Having Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder on one stage was always going to result in an iconic moment in musical history. Singing That's What Friends Are For at the 1987 Soul Train Music Awards, the foursome did what came only naturally and served-up unashamedly potent vocals.
So why am I showing you this video, now? Ignoring that I only recently discovered it, there are a few things that had me wanting to put 21st century pen to paper. First up, some love for Dionne Warwick. Her delivery is easy and free of clutter, but it belies the skill that is going on with her dynamics, pitch and annunciation. She is the definition of an effortless singer, and as such, is often overlooked and underrated. Get into her!
From her, follows Stevie Wonder, whose voice just seems to stretch on and on. Just when I thought he'd tapped out on the belt, on it goes with added oomph and soul. He also doesn't miss a beat with that harmonica, which he wields like an extension of his body.
Whitney Houston does what Whitney did best, coming in like a hurricane off the back of Stevie. Her voice soars from the outset with that signature push causing her belt to bloom beautifully. She sounded gorgeous here, and the little interactions she had with cousin Dionne were both sweet and touching.
Now I'd watched this video for Whitney, truth be known, but what really surprised me was Luther Vandross. We know this dude could sing, but I was not expecting the slayage that came from him. Not going to ruin it for you, but the audience- and Whitney's- reaction should punctuate the exact moment my follicles gave up the ghost and my hair hit the floor. Watching more of his live stuff, it seems to be somewhat of a trademark vocal move for him, but this was the first time I'd seen him do it.
But aside from the vocals, it's crazy to think that this was the top selling song of 1986! Even factoring in that it was a charity single, I can't imagine a track- no matter its intention- hitting the top spot today with a singer like Dionne Warwick on lead. And that's sorta sad.
*Note: Never heard the song pre-finding this live Soul Train version. But here's the original which featured Gladys Knight and Elton John in place of Whitney and Luther.*