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'The Bodyguard' Soundtrack: 25 Years After Whitney Houston's Masterpiece
It's been 25 years since the release of The Bodyguard soundtrack, and the 13-song collection continues to hold the record for best-selling music from a film, boasting a staggering sales total of more than 45 million copies worldwide.
Of course, the feat can be attributed largely to the appeal of late pop queen Whitney Houston, who co-starred in the film and contributed six songs, among them her jaw-dropping version of Dolly Parton's 1974 ballad "I Will Always Love You" that features Houston delivering arguably the best female pop vocal performance of all time.
Released just weeks before the film debuted, "I Will Always Love You" opens with a piercingly sweet a cappella melody and the chorus soars into a string of impressive, triumphant vocal acrobatics. Like a movie trailer, the music video builds interest in the film, previewing highlight clips as Houston sings the lead song.
"I Will Always Love You" was simply magic — a lighting-in-a-bottle pairing of the right song with the right voice. It ultimately held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 14 weeks, earned Record Of The Year honors at the 36th GRAMMY Awards and helped the project earn the distinction as one of three soundtracks to receive the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year, among other accolades.
Looking back on this milestone anniversary, The Bodyguard lead actor and co-producer Kevin Costner says Houston was his first and only pick to portray his female co-lead, Rachel Marron, a larger-than-life pop star with magnetism and depth.
"We just needed a world-class voice, a world-class beauty in a sense and a world-class presence, and there's not many that fit that bill," recalls Costner, whose film career was blossoming at the time. "I didn't see anybody [else] on the landscape that actually matched up with what we needed in a contemporary way and a musical way."
It would be difficult to argue with Costner's point. Houston, a stunning former model, was already a pop star of the magnitude of a fictional character. Her previous three albums at the time — Whitney Houston (1985), Whitney (1987) and I'm Your Baby Tonight (1990) — scaled the top of the charts, with the former two landing at No. 1. Costner was so convinced that Houston was the right fit for the role that he delayed production until the "Greatest Love Of All" singer finished touring and was available to begin filming.
Music mogul Clive Davis, who signed Houston to his Arista Records label and co-executive produced the soundtrack, says Houston made a deliberate choice to accept The Bodyguard role.
"It was a very specific and determined decision on her part," Davis says. "She said, 'I really want to make a film.' I asked, 'Well, can you afford to? You're making literally $20 to $50 million an album — a movie will probably take a year of your time. And can you get a part that you feel comfortable with that does justice to your talents?"
Houston met and exceeded Davis' challenge to find a film role that could make her an even bigger star.
The GRAMMY winner garnered praise for her big-screen debut, including notable film critics such as Roger Ebert. "[Whitney Houston] is at home in the role; she photographs wonderfully, and has a warm smile, and yet is able to suggest selfish and egotistical dimensions in the character," wrote Ebert in his three-star review of the film.
Musically speaking, the six songs Houston performs on the soundtrack (five in the film) offered an impressive sampling of her varied vocal stylings: power pop ballads a la "I Will Always Love You," "I Have Nothing" and "Run To You"; an R&B dance cover of Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman"; a rock-fueled crossover hit in "Queen Of The Night"; and the pop/gospel offering "Jesus Loves Me." Each song, save for "Jesus Loves Me," was released as a single and peaked in the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, U.S. Dance Club Songs or Adult Contemporary charts.
Music supervisor Maureen Crowe rounded out the best-selling soundtrack with plenty of more soulful firepower: Kenny G and Aaron Neville's "Even If My Heart Would Break," Lisa Stansfield's "Someday (I'm Coming Back)," the S.o.u.l. S.y.s.t.e.m.'s "It's Gonna Be A Lovely Day," Curtis Stigers' "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding," Kenny G's "Waiting For You," Joe Cocker and Sass Jordan's "Trust In Me," and Alan Silvestri's "Theme From 'The Bodyguard.'"
While "I Will Always Love You" eventually sold more than 4 million copies as a single, it actually wasn't the first choice for the soundtrack's pivotal song. Costner originally intended to use Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted" but another remake of the track had already been used prominently on the soundtrack for the Academy Award-nominated film Fried Green Tomatoes, which was released while The Bodyguard was in production.
Crowe suggested a few alternate options, with Costner picking "I Will Always Love You." The actor pitched the song to Houston, Davis and producer David Foster, and they all loved the idea.
For her part, Houston had no trouble making the song her own. Linda Ronstadt's 1975 rendition of "I Will Always Love You" was used as a reference track. However, Ronstadt's cover did not include the third verse Parton recites on the original. Crowe recalls watching Houston record the vocals for the third verse.
"I remember being in the studio and saying, 'Hey, is there anything you need for this third verse?' and [Foster]'s like, 'Don't worry, honey. Just watch her go.' David really understands how to do an arrangement for a singer of Whitney's caliber. It's like the saying: The song presents itself but the singer delivers."
"The first version that David sent me had that brilliant a cappella opening that was just chilling and spine-tingling," says Davis. "Then he kept sending more and more versions — but they weren't registering the same way with me. It got down to D-day — 'You've got to pick a single, — the movie's coming out.' Finally, I had to pick, and I picked that very first version."
In addition to the soundtrack's astronomical success, all of these colliding positive forces helped yield a box-office smash. The film made $411 million in 1992, making it the second highest-earning movie globally that year, while raising Houston's profile higher into the stratosphere.
"Plain and simple, The Bodyguard's unparalleled success cemented Whitney Houston's status in the firmament of iconic female singers," says Gail Mitchell, Billboard magazine senior correspondent. "The film also opened the door to a second career as an actress — a transition that only a few singers have seamlessly accomplished."
While Houston's life and career were cut short far too soon by her tragic death in 2012, her legacy and influence live on through her work, with The Bodyguard playing a key part.
Today, musical adaptations of The Bodyguard run rampant around the world. In addition to productions in Toronto, Australia, Madrid, and North America, "The Bodyguard" musical opened at the Adelphi Theatre in London's West End during the fall of 2012, featuring Heather Headley in the principal role.
GRAMMY-nominated singer Deborah Cox was cast in 2015 for North American dates. Cox, who was a labelmate with Houston at Arista Records and recorded the 2000 duet "Same Script, Different Cast" with her, admits to feeling the pressure to uphold Houston's legacy.
"I wouldn't be honest with you if I didn't tell you it was challenging," says Cox, who is currently performing U.S. dates through 2018. "I knew what the expectations were. I knew what I would have to perform and deliver every single night."
Challenge aside, Cox could not resist taking on the role. Like millions of fans, it especially resonated with her because she was already a huge Houston fan, loved The Bodyguard and knew all of the songs. And it's a story that continues to appeal to fans 25 years later and beyond.
"It was the perfect combination of my favorite entertainer, a storyline and a script that I love — because I'm a hopeless romantic — set on a screen and a good story put with [timeless] music."
(Billy Johnson Jr. is a Los Angeles-based freelance music journalist, content producer and former senior editor for Yahoo Music. You can follow him on Twitter at @BillyJohnsonJr.)
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