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Houston Hits: Master Plan, Blind Luck

June 08, 1986|PAUL GREIN

Radio format politics played the key role in determining the sequence of Houston's first three singles--a sequence that is widely credited with boosting the album's sales to the multi-platinum level.

For the first single, Arista bypassed three subsequent No. 1 pop hits to release "You Give Good Love," an R&B-oriented ballad produced by Kashif.

"We wanted to establish her in the black marketplace first," explained Davis. "Otherwise, you can fall between cracks, where Top 40 won't play you and R&B won't consider you their own. . . . We felt that 'You Give Good Love' would be at the very least a major black hit, though we didn't think that it would cross over (to the pop market) as strongly as it did. When it did cross over with such velocity (it reached No. 3 on the pop chart), that gave us great encouragement."

Arista next wooed adult-contemporary listeners with the torchy ballad "Saving All My Love for You" and then went after the dance crowd with the up-tempo "How Will I Know"--the video of which landed Houston on MTV for the first time last Christmas Day.

If that was all part of the master plan, the selection of the fourth single definitely wasn't. Arista never intended to release "Greatest Love of All," the philosophical ballad that has become the biggest hit from the album. In fact, the label was so sure that it wouldn't be releasing the song as a single that it stuck it on the B-side of "You Give Good Love" (see related story, Page 90).

The big challenge facing Houston now is to follow this success. "Everybody knows the pitfalls," Davis said. "You can get set up for a big fall. But it's less of a concern when you've got a talent such as Whitney's, which isn't based on fad or trend, but just great singing of strong material."

Still, he's not taking any chances. To help prevent overexposure, he's not releasing any more singles from the album. And Houston's second album won't be released until September at the earliest.

The main lesson of Houston's blockbuster success is that there's a much bigger market for mainstream pop music than most observers had thought--including the central character in this story.

"Before we signed with Arista," Harvey recalled, "Whitney asked me one day, 'Do you really think that somebody with a nice voice singing nice songs can still sell records today?' She said it very innocently and out-of-the-blue. I said, 'Oh yeah!' "

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