80’s Albums That Changed My Life (Part 1)

There’s something about the music of my childhood that continues to influence, shape, and inspire me.  As a child who grew up during the 80s and 90s, I have to admit that the music touched me in ways much deeper than a lot today’s music.  Artists seemed to be more motivated by making music that moved them and that meant something.  They weren’t so much moved by formulas and record sales.  The motivation was their love of music and using their art in innovative ways to share their universal experiences with the world.

For the next few months, I’d like to share some of the albums that changed my life.  The first series of posts will focus on albums from the 80s.  Maybe some of these albums will be favorites of yours too.

Cherrelle – High Priority (1985)

Cherrelle teamed up again with the legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on High Priority, the follow-up to her successful debut album Fragile (1984).  Their undeniable chemistry, just like with the SOS Band, Janet Jackson, New Edition, Mariah Carey, and Yolanda Adams (to name a few), would generate another bona fide smash in High Priority.  Cherrelle gets down on funky tunes like “You Look Good To Me” (#26 R&B) and “Oh No It’s U Again” (#5 Dance), the sexy mid-tempo groove “Will You Satisfy?,” and the infectious, pulsating “Artificial Heart” (#18 R&B/#5 Dance).  Other notable tunes include the old-school ballad “Where Do I Run To?” (which Cherrelle co-wrote) and the mega-hit, classic duet with Alexander O’Neal “Saturday Love” (#2 R&B/#26 Pop/#13 Dance).  High Priority is memorable not only for its catchy tunes, top-notch production, and Minneapolis-inspired sound, but also because of Cherrelle’s spirited, distinctive performance.  Her sassy yet sweet musical persona is one that fans simply couldn’t resist.  High Priority is easily one of the best R&B albums of the 80s.

Vesta Williams – Vesta 4 U (1988)

If you didn’t know it when you heard her debut album Vesta (1986), then you knew with Vesta 4 U that Vesta could SANG! Vesta 4 U showcased a powerhouse singer-songwriter who could tackle anything, bluesy numbers like “Best I Ever Had,” funky uptempo tracks like “Here Say” and “How You Feel,” sensual slow jams like “Hunger,” and power ballads like “Running Into Memories” and “Make It With You.” She had the type of voice that made you feel everything she was singing.  That’s one of many reasons why she resonated so well with fans, especially on her classic, signature ballads like “Congratulations” and “Sweet Sweet Love.”  With its endearing vignettes and interludes, Vesta 4 U also highlighted Vesta’s commendable dramatic and comedic acting chops.  She was an all-around entertainer.  Vesta 4 U would prove to be one of her most successful albums, with 4 R&B hits “Sweet Sweet Love” (#4 R&B), “Congratulations” (#5 R&B/#55 Pop), “4U” (#9 R&B), and “How You Feel” (#70 R&B).  Vesta 4 U is arguably one of the best R&B albums of the 80s and one the best albums of Vesta’s career.

Janet Jackson – Control (1986)

Singer, songwriter, dancer, actress, and producer Janet Jackson stepped completely out of her family’s shadow and became one of the most influential (and successful) entertainers in music history with her third studio album Control.  A breakthrough personally, musically, and artistically, Control served as a testament of Ms. Jackson’s independence, perseverance amidst personal struggles, pride, and self-actualization. With its ingenious mix of R&B/Soul, funk, hip-hop, pop, and dance music and its innovative use of digital instrumentation, Jackson, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis ushered in “the sound” of contemporary R&B music in the 80s and laid the groundwork for what would become New Jack Swing (and later Hip Hop Soul).  A major crossover success, Control went on to sell over five million copies in the States and over 14 million copies worldwide.  The album produced several enduring hits, “What Have You Done For Me Lately” (#1 R&B/#4 Pop/#2 Dance), “Nasty” (#1 R&B/#3 Pop/#2 Dance), “When I Think Of You” (#3 R&B/#1 Pop/#1 Dance), “Control” (#1 R&B/#5 Pop/#1 Dance),  “Let’s Wait Awhile” (#1 R&B/#2 Pop) and “The Pleasure Principle” (#1 R&B/#14 Pop), and made Jackson the first female artist to chart six top 40 hits from one album on the Billboard 100.  Control has been regarded as one of the best albums of all-time. 

