Whitney Houston has many definitive tracks—”How Will I Know,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “I Have Nothing” to name a few. The common thread among all of those tracks is Houston’s incomparable belt and her floor-filling musicality.
Elsewhere in her catalog, she reminds us that she can be a pop hitmaker and an intimate balladeer. In songs like “I Will Always Love You” and “Saving All My Love For You,” she sheds any vocal acrobatics for a simple arrangement that hits just as hard. Another great example of that is “The Greatest Love of All.”
The track wound up being a No. 1 hit for Houston in 1986 and is still one of her signature hits today. But what is the greatest love of all? Find out the meaning behind the song, below.
Behind the Meaning
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
“Greatest Love of All” was penned by the late Linda Creed amid her battle with breast cancer. The self-love anthem was originally recorded by George Benson in 1977, but Houston’s version is the most popular.
The song opens up a bit of advice Creed wishes to bestow upon the world. She dedicates the song to the children around her and suggests that adults do more to bolster them in their youth. Moreover, she reminds the listener that they are the next generation and will be the ones driving us ahead.
The chorus details the “greatest love’ in question. When listening to this song on a surface level, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a classic love song but, when given a closer listen, Houston is singing about learning to yourself instead of looking outward.
Phil Hurtt, who wrote on the same label as Creed, said of the song, “There are thousands of ways to say ‘I Love You,’ and the difficulty is trying to find a nuance, a new way to say what’s been said thousands of times, and Linda Creed is someone who was able to do that.”
From Houston’s perspective, the song takes on an even deeper meaning. The singer lived her entire life as a performer. From the age of 11, she found herself performing in church, steadily working up the ranks until she took on becoming a star full-time at 14 – all under the tutelage of her mother.
In many ways, the song is dedicated to children like Houston. Though she had a stellar career, it wasn’t always an easy road to trek. From her drug addiction to her alleged abusive relationship with Bobby Brown, Houston may have had a very different life if she had different role models. With that sentiment in mind, it gives the song a darker air.
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
George Benson Version
George Benson originally recorded this song for the 1977 film biography of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest. The boxer played himself in the movie, recreating his top moments in the ring alongside clips of his actual fights.
The song was produced by Michael Masser. “Here was a man who wanted to change his name and religion,” he said of the song’s connection to the film. “That’s all. Ali hadn’t believed in the war in Vietnam and had refused to fight in it. He won that battle through the legal system. Still, he lost everything—including his title. But Ali retained the most important thing of all—his dignity.”
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