The most interesting thing about this record is how unlike it sounds like her later records. By that I mean, apart from 'The Greatest Love of All', there are no hurricane-sized ballads.
'You Give Good Love' is a sweet ballad that remains one of Houston's best. While there are moments where she goes for the rafters, they feel like natural peaks, rather than an artist trademark. While it is incredibly polished, on this album Houston's sound is still embryonic. On this song, and the rest of the album, Houston uses her talents to serve the songs.
Somewhat unheralded nowadays, 'Thinking About You' is a terrific dance number and the funkiest thing on the album. Considering how hard Houston tacked toward pop, I was shocked to see 'You Give Good Love' and this track were produced by Kashif (who performs double duties as Houston's duet partner here). One of the great RnB producers of the eighties, he worked on most of Evelyn Champagne King's early stuff. In fact, if the production was harder, I could see 'Thinking About You' as a King song. I had never heard this song before, and it's become one of my favourites.
Opening like a new wave track from the early eighties, 'Someone For Me' is another terrific song. It skates close to sounding the most of its time, but with a strong vocal and some good guitar and percussion (I guess they were created by an 808, but there might be some real drums in there), it ends up as a real barn burner. It's just as good as 'Thinking About You'.
After the double whammy of two dance tracks, the tempo and tone changes with 'Saving All My Love For You'. One of Houston's most well-known ballads, it is a bummer of a song if you really listen to the lyrics. Once again, Houston sells the hell out of the vocal, which (somehow) blunts the sadness of the song's underlying message.
Whatever impact 'Greatest Love Of All' previously had is completely lost on me. It's no fault of the song - it's just been played so many times, and parodied to death, that it's hard to sit through without wanting to drift off.
One of Houston's earliest releases were her appearances on a couple of tracks by the great Teddy Pendergrass. One of these songs, 'Hold Me', serves as the finale here. A meeting between two eras, sonically it sounds like nothing else on the album. As well as a chance to hear two great voices together, it offers a glimpse at what Houston's voice sounded like in a more overtly 'soul' song.
One of the biggest hits of all time, and routinely hailed as Houston's best album, her debut is a really great record. Sure, some of the production shows its age, but Houston is in great voice, the material is all up to servicing her pipes and there is less evidence of the formula that would come to dictate her later releases.
Whitney: Can I Be Me