Much like her fellow musician and friend Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston was a popular culture icon who was able to balance both critical and commercial success in her music, all while battling her own personal problems.
Following the singer’s untimely death on Saturday, musicians and other recording industry contemporaries took to the stage of Sunday night’s Grammy Awards to honor Houston, leading to a prayer lead by hip-hop artist LL Cool J along with a tearful tribute by R&B singer Jennifer Hudson.
While many of the details of Houston’s death are still uncertain, it’s safe to say that many fans want to remember the singer by listening to some of her best recordings. The Oracle selects a few memorable tunes that both inspired and made generations of music fans dance.
“How Will I Know”
“How Will I Know” wasn’t only Houston’s second No. 1 hit, written by songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam off her debut album “Whitney Houston,” but her first foray into superstardom.
The song was a smash for its danceable rhythms, Houston’s gentle crooning and its positive message of finding out about love. It was also a hit music video, featuring an assortment of colorful background dancers accompanying Houston a standout at the advent of MTV.
“How Will I Know” represented a departure for Houston from the ballads she had started to become known for, setting the stage for a career that would see the singer moving between various genres and styles of music.
“The Greatest Love of All”
Penned by songwriters Linda Creed and Michael Masser, “The Greatest Love of All” was written by Creed as she struggled with breast cancer, and the lyrics of the song truly encompass the thoughts and feelings of someone who is coming to terms with life’s obstacles. Houston lent her vocals to the tune, which also seems like it hits close to home for her personal life.
Memorably starting with the lyrics, “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way,” the song is an ode to finding love and respect within oneself in order to be happy. While Houston’s life was often turbulent, from her well-documented drug use to her unfortunate relationship with singer Bobby Brown, she managed to maintain a certain grace that kept with the song’s main principle.
As with most of Houston’s catalogue, the song was a massive hit, but its endearing message is why we keep listening decades later.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”
After the success of Houston’s hit single “How Will I Know,” songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam were hired once again to deliver another outstanding track to mesh with Houston’s soulful crooning and pop sensibilities.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” would not only become a smash success, earning both a Grammy for Houston along with continuing her string of consecutive No. 1 singles on the Billboard charts, but it also stood as a testament to Houston’s ability to sing about love and lust without caving in to the potentially lurid theatrics favored by many of today’s pop stars.
Surprisingly, the song wasn’t initially a hit, leading critics like Rolling Stone’s Vince Aletti to write, “Not taking any chances, the songwriters have simply come up with a clever anagram of their original hit (“How Will I Know”), and (producer 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.'” It is considered today to be a gem amongst the ’80s music landscape.
“I Will Always Love You”
Perhaps the track that will most often be associated with the singer, Houston turned an already memorable Dolly Parton recording into a global phenomenon when she released the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum “I Will Always Love You” in November 1992.
Taken from the soundtrack to the box office smash “The Bodyguard,” in which Houston starred alongside Kevin Costner, the song has remained an anthem for enduring love and hope amid any of life’s obstacles. Many responded to the message, earning the track Record of the Year and Best Pop Female Vocal Performance at the 1994 Grammys, as well as a record-breaking 14-week run at the top of Billboard Hot 100.
Only a few hours after the singer’s death on Saturday, the single climbed its way to the top of iTunes charts, proving that in the wake of her unfortunate death, fans want to remember Houston at her best.