaked at #4. It’s a 9.)

On “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” as on “Shoop,” the meaninglessness is a part of the attraction. The shoops can imply no matter you may want them to imply. On the refrain, Whitney doesn’t scat, precisely. She ad-libs, however she doesn’t go loopy with improvisation. She principally sings the refrain the way in which that Babyface wrote it. However the nonsense of all of it calls again to doo-wop and perhaps even to vocal jazz. These shoops give the tune a shrugging playfulness. Whitney Houston is aware of that she’s not telling you something you don’t know, however you’ll be able to hear her having enjoyable with it nonetheless. The purpose is simply listening to her voice glide alongside ecstatically.

There’s a stark distinction between “I Will At all times Love You,” Whitney Houston’s earlier #1 hit, and “Exhale (Shoop Shoop).” “I Will At all times Love You” is all howling bombast. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” drifts alongside pleasantly. Babyface had solely simply used strings for the primary time when he labored on Madonna’s “Take A Bow,” however he was a fast research. The strings on “Exhale” are smooth and impressionistic, by no means overbearing, and so they subtly accent the monitor. The tune has a deep, reassuring synth-bass hum and a few nice tingly bell sounds. Babyface performed guitar and keyboards on the monitor himself, and he additionally sang the backing vocals together with Whitney herself. It’s a nice monitor, and it places all of the emphasis on Whitney Houston’s voice, which is precisely the place that emphasis belongs.

Whitney Houston has a status as an oversinger, however that’s not what she brings to “Exhale (Shoop Shoop).” As a substitute, she retains her thrives smooth and minimal. She curls her voice comfortably round Babyface’s groove whereas step by step cranking up the drama in her supply. On the bridge, she lets out one huge wail — “It’s best to look inside your self! You’re midway theeeeere!” — nevertheless it exists inside the movement of the tune. I by no means get the sensation that she’s been constructing as much as that one observe for the entire tune. “Exhale” is a quiet and fairly tune, and it’s by no means left an enormous impression on me, however that could be its power. The tune by no means tries to do an excessive amount of.

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At Whitney Houston’s request, Forest Whitaker, her Ready To Exhale director, additionally made the video for “Exhale (Shoop Shoop).” The video is generally simply pictures from the film, dreamily edited collectively, together with a couple of close-ups of Whitney. However Whitney will get throughout a ton of character in these close-ups. She does virtually as a lot performing within the video as she does within the movie itself, and she or he places her charisma on full show. She had a fantastic face.

“Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” debuted at #1, one thing that was changing into increasingly frequent in that period, in between two earthshaking smashes from Whitney’s stylistic descendant and future collaborator Mariah Carey. “Exhale” solely spent a single week at #1, however that’s not likely an correct reflection of its impression. After that one week, “Exhale” sat at #2 for 11 straight weeks — on the time, the longest stretch that any tune had ever been within the runner-up spot. A short while later, Whitney adopted that single with one other Ready To Exhale soundtrack tune. “Depend On Me,” a duet with gospel nice CeCe Winans, peaked at #8. (It’s a 6.)

By the point Whitney launched “Depend On Me” as a single, the Ready To Exhale soundtrack was already a smash. The film was a legit hit, incomes $67 million on the home field workplace. (That’s lower than Warmth however greater than the primary Dangerous Boys.) The soundtrack, in the meantime, bought seven million copies and sat at #1 for greater than a month. Due to Babyface’s manufacturing and the unifying theme of showcasing Black feminine voices, the soundtrack has a way more cohesive movement than most of that period’s soundtracks. It had hits, too. The following single after “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” was “Sittin’ Up In My Room,” a flirty, funky monitor from the teenage singer Brandy, and that tune reached #2. (“Sittin’ Up In My Room” is an 8. Brandy will finally seem on this column.)

After “Sittin’ Up In My Room,” Mary J. Blige additionally received to #2 together with her stormy, emotional Ready To Exhale monitor “Not Gon’ Cry.” (It’s one other 8. Mary J. Blige will finally seem on this column.) Another Ready To Exhale single turned a B-side for a tune that’ll be on this column quickly. The third of the soundtrack’s three Whitney Houston songs, “Why Does It Damage So Dangerous,” made it to #26. That soundtrack actually ran the Sizzling 100 for a couple of months there.

