I Will Always Love You: Ten songs that reveal Whitney Houston's musical evolution

The singer's life story will be told in a new biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody

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The story of one of pop's greatest singers is about to hit the big screen.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody, which has its global premier on Monday, retraces Whitney Houston's journey from shy gospel singer to one of the most successful pop stars of all time.

The film, with English actress Naomi Ackie playing Houston, will also explore her fall from grace, exacerbated by her tumultuous personal life and spiralling substance abuse.

What is not lost amid the drama is the power of Houston’s songs, ranging from achingly romantic ballads to inspirational anthems and energetic pop.

Here are 10 songs that show why she was described as the voice of her generation.

1. Hold Me (1984)

While short of the vocal fireworks synonymous with her later releases, the duet with soul singer Teddy Pendergrass is a tender ballad introducing Houston to the US RnB market.

While she would go on to transcend the genre, Hold Me is still cherished by fans and became a popular wedding song in the US.

2. You Give Good Love (1985)

Houston shines on her own here, her first US chart topping single.

The mid-tempo piece laid some of the foundation for Houston's sound, which often has her clear and controlled voice sailing over sweeping arrangements and pristine production.

While the approach was not as forward thinking, it is this elegant conservatism that allowed Houston to reach a wide audience.

3. Saving All My Love for You (1984)

An underappreciated talent of Houston's was her mastery of song interpretation.

Originally recorded in 1978 as a duet by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr, the new take by Houston is more ornate and features one of her purest vocal performances.

Houston reportedly admitted that the emotionally fractious lyrics of Saving All My Love for You belied her own experiences with tumultuous relationships.

4. How Will I Know (1985)

By the time the dance-ready single was out, Houston's eponymous debut album was well on its way to selling 25 million copies.

How Will I Know was a creative breakthrough for Houston and proves she was equally adept at singing high tempo pop tracks as ballads.

Backed by barrelling drums and a screaming sax solo, the song remains a vibrant reflection of its time.

5. Greatest Love of All (1986)

It takes something special to make an already recognised song your own.

Houston achieved that with her version of the 1977 George Benson hit and transformed it into an epic inspirational ballad.

While the structure of the expansive ballad is similar to the original, Houston's version injects the kind of soul and passion developed during her earlier years as a gospel singer.

Her performance is a masterclass in vocalism for its power, control, diction and crispness.

Greatest Love of All was the last single of Houston's game-changing debut album and topped the US charts for three weeks.

6. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) (1987)

By the time Houston released her second album, Whitney, in 1987, she was considered an equal to pop stars Prince and Michael Jackson.

With both artists releasing seminal albums that year (Sign o' the Times and Bad, respectively), Houston also made an impression with the chart-conquering Whitney.

Featuring glossy and exuberant synths and throbbing basslines, the blockbuster single I Wanna Dance with Somebody became a summer anthem and made its mark internationally by topping the charts across Europe.

It also cemented Houston's status as a new queen of pop.

7. One Moment in Time (1988)

Arguably the greatest Olympic anthem.

Released for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Houston beautifully summons the majesty of the event with a luscious vocal that swells to cinematic proportions in the crescendo.

The song went on to resonate beyond the event, with Houston performing it again as part of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

8. I Will Always Love You (1992)

The idea to cover Dolly Parton's 1974 song as part of the film soundtrack for The Bodyguard came during a moment of bother.

Houston was frustrated that the original choice, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, by Jimmy Ruffin, was being used for the drama Fried Green Tomatoes and record label head Clive Davis was impressing upon her the need for a big song to carry The Bodyguard.

Then co-star Kevin Costner suggested I Will Always Love You and the rest is history.

In the Houston biopic I Wanna Dance with Somebody, she says she is attracted to songs that envelop the listener.

I Will Always Love You, with its heft and Houston’s bravura performance, is the epitome of that approach.

9. Exhale (Shoop Shoop) (1995)

While Houston is often associated with epic vocal performances, she also found success when dialling it down.

As the lead single from the Waiting to Exhale film soundtrack and produced by Babyface, Exhale (Shoop Shoop) is a sensual RnB jam in which Houston sounds relaxed in a low-key gem.

10. I Didn't Know My Own Strength (2009)

I Didn't Know My Own Strength is a classic Houston ballad that alludes to her troubled family relationships and her battle with substance abuse.

While the latter, sadly, left its mark on her once-immaculate voice, the power of the song lies in the resilience etched in those weathered vocals.

The fact she succumbed to her struggles three years later makes it a harrowing listen today.

Updated: December 23, 2022, 6:20 PM
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