A previously unreleased Whitney Houston song has emerged online, just ahead of the late singer’s greatest hits album, I Will Always Love You—the Best of Whitney Houston, which is set to drop Tuesday on RCA.
The mid-tempo R&B number, titled “Never Give Up” is an unreleased track from Houston’s last studio album, 2009’s I Look To You. The song embodies the themes of resilience and survival that characterized I Look to You, an attempted comeback for Houston after a well-publicized battle with drugs and divorce.
“Never Give Up” alternates narratives of struggle and triumph. The song opens “single mother/two jobs/working her fingers to the bone/putting her daughter’s mouth before her own,” a sentiment that mirrors Houston’s love for daughter Bobbi Kristina, who has had her own share of personal struggles since Houston’s February death at the Beverly Hilton.
The chorus provides spiritual uplift, “never, never give up/hold your head to the sky/look them right in the eyes,” perhaps an allusion to Houston’s desire to reinvent her career after a nearly decade-long absence from music.
On “Never Give Up,” Houston’s voice is raspy, but soulful, which enhances the believability of the lyrics. The pristine soprano, once famously named a national treasure, softens to a more nuanced alto, older and wiser from some of life’s harder lessons.
In a 2009 interview, Oprah Winfrey confronted Houston about the toll drugs had taken on her vocal chords. Houston, appearing genuinely saddened, replied “wow, that’s heavy” unable to address the question. The Oprah interview showed hints of remorse, with Houston finally admitting the fifteen-year cocaine battle many had suspected. Songs like “Never Give Up” offered promise of a rebirth, but one that ultimately went unrealized.
In many ways, the industry and fans are still searching for catharsis after Houston’s sudden death in February. I Will Always Love You—the Best of Whitney Houston, offers a reminder as to why her loss was such a tragic one, navigating listeners through Houston’s decades of hits, from the exuberant “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” and chilling “I Will Always Love You” to the edgier R&B of “Your Love is My Love.”
As far as unreleased material, “Never Give Up” will appear alongside a remix of “I Look to You” featuring R. Kelly.
To coincide with the release of “Never Give Up” and the greatest hits offering, CBS will also air a one-hour tribute to Houston titled “We Will Always Love You: A Salute to Whitney Houston.” Stars slated to perform include Usher, Jennifer Hudson, and Yolanda Adams.