To those who are too young to remember, Whitney Houston’s name may not bring to mind much, except maybe “has-been,” “drug user,” and "loser." However, as a teenager in the mid-80s I witnessed her rise to stardom, and she was HUGE. Houston was everywhere - magazines, TV, music award shows, you name it. I saw her in concert as part of a friend’s birthday party celebration on July 29, 1986. It was almost a year and a half after her debut album, Whitney Houston, had been released and it was a summer night I’ll always remember for two reasons: it was the first “real” concert I ever attended, and because Whitney’s voice and stage presence were phenomenal. It’s a far cry from the woman I watched on Good Morning America last year, when she appeared in concert to promote her latest album, and for a moment seemed poised to make a comeback. Instead she warbled her way through her classic hits and came across as very awkward on the stage. When I recently found my old ticket stub from the 1986 show, I wanted to share some quick memories of that evening, and the singer that I remember seeing – years before Bobby Brown got a hold of her.
|(Gotta love the futuristic looking Ticketron logo!)|
One of our friends was turning 14 and this was her birthday gift; I believe we had to pay for our own ticket, but her mom offered to pick up all up and drive us into Boston. I hadn’t been to the city since I was a kid, so this was exciting in and of itself. Whitney’s show was part of the city’s Concerts on the Common summer music series, which sadly went defunct some years ago. Part of the Boston Common was cornered off and a stage was set up for performances. I’m glad I saved the music schedule for that summer, because take a look at the acts and the prices – where else were you going to see Kool and the Gang for only $16.50, or ‘Til Tuesday (Amy Mann hails from Beantown) for $13.50? Plus John Denver, Bonnie Raitt, Luther Vandross, and Willie Nelson? Wow!
It wasn’t until I looked at the schedule today that I noticed that Whitney’s ticket prices were the second highest, behind Liza Minnelli, of all of the performers on the program. She definitely was one of the bigger headliners for the Concert on the Common series.
Since my ticket stub shows the higher seat price of $19.50, we must have had the better section. I don’t remember being terribly close to the stage, but I do remember being able to see Houston’s face clearly. She was 23 years old in 1986, but definitely commanded the show like a confident woman. She was a glamorous image dressed all in white, long curly hair bounding behind her head, and immediately launched into Michael Jackson’s You Got To Be Starting Something as her opener. From there she alternated between ballads and danceable numbers from her debut LP: Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, You Good Give Love, Someone For Me, All At Once, and Greatest Love Of All. (I Want to Dance With Somebody may have been in there as well, even thought that wasn’t recorded until 1987, when her second album, Whitney, was released.) Whitney bantered easily with the audience and seemed at ease for someone in the throws of newfound stardom. And she definitely had some smooth dance moves. Halfway through the show she debated who to toss her sweaty towel to in the crowd (one of our friends, who became a huge Whitney fan, desperately wanted it but alas, we were sitting too far back) before relinquishing it to a couple in the first few rows. What I remember most is that her voice was just amazing. No costumes, no theatrics, just raw talent. I kept thinking that we were somehow seeing a future legend in the making. None of us could have ever predicted how things were to turn out. Back then she was just a pretty and innocent girl with an equally pretty and innocent voice.
Speaking of which, one of the reasons we went to see her as opposed to the other top music acts of the time was because of her squeaky clean image. She was one of the few singers that the birthday girl’s strict Catholic mother approved of (I heard she routinely screened my friend’s Tears for Fears and Thompson Twins records for questionable lyrics.) Houston – who modeled for Seventeen and Ms before becoming a singer – was never portrayed as anything but the girl next door in interviews at the time. In person, she also seemed very much aware and normal.
We all know what happened during the 90s and 00s. Whitney is now 46, but often looks older than her age. It's a shame, but at least I'll always have the 1986 concert and the memories.