Yes, the tabloid business eventually clouded the immense talent, but with Whitney Houston's untimely death last weekend (she will be buried Saturday in New Jersey), we are left with many recorded memories of that tremendous voice. Here are five songs that defined her career, provided a foundation for contemporary R&B and inspired a generation of American Idol wannabes.
1. I Will Always Love You (1992): Already a global superstar, Houston made this Dolly Parton ballad her own in the final scene in her debut film, The Bodyguard. It's the perfect representation of the way she could pair dazzling vocal acrobatics with ecstatic emotion, soaring through the chorus with glass-shattering conviction. It's the song people will forever associate with her name.
2. The Greatest Love of All (1985): As the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston and cousin of pop vocalist Dionne Warwick, expectations were high for Whitney's self-titled first album. Just 21, she delivered with elegance and eloquence, turning even the most formulaic '80s ballad into a sweeping statement of intent.
3. The Star-Spangled Banner (1991): Performed at the opening of Super Bowl XXV — just 10 days into the first Gulf War — Houston's version of the national anthem moved so many grown men to tears that it was released as a benefit single for veterans' families (it debuted at No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart). Even now, your hairs might rise when you hear her sing about the rockets' red glare.
4. Memories (1982, with Material and Archie Shepp): Years before the knee-quivering ballads and feather-light pop hits made her face inescapable on MTV and VH1, an 18-year-old Houston made her lead vocal debut alongside Bill Laswell's experimental New York outfit and jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp. This beautifully askew ballad is unlike anything that came later.
5. It's Not Right But It's Okay (1999): Having spent most of the decade embroiled in domestic drama and a drug haze, Houston came back at the tail end of the '90s sounding more confident than ever on this sleek anthem of infidelity. The extraordinarily thrilling pop tune, produced by Rodney Jerkins, put her back on top of the game. For a moment, it was easy to believe her when she sang, "I'm going to make it anyway."