The new Whitney Houston album, Just Whitney, was released in the U.K. last week. I picked up a copy and learned a couple of interesting things.
First: Houston was supposed to have a track called "Tell Me No" featuring Carlos Santana on guitar. Granted, the portion of guitar work was only at the end — it wasn't a real collaboration. But both artists are on the same label, Arista, so it made sense to have them together.
However: The version of "Tell Me No" that made it onto the album has a different guitar solo. Veteran axeman Michael Thompson, who's very good nevertheless, has re-recorded the solo — anyone who downloaded the album back on Oct. 21 when I first reported it was available has the Santana version.
Otherwise, all the other tracks on Just Whitney are exactly the same as the ones that could be downloaded. Even though Houston's Web site carries a warning that the downloadable album is not the finished one, it most certainly is.
This might mean that there were no other tracks to add or substitute and that's a little odd since there are only 11 numbers here. Just Whitney is a short album by any standards.
And just as this column reported a couple of weeks ago, at least two numbers are published by Arista chief's Hitco Music, which means L.A. Reid not only gets a slice of the pie from being the head of Arista, he also gets a taste of it because he's using musicians privately contracted to him at Hitco. That's sweet, isn't it?
On the liner notes of Just Whitney, Houston thanks a lot of people but she completely avoids mentioning her mentor of 17 years, Clive Davis.
Reid doesn't do much better. Even though he gave Houston a reported $100 million deal she writes: "To L.A. Reid — I can't say it's been easy but what can I say? It's been good. Thanks for being there."
Just Whitney faces an uphill battle when it's finally released on Dec. 10 in the U.S. Already two of the tracks have failed to catch fire at radio stations. That leaves eight others since the ninth is a remix of "Whatchulookinat." One of the eight is a total dud — that's the remake of "You Light Up My Life." Even Whitney's extraordinary voice cannot save this turkey.
Of the remaining seven songs, each of them is catchy and commercial but none of them is particularly special.
There are no power ballads like "I Will Always Love You" or "I Believe in You and Me." The songs are generic pop, and they are sung without much conviction. The drama of the great Whitney hit is gone, but that doesn't mean that "On My Own" or "Tell Me No" won't click anyway.
The U.K. version of Just Whitney includes a DVD of the "Whatchulookinat" video that wasn't released in the U.S., along with outtakes from the shoot. Houston looks thin and tired, which is no surprise. On her official Web site there's also a 10-second video that looks like it was shot more recently, of Whitney welcoming us to the site. She looks worse there and has trouble delivering the short message.
Houston's situation is quite distressing at this point. I can't believe there isn't anyone strong enough or with enough conviction in her entourage to stand up and say enough is enough. The easy life won't be so good when you can't sleep at night.
More from the George Harrison memorial concert from Friday at London's magnificent Royal Albert Hall. Please see Saturday and Sunday's columns for parts 1 and 2 about this extraordinary event.
Much as he worked tirelessly to make The Concert for George a hit, Eric Clapton nevertheless made some enemies Friday night.
In his overzealousness to put on a perfect program, some of the musicians claimed he over-rehearsed them. More than a few noticed Billy Preston's fingers were swollen from putting in eight-hour days, six days a week for nearly three weeks. But apparently Clapton felt that if he was paying Preston he should adhere to the schedule.
Same for the other famed sidemen whom Clapton brought to the show including Jim Keltner, Jim Horn, Klaus Voorman, Ray Cooper, and Emil Richards among them — all names that appear on countless solo Beatles albums.
Jools Holland, the English Paul Schaffer who put together the shows and was musical director, is said to be furious that Clapton didn't thank him from the stage for all his hard work.
Clapton also didn't do much to make Paul McCartney feel good. McCartney doesn't take to not being in the spotlight — he took over both The Concert for New York and the Queen's Jubilee shows, for example.
As a Beatle and a friend of Harrison's long before Clapton, McCartney felt that he should be prominently featured in the show. But after his introduction by Ringo Starr, McCartney's ukulele rendition of "Something" — which he does on his tour — was circumvented by Clapton taking over mid-song and finishing "Something" as a rock number.
McCartney then performed a beautiful version of "All Things Must Pass" and then was demoted to a piano on the side of the stage. I watched him pretty much not strike the keys for the balance of the show, clearly seething over his tertiary role.
Ringo must have known how he felt, because he went out of his way to split from the after-party before Paul and wife Heather arrived. The McCartneys spent the shortest time possible — just minutes — maybe anticipating Clapton's arrival. (He never showed though.)
I asked Heather whether or not in the year or so since I'd seen her if she'd learned any Beatles songs. Last year she told me she didn't know any.
"Since Paul's been touring I've learned quite a few," she said. "Not all of them. But I recognize many of them now."
Because Heather is not Paul's age and does not share his history with the other musicians, she kind of fades back when there's hubbub around them.
I think people consider her standoffish, but she's not. She's letting McCartney do his thing. And in this case that meant getting in and out quickly. He did tell me he enjoyed doing the second song, and he made an effort to sign a couple of autographs before lighting out.
Meanwhile, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson got their picture taken with May Pang and Tom Scott. May, who was John Lennon's girlfriend and Yoko Ono 's assistant in the early '70s, got confused for Ono by one of the British tabs. Rest assured, Ono was not in attendance at the Harrison tribute.
Of all the people who blew through the intimate after-party, Monty Python's Eric Idle was clearly the most moved and exhausted from the experience of the show. Harrison was his real best friend, and had produced the Python movie Life of Brian, Idle's Nuns on the Run, Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, and other movies including the great Mona Lisa .
Idle told me: "George was the perfect producer. He just wrote the check and stayed out of everything. He just liked movies and wanted to see certain ones made."
Idle said he had indeed been with Harrison the day he died, which made this all the more difficult. He teared up when he talked about his friend.
"You think about how he was stabbed and survived that. He did it for Dhani . He wanted more time with his son and he wound up getting two more years." When I thanked him for doing the show, Idle said, grimly, "I did it for myself."