This, to me, is the moment when Whitney Houston grew up.
Her earlier hits paired that powerful voice with pure pop lyrics: “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and “How Will I Know” show off Whitney’s amazing range and strength but give her the emotional maturity of a sixteen-year-old at junior prom. “All the Man that I Need?” Suddenly, the girl next door was a full-fledged woman.
The song itself was actually a cover; originally written for Linda Clifford and recorded in 1982, it was covered by Sister Sledge in 1982 as well. Whitney recorded it in 1989, but it wasn’t released until the tail end of 1990 as the second single off of her album I’m Your Baby Tonight. It ended up charting in both 1990 and 1991, topping the Hot 100, R&B, and Adult Contemporary charts.
However, my first encounter with this song wasn’t on the radio, despite massive airplay. I vividly recall this song being used as background music for a rather intimate scene in the daytime soap Another World (I think starring a pre-crazy Anne Heche—the scene, not the show).
I was a huge soap opera fan in the late 80s and 90s, and I was just starting to get into that show when that song came on. It immediately grabbed my attention—I was also just starting to really get into pop music, but I knew who Whitney Houston was. After all, her previous album had been the first I had ever owned (on cassette, which I played proudly on my pink double boombox, thank you very much). This song blew me away; it was mature, it was bombastic, it was sensual, it was sexy, and it was definitely one of my little secret guilty pleasures.
While at the time I thought the song was about the sexiest, most romantic thing I’d ever heard, it does kind of have an air of damsel-in-distress about it. The woman doesn’t seem to be able to be fulfilled without this mystery man, who wins her over by the sheer awesomeness of his prowess. Now, that’s not to say that’s the only meaning in the song, and certainly if the roles were reversed (as they were on Luther Vandross’s later cover) we might not be as cautious. Regardless, the pop drama and romantic glamour is undeniable. Even now, almost 25 years later, the song still packs a punch.
I often wonder if it will ever be possible to accept that such a voice left so soon. Listening to this song, I have to say no.