Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” Lifted From Gordon Lightfoot

I thought I was going crazy again. But nope. This is why I’m still running this site. Here’s a song by Gordon Lightfoot from 1970 called “If You Could Read My Mind”. The chorus… that chorus… where have I heard that before? Ah, yes. It’s Whitney Houston’s 1985 “The Greatest Love of All”. But wait… that recording is a cover? The original was recorded in 1977 by George Benson for a Muhammad Ali documentary called “The Greatest”. And the song was actually written by composer Michael Masser. And it turns out Lightfoot actually sued Masser in 1987.

In 1987, Lightfoot filed a lawsuit against Michael Masser, the composer of Whitney Houston’s hit “The Greatest Love of All”, alleging plagiarism of 24 bars of “If You Could Read My Mind”; the transitional section that begins “I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow” of the Masser song has the same melody as “I never thought I could act this way and I got to say that I just don’t get it; I don’t know where we went wrong but the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back” of Lightfoot’s song. Lightfoot has stated that he dropped the lawsuit when he felt it was having a negative effect on the singer Houston because the lawsuit was about the writer and not her. He also said that he did not want people to think that he had stolen his melody from Masser. The case was settled out of court, and Masser issued a public apology.
– source: wikipedia

I guess in those days it took a lot longer for a song to make the rounds. These days fans immediately jump to social media to point these things out. Anyway, have a listen!

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3 Replies to “Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” Lifted From Gordon Lightfoot”

  1. Ladwills

    It was Johnny Mathis’ 1971 version of Gordon Lightfoot’s song that I first heard; that interlude melody & progression is unmistakeable; as soon as I heard George Benson’s recording of The Greatest Love of All in 1977, I knew there’d be plagiarism issues for sure. Gordon shouldn’t have waited 10 years to sue, there was clear copyright infringement.

  2. Jim Dixon

    As the post says, today such a lift by a songwriter would be on social media within a day of the infringing song being released, assuming the original and the song that were even modestly successful. In 1977, George Benson’s 1st version did make it to number 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, but there’s a long, long distance between number 40 and number 1. Number 40 might earn a performer a nice vacation in Europe or a new car, while number 1 might earn a performer enough for a large beachfront house, if not more (sometimes much more). Whitney took the song to number 1, and when that kind of money is on the table, lawyers and managers start paying close attention. It’s not hard to imagine that nobody in Lightfoot’s circle (including Lightfoot) heard the 1977 Benson recording, which was big on Black radio, but probably came and went on Top 40 radio without leaving much impact. In 1985, you couldn’t escape the song, no matter who you were or what radio station you listened to. You were going to hear it from a passing car, at your dentist’s office, in the grocery store, on television, etc. etc.


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