So Emotional

Album: Whitney (1987)
Charted: 5 1
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Songfacts®:

  • In this song, Whitney Houston has a man, but it's one of her old flames she still burns for. She gets "so emotional" just thinking about him.

    It was written by the team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who have also written hits for Cyndi Lauper, The Pretenders, Heart, the Bangles, Madonna and The Divinyls. In a Songfacts interview with Steinberg, he said: "A lot of songwriters get together and the first question they ask each other is, 'Who do you want to write for?' Tom and I had never done that because I find it restricting and we both like to write a song for the song's sake and not try to aim at a particular recording artist. In the case of 'So Emotional,' Tom and I had a regular dialogue with Clive Davis and he advised us that he was looking for an uptempo song for Whitney Houston, so we really tried to write for that."

    As head of Arista Records, Davis could put out a call for songs and know it would be answered, especially when it came to his superstar Whitney Houston. Davis was known for his ability to develop artists and played a big part in deciding what songs they would record. Before signing Houston, he worked with Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, Chicago and many others. In 1999, he engineered Santana's comeback. He also nurtured the career of Alicia Keys, who he signed to his new label, J Records.
  • The demo that Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly recorded for this song sounds little like the final product. They were both huge fans of Prince and put the demo together with his Minneapolis funk sound. Producer Narada Michael Walden completely re-worked it for Houston.

    "I don't think anyone would ever hear Whitney's version of the song and hear anything Prince-like about the production," Steinberg told Songfacts. "Originally our demo had a certain Prince feel to it, in the verse in particular."
  • This was the sixth of seven consecutive #1 US singles for Houston - a record that still stands. This incredible run was all from song from her first two albums, a time when Houston was totally devoid of controversy and willing to record whatever songs Clive Davis recommended.

    "At that point in time, Clive was just looking for great pop material for Whitney," Billy Steinberg said in his Songfacts interview. "He didn't care where he got the songs from and she sang the hell out of them. Later in her career they became very self-conscious about who she was. They wanted to make her sound more urban and give her more urban cred, so they would have avoided songs like 'So Emotional' or 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody.' In a way it's a shame because Whitney really delivered those songs and she delivered ballads very well like 'I Will Always Love You.' She could sing anything, but there was pressure to show that she could sing the hip-hop with the best of them.

    There's a long history in the world of pop singers like the Drifters. The Drifters sang these great pop songs like 'Up On The Roof,' 'There Goes My Baby,' 'Under The Boardwalk' or 'On Broadway' - those were great Drifters songs. The idea of a great black singer singing a great pop song yet bringing something extra to it that a white singer couldn't provide, that's a great thing in music and I think that's what was going on with the early Whitney career. The same thing happened with Deborah Cox, an unbelievably gifted singer. She was also signed to Clive Davis at Arista and she's a very beautiful, very elegant woman from Montreal. I did some work with her and they had that same concern with her. They didn't want to make her sound like a pop singer, they had to hunt for some kind of urban credibility for her. I think some singers just sing the pop really well and it's a shame that they just can't sing it.

    I think Clive recognized that Whitney singing big pop ballads wouldn't get on the big pop charts, that it would only be successful on Adult Contemporary, and Clive's never satisfied with just getting on Adult Contemporary. He's a visionary and he realized for her to have continuing credibility, it would have to move beyond that, and where would that be? Well, it's the era of hip-hop, so that's the direction they had to pursue. If anything, it was unfortunate as a songwriter because it takes that artist away from me. The kind of songs that I can deliver weren't wanted any more by Whitney Houston."
  • Producer Narada Michael Walden played drums on this track. The other personnel are:

    Walter Afanasieff: keyboards, synth bass
    Corrado Rustici: guitar synth
    Bongo Bob Smith: percussion Programming, drum sampling
  • Regarding the song's structure, Billy Steinberg said: "I think the great thing about that song is the pre-chorus and the chorus are just extremely well written melodically and lyrically in terms of being a great pop song. It's the lyric:

    I remember the way that we touched
    I wish I didn't like it so much
    I get so emotional every time I think of you
    I get so emotional ain't it's shocking what love can do


    It just really soars, it's a successful pop song. I don't think it's as revolutionary a song as 'Like A Virgin' or as meaningful a song as 'True Colors,' but it's a strong pop song."
  • Wayne Isham directed the video, which was shot during a stop on Houston's tour in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and shows footage of her on stage and behind the scenes. Houston, who was a professional model before launching her music career, didn't need special effects or fancy concepts to help her out in front of the camera.

    The video earned airplay on both MTV and the older-skewing VH1, which launched in 1985.

Comments: 1

  • Bertrand from Paris, FranceHouston's '80s heyday produced several singles worthy of inclusion on best-of lists, but this one represents the best blend of danceable beats and an irrepressible chorus. Houston was and is a fine singer, but perhaps her best attribute was her ability to select top-notch material. This tune is a celebration of an '80s pluckiness we're not likely to see again, and it's so infectious that even a lot of rock fans were subject to its seduction.
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