A yr after Ready To Exhale, Whitney Houston starred with Denzel Washington in The Preacher’s Spouse, and she or he gave that film one other huge soundtrack. The hit from that soundtrack was Whitney’s model of “I Imagine In You And Me,” a tune that the 4 Tops had first recorded in 1983. The 4 Tops’ unique hadn’t charted on the Sizzling 100, however Whitney took “I Imagine In You And Me” to #4. (It’s a 5.)

Whitney Houston’s first three starring autos have been all profitable, however she didn’t do a lot performing afterward. She performed the Fairy Godmother alongside Brandy in a made-for-TV Cinderella film in 1997, and she or he had a supporting function in 2012’s Sparkle, however that was it. In 1998, Whitney lastly launched My Love Is Your Love, her first studio album since 1990’s I’m Your Child Tonight. The album did enterprise, however none of its singles went all the way in which to #1. There have been hits, although. First single “Heartbreak Resort” reached #2. (It’s an 8.) Two different singles, “It’s Not Proper However It’s Okay” and “My Love Is Your Love,” each peaked at #4. (They’re each 9s.) R&B had modified, however Whitney Houston was completely able to singing over the sparse, jittery tracks that got here into vogue within the late ’90s. She stored up simply wonderful.

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However Whitney had hassle in different arenas. From a distance, her marriage to Bobby Brown seems to be like mutual spiral of self-destruction. By most accounts, Bobby was each bodily and emotionally abusive, and the 2 of them had critical issues with substances. Within the early ’00s, Whitney misplaced a complete lot of weight and no-showed a couple of high-profile engagements, like Clive Davis’ Rock And Roll Corridor Of Fame induction. In 2004, Whitney starred in Bobby’s actuality present Being Bobby Brown, and she or he got here off as a whole mess, albeit a charismatic mess. A few of her strains turned memes on the pre-social media web. Individuals ought to’ve nervous about Whitney, however everybody simply had enjoyable with all the pieces that she mentioned on the present as an alternative.

Whitney’s final two studio albums, 2002’s Simply Whitney and 2009’s I Look To You, each tanked. Bobby and Whitney lastly broke up in 2007, however Whitney continued to wrestle, doing a few stints in rehab. In 2012, simply earlier than Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy occasion, Whitney Houston handed out in a resort bathtub, and she or he drowned. She was 48 years outdated. Three years later, Whitney’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, born throughout the lengthy stretch when “I Will At all times Love You” sat at #1, died in the very same method as her mom on the age of twenty-two.

Whitney Houston was a generational expertise, and she or he was additionally one of many greatest stars in fashionable music for many of her grownup life. Whitney didn’t write many songs, and her particular type of artistry isn’t typically correctly valued. However she might do astounding issues together with her voice, and she or he might pound house the emotional drive of a tune like no person else. Her clean, highly effective, gospel-derived singing type proved massively influential, and her success helped set the stage for R&B to take over the Sizzling 100 within the ’90s.

It’s dumbfounding that somebody so profitable and so proficient might exit in such a mind-bending blitz of tragedies, however creative and monetary success are by no means the identical factor as happiness or well being. Typically, penning this column can really feel insanely bleak and morbid. Somebody can sing a tune that makes the entire world happier, and that particular person can nonetheless reside the saddest life. Like so many artists earlier than and after, Whitney Houston deserved higher. I want there was some lesson to remove from all of this, some constructive observe to finish this story. There isn’t. Typically, horrible issues occur. Horrible issues undoubtedly occurred to Whitney Houston. She by no means received an opportunity to exhale.

GRADE: 7/10

BONUS BEATS: Right here’s the churchy model of “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” that Babyface sang with Beverly Crowder on his 1997 MTV Unplugged album:

(Babyface’s highest-charting single, 1994’s “When Can I See You,” peaked at #4. It’s an 8. Babyface’s work will seem on this column once more.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: After Whitney Houston’s dying in 2012, Robin Thicke recorded a canopy of “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” and launched it as a single. Right here’s the video for his model:

(Robin Thicke will finally seem on this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Fantasia masking “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” as a part of a Babyface tribute on the 2015 Soul Practice Awards:

(Fantasia will finally seem on this column.)