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 around 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 the Super Bowl XXVjust 10 days into the first Gulf WarHouston's version of the National Anthem moved so many grown men to tears it was later released as a benefit single for veterans their families. Even now, the hairs rise when hearing 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 the 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 infidelity anthem. This 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."
Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle's pop music critic. twitter.com/MusicSF, avazirisfchronicle.com