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The 15 Best Whitney Houston Singles

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The 15 Best Whitney Houston Singles

On August 25, Whitney: Can I Be Me will make its TV premiere on Showtime. Nick Broomfield’s documentary focuses largely on Whitney Houston’s tumultuous private life, and at one point a member of the singer’s inner circle suggests that the whitewashed image that was crafted for Houston by her handlers was, in part, responsible for her inevitable self-destruction. It’s no secret that Houston was largely an A&R creation, a traditional vocalist who emerged in the era of Michael Jackson and Madonna, two self-empowered artists who took 360-degree creative control of their careers.

Upon Houston’s death in 2012, Slant’s Andrew Chan lamented both the mediocrity of Houston’s catalogue and the detached appraisals of her music that failed to dig through the rough. In his piece, Chan wrote: “If we were to gather up all such instances where the material was working for Whitney’s greatness rather than against it, we might not be able to fill half of a CD.”

Well, gather them up we did, and even Chan agrees he gave Houston’s ability to transcend her calculatedly curated material short shrift. That she didn’t write her own material is starkly juxtaposed by the fact that her performances of those songs make it virtually impossible to imagine anyone else singing them; the most quintessential “Whitney” songs were covers (“Greatest Love of All,” “I Will Always Love You,” “I’m Every Woman”), further testament to not just Houston’s gift for interpretation, but her ability to—in her prime—out-sing just about anyone. Sal Cinquemani


“My Love Is Your Love”

By the late ’90s, Whitney had fully embraced R&B, but almost all of the singles from her 1998 album My Love Is Your Love were given gaudy house remixes that rivaled or exceeded the original versions in popularity. Wyclef Jean’s reggae-infused album mix of “My Love Is Your Love,” however, is unmatched in its effortlessness and remains her most soulful single. Further disproving the suspicion that she was incapable of conveying emotion in any form other than shouting, Whitney’s restrained vocal performance here rides a smooth, shuffling groove into eternity. Cinquemani


“Step By Step”

The sole uptempo offering on the ballad-heavy soundtrack to Houston’s 1996 holiday film The Preacher’s Wife, the inspirational anthem “Step By Step,” a cover of an Annie Lennox B-side, fits snugly among the album’s more explicitly gospel material. Producer Stephen Lipson, who also helmed the original, gives the track a balmy house rhythm, while Whitney turns in a dramatic but understated performance, her words of perseverance rendered more poignant by the revelation that the singer suffered a miscarriage just days after the film’s release. Cinquemani


“The Greatest Love of All”

You can thank Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann for making it marginally more respectable to be 100-percent gay for Whitney’s squarest anthem (yes, even counting “The Star Spangled Banner”). Or you can just continue to embrace the Yamaha DXY-drenched, unashamedly masturbatory song of oneself, as confident a coming-out as any new pop vocalist has ever dared. As RuPaul is fond of saying, “It do take nerve.” Or just the raw talent to sell a high note for the gods. Eric Henderson


“Million Dollar Bill”

By the time Whitney’s final album, I Look to You, dropped, critics were quick to carp that her voice sounded, well, not like a million-dollar bill. But great disco is great disco, and it’s certainly elevated more problematic vocals. The genre is and always has been a vehicle for transcendence of all sorts. And thanks to some pitch-perfect pastichery by writer-producers Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, “Million Dollar Bill,” even with the burden of 20-20 hindsight, still plays like a full-on phoenix rising moment. Henderson


“Thinking About You”

A deep cut off of her debut album, this Top 10 R&B hit never crossed over to the pop charts, and it’s perhaps most notable today as a brilliant showcase for Kashif, one of the great R&B producers of the 1980s. Still in her early 20s, Whitney sounds chirpy, girlish, and (despite her already evident vocal skill) not particularly distinctive, her star-making bravado subdued by a swirl of synthesizers, drums, and background vocals. But that doesn’t stop the song from being a deeply seductive gem—and one of the most teasingly erotic of all her dance-floor jams. Andrew Chan