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"I Wanna Dance with Somebody" was written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, who wrote Houston's 1985 song "How Will I Know, which became successful, and as a result, they were asked to come up with another song for Houston's then-new album. Originally the song that gave Merrill and Rubicam their British top ten success as Boy Meets Girl, "Waiting For a Star to Fall" was intended by the duo to be a song for Houston. The duo sent it to Arista Records, but they passed on it citing it was not suitable for Houston. Undeterred by this minor setback, the pair continued working on finding a song that would be ideal for Houston, and were inspired to come up with "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." Later on, Rubicam explained the idea behind the song:
I pictured somebody single wishing that they could find that special person for themselves. It wasn't, 'I wanna go down the disco and dance,' really. It was, 'I wanna do that dance of life with somebody.' That was the thought behind the song. So we sent our demo version off to Clive Davis and he loved it.
But, the song did not impress the producer Narada Michael Walden, who had produced "How Will I Know." He took a little more persuading with regard to the song's potential, and at first was not too keen on having Houston record it, as he felt it was too "country and western sounding." He said of it,
[It] reminded me of a rodeo song with Olivia Newton-John singing. I love Olivia Newton-John, but for Whitney Houston it didn't seem right. I felt the song needed a much more funkier feel. I slept, dreaming about it, woke up in the morning thinking about it, wondering what am I gonna do with this dance song. So, we just jumped in the water and lo and behold a magic record was born, Houston just knocked it out and then I knew we had a good record.
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" received mixed reviews from critics. Vince Aletti of Rolling Stone magazine, in a review of the album Whitney, criticized the song, commenting that "not taking any chances, the songwriters [Merill Griffith and Shannon Rubicam] have simply come up with a clever anagram of their original hit [How Will I Know], and [Narada Michael] Walden has glossed it over in an identically perky style. The strategy is not so different from that behind Hollywood's blockbuster sequels: this is 'How Will I Know II'."Los Angeles Times's pop music critic, Robert Hilburn described the song as "a deliciously raucous tune with a bit of the synthesizer underpinning and giddy zest of Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun.'"
In his review of Whitney, Jon Pareles of The New York Times gave a negative comment, writing that listening to "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and "You're Still My Man," another track on the album was like "watching television while someone fiddles with color controls." In 2006, Slant Magazine ranked the song at #88 in their 100 Greatest Dance Songs, commenting that "with its parenthetical title, gummy bassline, schmaltzy horns, tinkling keyboards, and half-step key changes, [the song] is definitive '80s dance-pop."
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" was released as the first single from Houston's second studio album at the beginning of May 1987. It entered the Billboard Hot 100, the issue dated May 16, 1987, at number 38, her highest debut in the 1980s. Six weeks later, it reached the top spot of the chart, making it Houston's fourth number-one single in the United States, the issue date of June 27, 1987 - the same day that Houston's album Whitney debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 (formerly "Top Pop Albums") the first time ever by a female artist. It remained there for two weeks, spent nine weeks in the top ten (more than any other song that year) and spent 18 weeks on the chart. The song reached number one on the Hot 100 Single Sales chart for two weeks, and on the Hot 100 Airplay chart for three weeks, her longest run at that time. The single also peaked at number one on the Hot Adult Contemporary and the remixed dance / club version by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero became Houston's first chart-topper on the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play Songs, staying on the top position of the charts for three weeks and two weeks, respectively. In addition, it reached a peak of two on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (formerly "Hot Black Singles"), the issue date of July 4, 1987. It remained at that position for two weeks, behind "I Feel Good All Over" by Stephanie Mills (which never made the Hot 100), and spent 15 weeks on the R&B chart.
On July 28, 1987, the single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for shipment of 1,000,000 copies of the single, and re-certified Platinum, making it Houston's first single to achieve that feat, for the same shipment on February 13, 1989, with the change of the RIAA certification criteria for singles. (The number of sales required to qualify for gold and platinum discs was higher prior to January 1, 1989. The thresholds were 1,000,000 units (gold) and 2,000,000 units (platinum), reflecting a decrease in sales of singles. It placed at number four on the Billboard Year-End Top Pop Singles chart for 1987. In Canada, the song debuted at 74 on the RPM Top 100 Singles chart, the issue dated May 9, 1987, and reached the top of the chart on July 4, 1987. It was ranked second on the RPM Year-End Top 100 Singles chart for 1987. The single was later certified Gold by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) on February 29, 1988.
Internationally, the song was a massive hit, becoming her most successful single at the time. It reached number one in fourteen countries. The song debuted at number 10 on the UK Singles Chart, the week ending date of May 23, 1987. Two weeks later, it reached number one on the chart, the week ending June 6, 1987, becoming her second UK number-one single. The single was certified Gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on August 1, 1987, for shipments of 400,000 copies. According to The Official Charts Company, it has sold 760,000 copies in the United Kingdom. The single also topped the singles chart in Belgium for three weeks, the Netherlands for four weeks, Germany for five weeks, Italy for a week, Norway for seven weeks, Sweden for six weeks and Switzerland for six weeks, and peaked inside top five in Austria and Ireland. This popularity of the single across Europe led to the song topping the European Hot 100 Singles chart for eight weeks. It became Houston's second number-one single on the Australian Kent Music Report chart, staying at the top for five weeks. The song also peaked at number one on the New Zealand Singles Chart and remained there for four weeks, making it Houston's first number-one single in the country.
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" the single sold 4.2 million copies worldwide. After her death, the single returned to the Billboard Hot 100 debuting at number 35 the same week "I Will Always Love You" re-entered at number 7, giving Houston two posthumous Top 40 hits.
The video for "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" was directed by Brian Grant and choreographed by Arlene Phillips, who also worked with Houston on the music video for "How Will I Know". The video features Houston in a pink dress and a continuous shot of a purple backdrop that never changes its angle of vision. In the intro of this video, Houston just finishes a performance onstage. She walks backstage, and the scene is intercut with more vivid, colorful images of her. The song then explodes into its beginning, with myriad locations and various outfits by Houston, as dancers trying to impress her as she dances. Towards the end of the song she manhandles a guy, who has a mixture of a look of shock and surprise asking him "Don't you wanna dance say you wanna dance". It has over 150 million views as of July, 2019 on YouTube.
Houston performing on her Nothing but Love World Tour, in 2010
Houston performed the song on almost all of her world and regional tours.
She premiered the song during the later shows of The Greatest Love World Tour in 1986, before its official release of the next year, introducing the song along with "Didn't We Almost Have It All" as new tunes from her upcoming album. During her European promotion for a new album in April-May 1987, Houston performed the song on various TV shows such as Domenica In (Italian TV entertainment programme), Montreux Golden Rose Rock Festival: IM&MC Gala (May 15, 1987), and Top of the Pops (May 21, 1987), where she sang live, unlike some other performers who lip-synced on the programme.
In 1991, she opened I'm Your Baby Tonight World Tour with "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)." Three different performances of the song were taped and broadcast. The first is in Yokohama, Japan on March 15 and the second is in Norfolk, Virginia, the concert titled Welcome Home Heroes, televised live on HBO, March 31 and later released as the video of the same name. The third is in A Coruña, Spain on September 29, broadcast on Spanish TV channel and later featured on the select setlist on This Is My Life, her first hourlong TV special, aired on ABC, May 6, 1992.
^ abKent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970-1992 (Illustrated ed.). Sydney: Australian Chart Book. p. 143. ISBN0-646-11917-6. N.B. The Kent Report chart was licensed by ARIA between 1983 and 26 June 1988.