'I Will Always Love You' drives some to violence

March 07, 1994|By New York Times News Service

Whitney Houston's soaring romantic ballad "I Will Always Love You" cleaned up at last week's Grammy Awards, dominated the 1993 pop music charts and helped turn the soundtrack of "The Bodyguard" into the most popular album of the year.

Why, then, would repeated playings of "I Will Always Love You" provoke Joan Hall, 31, a mother of two, to storm up to her neighbors' apartment in Kenning ton, England, last fall and fling the stereo and speakers out the window and onto the street below?

"It was driving us all up the wall," Ms. Hall told a local newspaper. "I had just had enough."

The incident, in fact, became one in a series of several -- all, oddly enough, in England -- at the height of the song's popularity.

In October, a 20-year-old woman from Middleborough County was reportedly sentenced to seven days in jail after she played "I Will Always Love You" so loudly and so often that her neighbors complained of psychological torture and the police charged her with noise pollution.

Chris Gordon, a 19-year-old with a goatee who works in a music store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, thinks he understands the neighbors' concerns.

"I just can't stand the song," he said. "I think Whitney Houston has a good voice, but it all depends on what a song does for a person. For me, it got annoying, really annoying." He began to get visibly agitated thinking about it. "I mean, that song really irks me."

"I Will Always Love You" was written by Dolly Parton and recorded by Ms. Parton and then Linda Ronstadt in the 1970s before Ms. Houston took it up as the theme song for "The Bodyguard."

In the movie, she portrays a spoiled, sexy rock superstar who becomes romantically attached to her personal security guard, played by Kevin Costner as a brooding former Secret Service agent.

One of the enduring pop-culture images of 1993 is of a stern-looking Mr. Costner sweeping Ms. Houston, dressed in shiny thigh-high boots, into his arms as "I Will Always Love You" pours from the screen.

Even as that image was being shown repeatedly in television ads and on the music video, the song was blanketing all manner of radio stations: easy listening, R&B, Top 40, soft rock.

With its theme of selflessness bordering on masochism and its tremulous, breathy opening followed by a surge of orchestration and some huge, vibrating vocals in which the words "I" and "you" are stretched into two or more long syllables each, the song swells the sentiments of many. And when people love it, they really love it.

"The bottom line is that people like songs that have a lot of meaning and emotion in them, and this song has an incredible amount of emotions," said Bob Dunphy, vice president of programming at WXMV, a soft-rock station in Manhattan.

He said that even after all these months, "I Will Always Love You" is still one of the most frequently requested songs in the station's all-request lunch hour.

"I'm a little tired of it, but . . . . I can't say that it bothers me nearly as much as some songs," he said.

But there's a little tired, and there's really tired. Many viewers who watched "I Will Always Love You" pick up four Grammys last week said that they enjoyed seeing Ms. Houston perform at the beginning of the broadcast, but could have done without the snippet of song that accompanied each mention.

Amy Tracy, 24, a customer at the music store, said it was too bad. "I like Whitney Houston's sense of legato," she said, adding that she meant the smoothness of Ms. Houston's voice. "It was a great song. But there's only so much you can take."

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