First Hit #1: May 17, 1986
When the keyboards kick in during Greatest Love of All, I think to myself “this is crap.” When Houston starts singing about how children are our future, I think to myself, “this is treacle.” When Houston gets to the chorus, and unleashes the big voice, I think “this is still crap, but she’s selling the hell out of it.”
A cover of a song sung by George Benson for a Muhammad Ali biopic from 1977 – which just seems like a strange fit, but I haven’t seen the movie – Greatest Love of All can seem indecently cheesy. It doesn’t help that this version is coated in all of the manipulative production tricks possible, instead of the relatively simple arrangement of the original. But Houston was gifted singer, and she commits to the material and pushes through and dominates the track. She has never been a subtle singer, but that’s not really a mark against her, she’s someone whose voice demands respect. Given that the chorus itself demands some respect from the audience, her voice works perfectly for the song, and she controls the room. Some might argue that she’s over-singing here, especially compared to Benson’s original, but Houston was a rare singer whose instincts for going big were more a sign of her commitment to the song instead of a mere showy gesture. She had a vocal force of will as well as a propensity for including all the notes, and if you do the latter you need the former.