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Madonna, Whitney, Adele

Posted: February 17, 2012 8:39 a.m.
Updated: February 20, 2012 5:00 a.m.

It’s no secret I love music. I was a radio announcer in an earlier life, after all. I love all kinds -- rock, jazz, pop, soundtracks -- just about anything.

For much of the past week, I’ve been listening to three female pop vocalists: Adele, Madonna and Whitney Houston.

Madonna (Madonna Louise Ciccone) and Whitney came along around the same time early in my radio career. Their self-titled debuts came in 1983 and 1985, respectively. Both quickly became favorites of my listeners, but of mine as well.

Say what you will of either one of them, but their music has stood the test of “pop” time during the past three decades.

I hadn’t really listened to their hits in recent years. I’ve moved away from listening to radio and more to my own collection on iTunes and new and old music on streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora.

Events of the past few weeks, of course, brought them and their songs back to my attention.

I didn’t watch this year’s Super Bowl, but I sure heard about the half-time show featuring Madonna and a few guests. Now, some folks might shake their heads and say something like, “Here we go again -- a big pop star messing up the half-time show.” By now, you probably know that British rapper M.I.A. (Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam) made a rude gesture during her and fellow rapper Nicki Minaj’s guest vocals on Madonna’s rendition of “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” Madonna -- she of the Britney Spears lip-lock and the 1992 book “sex” -- quickly denounced M.I.A.’s action.

A good thing, too, because despite the poor decision on M.I.A.’s part, the half-time show was great.

The set included some of Madonna’s best singles: “Vogue,” “Music,” “Like A Prayer” (featuring great guest vocals from Cee Lo Green). It was fun, sexy without being vulgar, hip without her seeming like a has-been trying too hard ... in no less than a word: Madonna. OK, a few more words: Madonna the way we wish she’d always been.

Six days later, the curtain fell hard on a career that was once the brightest in pop music: Whitney Houston was dead at 48. The day she died, I wrote the following on my Facebook page:

“Houston came on the scene in the early years of my first career as a radio announcer/DJ. She had everything -- voice, looks, presence -- and deserved the superstar status she earned.”

I went on to repeat the oft-cited lament that her life and career went downhill after she hooked up with ex-husband Bobby Brown. Although some have tried to say she had problems before they met -- and that might be true -- I still firmly believe her association with him, at the very least, exacerbated her dependence on drugs and alcohol. She admitted as much during interviews with Diane Sawyer in 2002 and Oprah Winfrey in 2009.

A few days after Houston died, one of the networks posted one of those tired “here’s a list of stars gone too soon.” It made it seem like Houston was taken from us at the top of her game. I know it’s harsh, but she was nowhere near the top anymore. She hadn’t been for some time. Although she put out an album in 2009, her last real U.S. hit was “Heartbreak Hotel” with Faith Evans and Kelly Price that went to No. 2 in 1999. Her last No. 1 was 1995’s “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” from the “Waiting to Exhale” soundtrack. That’s a long time ago.

None of this takes away from her being the greatest female pop vocalist of her generation. Seven consecutive No. 1 singles -- the only artist to ever do that. “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have it All;” “So Emotional,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Ago.”

And, of course, she is the only popular artist -- in my humble opinion -- to ever perform the Star Spangled Banner live the way it is meant to be sung.

The tragedy of Houston’s death is not that she died, although that is sad (especially on the same day as Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party) -- it’s that she wasn’t able to translate her early success into later happiness. That happiness might have saved her.

In the meantime, we have another young lady to celebrate: Adele. Her full name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, 23, from London, England.

In case you didn’t notice, Adele won all six of the Grammys she was nominated for a week ago. The awards are well deserved. Despite her having won the 2009 Grammy for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal for the song “Chasing Pavement” from her album 19, I’d never heard of her until last year.

My eldest niece up in New York made mention of her one day on Facebook. I played back a video of “Rolling in the Deep,” her huge hit from her second album, 21, and knew I had to hear more. So, off to iTunes I went and downloaded both albums. Definitely worth the money.

How to describe Adele? Bluesy? Soulful? Jazzy? Mournful? Pop? I hear Kelly Clarkson in her voice just as much as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin as much as Amy Winehouse.

I think the real word to describe Adele is unique. There is no one like Adele or her music. When we use unique in popular music, we usually think Madonna or Lady Gaga.

She is neither, nor should she be.

Adele is a refreshing change from the kind of bombastic, in-your-face fare a lot of pop music has become since I left the radio business.

Here’s to Adele’s success; let’s hope she hangs on to it as smartly as she has so far.


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