Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Whitney Houston was a force; her accolades are legion. The people at Guinness World Records named her the most awarded female artist of all time. Her 415 awards (as of 2010) include 6 Grammys and 22 American Music Awards. Of her 30 Billboard Music Awards, she won 11 in one year, breaking a record. Each of her 7 solo albums and 2 soundtrack albums have been certified gold or above.
Houston also has won awards for her involvement in films, including most famously in The Bodyguard with her stunning (cover) performance of “I Will Always Love You.” NPR calls the song the “‘Old Town Road’ of its day.” The Bodyguard soundtrack remains, (as far as I can track down,) the best-selling soundtrack of all time, and the movie’s portrayal of an interracial relationship was impactful at the time.
Houston was not free of personal struggles, including drug use and her tumultuous relationship with Bobby Brown. But today, her impact lies beyond even her music and acting. Houston was a major supporter of Nelson Mandela and performed in benefit concerts during his imprisonment. She then became the first big-name musician to visit South Africa post-apartheid under Mandela. Proceeds from her broadcast of the concerts there were donated to South African charities.
It was only a matter of time before yet another award appeared on Houston’s already long list. This year we celebrate her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It should be noted that Houston is the only female to be inducted this year, joining the fewer than 8% of the other hall of famers who are women.
Although we celebrate Houston’s accomplishment, we take a look at five more somber covers of her Grammy-winning hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Mark Jones & Twenty Paces – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)
First up is a subtle country cover, simple and clean. The opening “clock strikes upon the hour” line provides a tonal shift not unlike Calum Scott’s woeful “somebody said you got a new friend.” The first verse blends Jones’s rich vocals with mournful guitar. Light percussion kicks in, keeping the beat in case you want to slow dance to this new and somber take on a dance anthem. Although we don’t get to hear what this sipping-whiskey-alone vibe brings to “don’tcha you wanna dance, say you wanna dance” traditional ending, this version of the song still packs an emotional punch.
Bootstraps – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)
Jordan Beckett of Bootstraps launched his career after winning “Best Music in a Film” at the Nashville Film Festival for his soundtrack to Take Me Home. Bootstrap’s second album is a cover album, and it includes this homage to Houston. The piano and guitar set the scene, and slightly raspy vocals join in. This version changes the overall melody a bit, but we can still hear the resemblance to the original. Towards the end a sound like a mix of a bird wail and an electronic whine blends in, noticeable, but not obtrusive. Again, we end without the final “don’tcha”s, and we are left a little sadder than Jones left us.
Marian Hill – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)
Marian Hill, most known for her subtle and suave electronic songs, brings her style to this cover on an amfAR benefit cover album of ’80s hits. The song starts out with Hill’s vocals backed by a repetitive electronic sound that increases in volume before abruptly snuffing out. Deep vocals pop in to echo Hill, and sultry and slightly ominous beats escalate as the song goes on. Clock sounds strike throughout and an echoing style is leveraged to add depth and keep us guessing about what sounds we’ll hear next.
Delorentos – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)
Houston’s legendary status reaches across the pond. The Delorentos, a band from Ireland, contributed this cover to a compilation album benefiting LGBTI+ youths. Gravely vocals start this cover, backed by only a few piano chords. The vocals reach deep levels, contrasting Houston’s higher register. Only the barest of piano plinks accompanies throughout. The only additional backing come from “ooh” vocals that transition into “somebody who”s to close out the song.
illuminati hotties – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)
Sarah Tudzin, of illuminati hotties, describes the band’s sound as “tenderpunk.” Even in this cover we hear why. A full guitar sound starts strong, with edge, even though acoustic. The guitar dampens a bit as the almost whispered vocals start but remains as a beat keeper. Tudzin’s voice delivers the lyrics vulnerably and trades off with the rich guitar that comes back in between verses.
The Ironix – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)
Bonus! If, like me, you are really missing the ending of this song, here is a more chipper and upbeat, albeit less reverent, cover complete with a sample from Nelly’s “Dilemma.”
We’re running a series on every Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee this year. Click here to see the rest.