The Greatest Love of All

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"The Greatest Love of All"
Greatest love of all george benson vinyl.jpg
Single by George Benson
from the album The Greatest Soundtrack
B-side "Ali's Theme"
Released June 1977
Format 7" single
Recorded 1977
Genre Smooth jazz, R&B, Soul music
Length 5:35 (Original full length)
3:29 (Edit single version)
Label Arista
Songwriter(s) Michael Masser, Linda Creed
Producer(s) Michael Masser
George Benson singles chronology
"Gonna Love You More"
(1977)
"The Greatest Love of All"
(1977)
"On Broadway"
(1978)
"Gonna Love You More"
(1977)
"The Greatest Love of All"
(1977)
"On Broadway"
(1978)
The Greatest Soundtrack track listing
""The Greatest Love of All""
(1)
"I Always Knew I Had It in Me"
(2)
"Ali's Theme"
(3)

"The Greatest Love of All" is a song written by composers Michael Masser (music) and Linda Creed (lyrics). It was originally recorded in 1977 by American singer and guitarist George Benson, who made the song a substantial hit, peaking at number 2 on the R&B chart that year, the first R&B chart Top Ten hit for Arista Records. The song was written and recorded to be the main theme of the 1977 film The Greatest, a biopic of the boxer Muhammad Ali. Eight years after Benson's original recording, the song became even more well known for a version by Whitney Houston, whose 1985 cover (with the slightly amended title "Greatest Love of All") eventually topped the charts, peaking at number 1 in Australia, Canada, U.S. and on the R&B chart in 1986.

The original recording by Benson was released in 1977 in the U.S., Japan, France, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Brazil, Netherlands, U.K. and in Thailand, on an extended play (EP).

Composition[edit]

"The Greatest Love of All" was written as the main theme of the 1977 film The Greatest, a biopic of Muhammad Ali. Michael Masser wrote the music; he was later accused by Gordon Lightfoot of plagiarizing 24 bars of his 1971 hit "If You Could Read My Mind". Lightfoot eventually dropped the suit out of respect for singer Whitney Houston.

George Benson version (1977)[edit]

The original version of "The Greatest Love of All" was recorded in 1977 by Benson and originally released on the album The Greatest Soundtrack. The song was written and recorded especially to be the main theme of the boxer Muhammad Ali biopic and therefore, not part of a Benson's career album, only later collections. The song was released as a single in the same year and was a substantial hit, reaching at number 2 on the R&B chart, becoming the first R&B Top Ten hit for Arista Records. In other charts, the single was between positions number 22 and number 27 in the U.S. and in the UK, not peaking any position in other countries.

Charts Positions[edit]

The original version of "The Greatest Love of All" recorded in 1977 by George Benson reached the following positions:

Single track listing[edit]

The original single of the song released in the U.S. has two versions: one with the complete length of 5:35 and another with an edited length of 3:29.

Full single tracks[edit]

Year Side Song Length Interpreter Writer/Composer Producer Arrangers Original Album
1977 A-side "The Greatest Love of All" 5:35
(Full length)
George Benson Michael Masser,
Linda Creed
Michael Masser Lee Holdridge,
Michael Masser
The Greatest Soundtrack
1977 B-side "Ali's Theme" 5:18 Michael Masser Michael Masser Michael Masser Lee Holdridge,
Michael Masser
The Greatest Soundtrack

Single edited tracks[edit]

Year Side Song Length Interpreter
1977 A-side "The Greatest Love of All" 3:29
(Edit single)
George Benson
1977 B-side "Ali's Theme" 5:18 Michael Masser

Personnel[edit]

George Benson & Luciano Pavarotti[edit]

On May 29, 2001,[14] the Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti performed the concert "Pavarotti & Friends" in his hometown of Modena, Italy.[14] To raise money for refugees from Afghanistan under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,[14] this concert called "Pavarotti & Friends for Afghanistan"[15] featured guest artists, one of them being his friend George Benson.[14] The song performed in duet by the two was Benson's song "The Greatest Love of All",[15] sung in parts by Benson in English and elsewhere by Pavarotti in Italian. This complete concert "Pavarotti & Friends for Afghanistan" raised $3.3 million for its cause,[16] and was recorded and released in CD in 2001.[15] The song was credited with the original title "The Greatest Love of All" recorded by Benson.[15]

Appearances in the Benson's collections[edit]

Being one of his hit songs, "The Greatest Love of All" was included in several collections of George Benson over the years. For this reason, one of his many collections received the title The Greatest Hits of All (changing "love" for "hits"), launched in 2003, in reference and tribute to this song, which Benson is the original interpreter.

Versions of the single in other countries[edit]

The original single of "The Greatest Love of All" by George Benson has also been released in several other countries, as shown in the chart below.

