Music Commentary

Hi my name is Jon McKenney with the latest version of Beyond The Hook. A hook is: a musical or lyrical passage, or a riff, that is repeated and designed to catch the ears of listeners
and reel them in, and this song has a world class hook. I chose today’s song because it is a perfect example of what a hook is. I guarantee that once I tell you what it is you’ll say, “OMG of course I know that phrase, I’ve heard it a hundred times.” I toss superlatives around like confetti but this hook and the singer who is best known for the song are icons in the world of popular music. I am not exaggerating when I say that this ballad has been covered by hundreds of artists and here are just a few: Dolly Parton who wrote it, Beyonce, Linda Ronstadt, LeAnn Rimes, Gloria Gaynor, Melissa Etheridge, and Celine Dion, who puts the most into it. But the woman who is best known for performing Dolly’s musical masterpiece is Whitney Houston. You guessed it; the song is I Will Always Love You and if that phrase — which we all know, “I will always love you” — doesn’t stir some emotion in you; you need help.

Then again, “with a little help from my friends” never, or almost never, hurts. I will always Love You has a long and interesting history. Dolly Parton wrote the song for her long-time partner and mentor Porter Wagoner at a time when she was moving on to pursue a solo career and Wagoner wouldn’t talk to her. Dolly’s version reached # 1 on the country charts twice: once in 1974 and again in 1982. But Whitney’s soulful rendition, recorded for the movie The Bodyguard, broke all kinds of industry records. Houston won a Grammy for the song in 1994, it hit # 1 on the Billboard charts for 14 weeks, and it was a global success making it the best selling single of all time by a woman. The phrase “I will always love you” and the power with which it is delivered is remembered by anybody who has heard the song. The hook, which is both melodic and lyrical, is repeated three times during the song and is the first two lines in the chorus. The first time Whitney sings the line it is soft and low: but when she gets going, she’s like a train, she lets it go. That’s what happens when she delivers that passage and if you like music at all you can’t help but be affected by the purity of the emotion, clarity of the sound, and the unrestricted resonance that Whitney Houston personifies.

Most of Whitney’s versions are excellent but there are some in which she lacks a little effort. And, although the song is identified with Houston, Celine Dion does it better. A Celine
performance is like watching a professional athlete, she gives everything she does 100%, utilizing every fiber of her body. When she extends her arms and stretches her fingers she strains
as if she’s trying to reach for another half inch every time. When she makes a fist pump move on stage it’s like she is crushing Adolph Hitler, Genghis Khan, and Tomás de Torquemada
(Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition) at the same time. A powerful singer uses their diaphragm, located just below the heart and lungs, to hold notes and control the expelled air, but it takes practice and a physical effort to pull it off well. A soulful singer will reach down, I mean deep down, The farthest down they can go without rupturing themselves — muscle that entity, that essence, or maybe it’s just air – and regulate it as it passes through their vocal cords and out. “Christ you know it ain’t easy, as John and Yoko proclaimed. Celine does all that and more
when she reaches the last “I will always love you” in the third chorus. Being the final chorus, it is longer and more serious than the first two, but she starts low, gradually brings it to a peak,
then tapers it off to an inaudible point. There may be air still escaping while she remembers where she is and stops.

Well…that’s today’s rant but at least there wasn’t any raving. I hope you enjoyed it. I know I did and remember this is mostly an opinion of a sometimes-delusional old man. I value
any feedback, good or bad. If you don’t like this podcast just call, email, or walk in and complain. Next week’s podcast was recorded by an unlikely husband and wife duet who had a short- lived marriage but have been performing separately since the sixties. The song never made it big although Elvis came close and it is very soulful. So, until next week:

Hasta la vista.
USM Intern – Jon McKenney