Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston

It’s hard to imagine a time when Whitney Houston wasn’t well-established as one of the greatest singers in history—a voice so powerful and electrifying that even now, years after her death, attempts to cover her require a certain delusional confidence. But when her eponymous debut album was released in February 1985, when Houston was just 21, no one had heard of her—no one, that is, except Clive Davis of Arista Records, who was determined to make the vivacious backup singer and model into a global superstar. Davis’ strategy was simple and genius: By merging R&B’s groovy, soulful intimacy with pop’s catchy largesse, they’d maximise her crossover potential and deliver America a unifying voice. And that they did. Not only did the album produce three No. 1 singles—the Grammy-winning “Saving All My Love for You”, “Greatest Love of All” and, of course, “How Will I Know”—it effectively altered the course of contemporary music, imbuing the exhaustively white pop charts with distinctively black sounds and textures. Its influence can be heard in the many powerhouse divas who followed in Houston’s footsteps (Mariah, Christina, Alicia and Beyoncé, to name a few), and who approached pop not as a category but as an ethos. “Thinking About You” is a gloriously ’80s take on dance pop, and “Greatest Love of All”—one of the original self-empowerment anthems—is show-stopping, knowingly schmaltzy and fabulously over-the-top.

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