Last night we experienced the highest level of musical nostalgia during the tribute to Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds at the Soul Train Awards. I was satisfied with the tribute (even though I wondered why Toni Braxton and Karyn White weren’t there), but when he sat at the piano to perform a medley of songs he’d written and produced, collectively, I think everyone watching lost it. Hit after hit, every time I thought it was over, another artist came out to sing a song he’d penned especially for them. Did you not have heart palpitations when Bobby Brown came out to “Roni”???
As usual, I watched the awards with #BlackTwitter, and by the tweets looping on my phone, it was pretty evident that folks think the Waiting to Exhalesoundtrack, written and produced by Babyface, is a classic and perhaps THE best soundtrack ever recorded. Whatever your opinion, it was something special. It’s hard to believe it was released 20 years ago this month.
First things first. To get to the heart of the songs, you have to know the impact of Waiting to Exhale. EVERY black woman in America had the book in her purse, work bag, backpack, in her drawer at home or work—somewhere. She’d bought, checked it out from the library or borrowed it from a friend, even if she wasn’t really a reader. Although this was Terry McMillan’s third novel, everyone wanted to know how she’d snuck into their lives and written their life stories out in book form. It was iconic because no one was talking about what women were going through in their relationships until then. Of the four primary characters, Savannah, Bernadine, Robin and Gloria, every woman could relate to one of them or knew someone like them, and they definitely knew men in their own lives like some portrayed in the book.
Then I was in junior high school. I was a bookworm, and to my surprise, because my mama encouraged reading, she didn’t mind when I picked up her copy (and took it to school, but she probably didn’t know about that). My friends and I read “the good parts (read: sex scenes) crowded around the lunch table one day and screamed over the passages we knew we had no business reading. I felt a little connected to the pain these women were going through, even if some of it was self-imposed, and I had never ever come close to experiencing anything a grown woman would. I didn’t have to be an adult to know some of those male characters were shitty though.
When it was adapted into a movie two years later, I’d read the book twice and was ecstatic. The soundtrack dropped and at special request, my uncle got it for me as a Christmas gift. I couldn’t wait to get home and listen.
It was genius on CD. The entire thing from beginning to end. I loved every song, even the few I thought were “old woman songs.” It stayed in my CD player at home and in the car. I was singing every song for dear life! I was 14. I didn’t know one thing about what I was singing, but the music made me connect. And to be honest, it made me feel kinda “grown.” Tuh.
Fact: Every girl and woman age 12 and up really thought she was Mary J. Blige singing “Not Gon’ Cry,” which told Bernadine’s story of abandonment and infidelity in a marriage, whether they’d experienced it or not. The song (and Mary’s swoop bang) was that good. Who couldn’t feel these lyrics? Through sickness and health/ ‘til death do us part/those were the words that we said from our hearts/so now when you say that youre’ leaving me/I don’t get that part.
Twenty years later, I still have the CD, but it’s now in my iTunes and on my phone because I never know what kind of mood I’ll be in that calls for a Waitingto Exhale track. I’d been a Babyface fan, but as an adult, it’s amazing how he was able to capture the range of women’s emotions so well and cover every stage of love and relationships. I guess that’s what good writers do.
Here’s my take on the tracks in no particular order. All tracks not included because it’s too many of them.
Freedom – Wey U” – Chante Moore
Infatuation: Sittin’ Up In My Room – Brandy
Anticipation: “Kissing You” – Faith Evans
Seduction: “All Night Long” – SWV
Pure Love: “My Love, Sweet Love” – Patti Labelle
Betrayal: “How Could You Call Her Baby” ~ Shanna
Pain: “Why Does It Hurt So Bad” – Whitney Houston
Anger: “Not Gon’ Cry” – Mary J. Blige
Letting Go: “Let It Flow” – Toni Braxton
Exhaling: “Shoop” – Whitney Houston
Consolation from Friends: Count of Me – Whitney Houston and Cece Winans
Which are your favorites?