Year Country Label Catalogue Format A-Side
"The Greatest Love Of All"
B-Side
"Ali's Theme"
1978 United States
(Reissue in 1978)
Arista /
Flashback Records
AFS-9170 7" single 5:35 (Full length) 5:18
1977 Japan Arista IER-20349 7" single 5:34 (Full length) 5:19
1977 Italy Arista 3C 006 9989 7" single 5:32 (Full length) 5:17
1977 Germany Arista /
EMI Electrola
1C 006-99 489 7" single 4:23 (Edit single) 5:15
1977 France Arista 2C 006-99.489 7" single 4:18 (Edit single) 5:18
1977 Netherlands Arista NG 891 7" single 4:18 (Edit single) 5:18
1977 Australia Arista AR-11530 7" single 4:18 (Edit single) 5:18
1977 New Zealand Arista ATA 251 7" single 4:18 (Edit single) 5:18
1977 United Kingdom Arista ARISTA 133 7" single (uninformed) (uninformed)
1977 Brazil Arista AR-31043 7" single (uninformed) (uninformed)

Single with "Funkin' for Jamaica (N.Y.)"[edit]

In July 1984, a new alternative single was released in the UK by label Old Gold, with "The Greatest Love of All". Benson's original recording remained on the A-side of the single, and on the B-side was another hit single of another artist: "Funkin' for Jamaica (N.Y.)" by Tom Browne, originally released in 1980.

Year
Recording
Side Song Length Interpreter Writer/Composer Producer Original Album
1977 A-side "The Greatest Love of All" 5:32
(Full length)
George Benson Michael Masser,
Linda Creed
Michael Masser The Greatest Soundtrack
1980 B-side "Funkin' for Jamaica (N.Y.)" 3:29 Tom Browne Tom Browne,
Toni Smith
Dave Grusin,
Larry Rosen
Love Approach

The "Floating Gold" EP in Thailand[edit]

In 1977, an extended play (EP) with four successful soul music songs from that year was released in Thailand. The EP was called "Floating Gold", released by label Royalsound, in reference to the song "Float On" by the Floaters, the first track of the EP. The second track was the Manhattans' "We Never Danced To Love Song" and the third was the Brothers Johnson's "Strawberry Letter 23". To finish the EP, the fourth track was "The Greatest Love of All" by George Benson.

Year
Recording
Side Song Interpreter Writer/Composer Producer Original Album
1977 A-side 1 "Float On" The Floaters Marvin Willis,
James Mitchell,
Arnold Ingram
Marvin Willis,
James Mitchell
Floaters
1977 A-side 2 "We Never Danced To a Love Song" The Manhattans Gerald Alston,
Edward 'Sonny' Bivins
The Manhattans,
Bobby Martin
It Feels So Good
1977 B-side 1 "Strawberry Letter 23" The Brothers Johnson Shuggie Otis Quincy Jones Right on Time
1977 B-side 2 "The Greatest Love of All" George Benson Michael Masser,
Linda Creed
Michael Masser The Greatest Soundtrack

Whitney Houston version (1986)[edit]

"Greatest Love of All"
Whitney Houston – The Greatest Love of All.jpg
Single by Whitney Houston
from the album Whitney Houston
B-side "Thinking About You"
Released March 18, 1986
Format CD single, cassette single, 7-inch single, 12" single
Recorded December 1984
Genre Soul, R&B
Length 4:48
Label Arista
Songwriter(s) Michael Masser, Linda Creed
Producer(s) Michael Masser
Whitney Houston singles chronology
"How Will I Know"
(1985)
"Greatest Love of All"
(1986)
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
(1987)
"How Will I Know"
(1985)
"Greatest Love of All"
(1986)
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
(1987)
Whitney Houston track listing
"Take Good Care of My Heart"
(8)
"Greatest Love of All"
(9)
"Hold Me"
(10)

The song was further popularized by Whitney Houston under the title "Greatest Love of All". The song was recorded by the American recording artist for her debut album, self-titled Whitney Houston, which was released in February 1985 by Arista Records. The song became a major hit, topping the charts in Australia, Canada and the US, while reaching the top 20 in most countries, including Italy, Sweden and the UK. It remains her third biggest US hit, after "I Will Always Love You" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)".[17] All three songs, in order of their former popularity, re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart, after Houston's death, debuting the same week at numbers 7, 35 and 41, respectively, giving Houston three posthumous chart hits.[18]

Clive Davis, founder of Houston's label Arista Records, was initially against Houston recording the song for her debut studio album, Whitney Houston, but he eventually gave in after persuasion from Houston and Masser. It was released as the B-side to the single "You Give Good Love", a previous Top 5 hit by Houston. The song, eventually released as a single in its own right, on March 18, 1986, was the seventh release from Houston's debut album, and spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in May of that year.[19]

Houston's album version features a piano intro, while the single version begins with a keyboard intro. After the single became a success, it replaced the original album version on subsequent pressings of the album. However, the original version was restored for the 2010 Deluxe Anniversary Edition reissue of the album.

