AP Photo/Matt Sayles
What would the music world be today if there had been no Whitney Houston? It's impossible to guess, because the award-winning, chart-busting singer influenced popular music like few others have done. The era of the pop diva all but began when Houston boldly belted out her first songs, and generations of her followers have aspired to be the next Whitney. Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga… each of them owes their place on the pop music map to the trail Houston first blazed. Today's music simply wouldn't sound like it does if Whitney Houston hadn't burst onto the scene in 1985 as the original pop music diva.
Indeed, it was quite a scene she made with her debut album and the work that followed it. In addition to changing the face of pop music and electrifying radio listeners who were ready for her new sound, she smashed world records left and right.
As we remember Whitney Houston on the eve of her 50th birthday, we're celebrating the singer's amazing life and legacy with a look at some of her songs and the records she broke with them.
Best-selling debut album by a female artist. Houston's debut, aptly titled Whitney Houston, was quietly released in February of 1985. She was little-known at the time, with only a couple of duets (with Teddy Pendergrass and Jermaine Jackson) to her credit. But critics liked the album, and the lead single, "You Give Good Love," began a slow climb to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. As more singles were released, the public caught on and began rushing to their record stores, eventually helping the album become the all-time best-selling debut by a female artist. Houston held the record for more than a decade (before being surpassed in 1999 by Britney Spears and Baby One More Time), and the album remains a remarkable debut, full of fantastic songs that range from soulful ballads to bright and cheery dance numbers.
First album by a female artist to debut at No. 1. When Houston's second album, Whitney, was released in June of 1987, fans were ready for more. So excited was the music-buying public for this sophomore effort that they bought a record-breaking number of copies during its first days in stores, propelling it instantly to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Debuting at No. 1 is not a common feat – only five albums had done it before Whitney, and none of them featured a female recording artist. Whitney and Whitney made history – and they did so with some great songs.
Only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 singles. The first four singles from Whitney joined three from Whitney Houston to smash the record for most consecutive singles. In fact, Houston still holds the record she set back in the ‘80s – no other artist has ever charted seven No. 1 singles in a row on the Hot 100. Those seven classic tracks are "Saving All My Love for You," "How Will I Know," "Greatest Love of All," "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," "Didn't We Almost Have it All," "So Emotional," and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go." The list reads like a time capsule of mid-‘80s goodness – in those days, it was near impossible to listen to pop radio for more than an hour without hearing at least one Whitney Houston No. 1 hit.
Best-selling single by a female artist. Houston's first two albums may have brought her an amazing string of hits, but her greatest triumph was yet to come. In 1992, Houston would take on her first movie role, a star turn in The Bodyguard, for which she also recorded the soundtrack's lead single. Today, what we remember best about the movie is Houston's stunning performance of "I Will Always Love You." The song of heartbreak, already lovely when sung by its writer, Dolly Parton, became transcendent in the hands of Whitney Houston. It topped just about every music chart that exists, and over time became the best-selling single by a female artist – a record it still holds.
Most awarded female artist of all time. All of these best-selling singles were not just popular with Houston's fans. The critics and the award shows also knew they were listening to pure gold – and they gave her the accolades to back it up. With 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, six Grammys, two Emmys, and more – upwards of 500 awards in total – Houston is certified by Guinness World Records as the female artist with the most awards of all time… another record she is likely to hold for a long time to come.
We could go on and on – when it comes to Whitney Houston’s record-breaking achievements, we’ve only scratched the surface. Had Houston been able to overcome the personal problems that derailed her professionally and contributed to her early death, she might still be here, adding further successes to her long list of triumphs. As it is, the music we have now is all we'll ever have – but it's a beautiful record of a fantastic career.
Written by Linnea Crowther