Her live performance in 1990 in the 15th anniversary of Arista Records concert in Radio City Music Hall was included in the 25th anniversary deluxe edition of Whitney Houston and the 2014 CD/DVD release, Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances.[20]

Music video[edit]

Houston's music video was filmed at Harlem's Apollo Theater in New York City. In the video, she is a successful singer who is about to perform in front of an audience. She reminisces about the time when she was a child performing in a talent competition and receiving encouragement from her mother. The video features Houston's mother Cissy Houston playing herself, supporting a young Whitney.[21]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Many critics called the song the centerpiece of Houston's debut album. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that "Houston sings it with a forceful directness that gives its message of self-worth an astounding resonance and conviction" and called the song a compelling assertion of spiritual devotion, black pride, and family loyalty, all at once.[22] Don Shewey of Rolling Stone wrote that as the song builds, Houston "slowly pours on the soul, slips in some churchy phrasing, holds notes a little longer and shows off her glorious voice."[23] However, some reviewers were more critical. Describing Houston's performance as "straight-faced", Armond White wrote that "[w]e had laughed at that song during the seventies as a mawkish ode to self-involvement, not dreaming it would ever be taken seriously. But last year we laughed again—nervously—because Houston seemed to be using it as a theme song for her own aggressive ambition."[24]

Chart performance[edit]

Benson's 1977 version was an R&B hit, reaching number 2 on the R&B chart. It was a moderate pop hit, making the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.[25] Houston's version reached number one on the Hot 100 chart for three weeks in 1986. The single was the fourth hit (and third number 1) from her debut album. To date, this song was her second longest stay atop this chart, behind 1992's "I Will Always Love You." The song also reached number one on both component charts, the Hot 100 Singles Sales and the Hot 100 Airplay, her second consecutive release to do so, and stayed for 14 weeks inside the top 40. On other Billboard charts, Houston also performed well, reaching number three on the R&B chart. The song topped the adult contemporary chart for five weeks, Houston's longest stay at the top of that chart at the time.[25] The song ranked No. 11 on Billboard's year end pop singles chart.[26] Houston's single fared well globally as well, reaching No. 8 in the United Kingdom and the top ten or No. 1 in several other European countries. It became her first No. 1 single in Australia. After her death, the single returned to the Billboard Hot 100, debuting at number 41.[27]

Accolades[edit]

Houston won the American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Video Single, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and a Soul Train Music Award for Single of the Year.[28][29][30]

Controversy[edit]

In April 1987, Gordon Lightfoot filed a lawsuit against Michael Masser, alleging that Masser's song "The Greatest Love of All" stole twenty-four bars from Lightfoot's 1970 hit "If You Could Read My Mind." According to Maclean's, Lightfoot commented, "It really rubbed me the wrong way. I don't want the present-day generation to think that I stole my song from him."[31] Lightfoot has stated that he dropped the suit when he felt it was having a negative effect on Whitney Houston, as the suit was about Masser and not her.[32]

Track listing[edit]

  • US vinyl/7"/Single
    • A "Greatest Love of All" – 4:51
    • B "Thinking About You" – 4:06

Personnel[edit]

  • Writer – Michael Masser, Linda Creed
  • Producer – Michael Masser
  • Arranger – Gene Page, Jr.
  • The players – Robbie Buchanan, Nathan East, Dann Huff, Paul Jackson, Jr., Randy Kerber, Richard Marx, Lou Shelton, Debbie Thomas, Julia Waters, Maxine Waters, Oren Waters, John Robinson
  • Mixer – Bill Schnee
  • Engineers – Michael Mancini, Russell Schmitt

Charts and certifications[edit]

Other versions[edit]

In addition to the original version by George Benson, the soundtrack of The Greatest also brought the first cover of "The Greatest Love of All", performed by its author Michael Masser.

The song was covered in 1979 by Shirley Bassey, for her album "The Magic Is You".

Pop singer Jane Olivor included a version of the song on her 1980 album "The Best Side of Goodbye."

In the first-season episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "The Puppet Show", it was sung by the character Cordelia Chase as she auditions for a talent show.

In 2008, British singers Duncan James and Rachel Stevens recorded a charity sponsored cover for "Children of Fight for Life".

Big Daddy issued a unique doo-wop version of the song on their 1991 album Cutting Their Own Groove.

Céline Dion sang the song several times over the years in honor of Whitney Houston. The most recent performance was in 2012 after the death of Whitney Houston for the Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston entitled: "We Will Always Love You" along a piece of Saving All My Love For You sung at the beginning of the performance of Greatest Love Of All.

Monica (singer) sang the song in the chapter "Miss Conception" of the series Felicity (TV series) as Beauty pageant contestant Sarah during the talent competition.

Eddie Murphy sang the song as singer Randy Watson in the comedy movie Coming to America in a live set, missing out chunks of the lyrics, to a lukewarm reception. He also sang it briefly when playing Donkey in Shrek Forever After.

In March 2016 the Conservative peer, Baroness Mone recited the opening lyrics of the song in her maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on women, having been inspired herself by the words.

On the episode of Dennis and Dee Get a New Dad of the show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the song is performed by Dennis, Dee and their supposed father.

Sharon Cuneta sings the song as the theme from the drama series of ABS-CBN The Greatest Love.

In the German/Austrian film Toni Erdmann, the character of Ines (played by Sandra Hüller) sings the song at a party held at a family home in Bucharest, when she and her father visit a family in the guise of the German ambassador to Romania and his assistant.

References[edit]

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External links[edit]