Michael Jackson – Bad (1987)

Fans and critics alike were waiting anxiously to see how Michael Jackson would follow-up such a monster, game-changing, mega-selling album like Thriller (1982). Well, Jackson didn’t disappoint with Bad, his seventh studio album.  Coming with a harder edge in sound, style, and image, Bad was another artistic triumph.  Teaming again with the iconic Quincy Jones, Jackson delivered an innovative set of tunes which, like Thriller, effortlessly blended R&B/Soul, rock, funk, and pop.  Jackson took even more creative control over the direction of his music, writing nine of the album’s 11 tunes and serving as the album’s co-producer.  Sonically and visually, Jackson solidified himself as one of the most extraordinary, creative, and visionary forces in the entertainment industry.  Bad produced several hit singles, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” w/ Siedah Garrett (#1 R&B/#1 Pop) “Bad”(#1 R&B/ #1 Pop/#1 Dance), “The Way You Make Me Feel” (#1 R&B/#1 Pop/#1 Dance), “Dirty Diana” (#8 R&B/#1 Pop), “Man In The Mirror” (#1 Pop), “Another Part Of Me” (#1 R&B/#11 Pop), and “Smooth Criminal” (#2 R&B/#7 Pop/#10 Dance).  Jackson became the first artist to garner five No. 1 singles from one album on the Billboard 100.  Going on to sell over eight million copies in the States and over 30 millions copies worldwide, Bad has been cast on numerous lists as one of the best albums ever released.  

Phyllis Hyman – Living All Alone (1986)

It would be three years between the release of Goddess of Love (1983), Phyllis Hyman’s sixth studio album (and final album for Arista Records), and her seventh studio album Living All Alone (her first release on Philadelphia International Records–PIR).  Hyman joined forces with legendary Philly Soul producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for what many consider one of her finest albums.  Full of soulful contemporary R&B and jazz-oriented torch songs, Hyman provides a passionate soundtrack to love, loss, hope, faith, and resilience.  While somewhat melancholy and somber in tone, Living All Alone–like much of her music–paints a realistic, relatable picture of life, love, and relationships.  You couldn’t turn on urban adult contemporary radio between 1986-1987 without hearing “You Just Don’t Know,” “Ain’t You Had Enough Love” (#29 R&B), and her signature tunes “Old Friend” (#14 R&B), and “Living All Alone” (#12 R&B).  Hyman’s vocal performances are stellar and serve as further proof of her status as one of the most revered vocalists and performers of all-time.  After 27 years, Living All Alone remains a contemporary R&B/soul mainstay.

Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston (1985)

Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut album was a monumental, global crossover success.  It was a success I’m sure, even in 1985-1986, that was uncommon for a black female artist–especially in the early stages of her career.  Houston broke barriers and paved the way for many singers, like Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Deborah Cox, Brandy, Monica, and Melanie Fiona.  Whitney Houston was the world’s introduction to “The Voice.” Houston’s voice was rich, sensual, angelic, soulful, melismatic, and powerful.  An instrument of such effortless control, wonder, and emotive, interpretive skills, her voice put her in a class all her own.  She delighted on uptempo dance tracks like “How Will I Know (#1 R&B/#1 Pop/#3 Dance)” and “Thinking About You” (#10 R&B) sexy, soulful grooves like “You Give Good Love” (#1 R&B/#3 Pop), inspirational tunes like “Greatest Love Of All” (#2 R&B/#1 Pop) and spine-tingling ballads like “All At Once,” and “Saving All My Love For You” (#1 R&B/#1 Pop).  Whitney Houston went on to become one of the most successful debut albums by a female artist in history.  Spending 14 weeks at No. 1 (Billboard 200) and spawning three consecutive No. 1 singles (Billboard Hot 100) — “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know,” and “Greatest Love Of All,” Whitney Houston was the first debut album and first album by a female artist to accomplish such a feat.  Selling over 13 million copies in the States and over 25 million copies worldwide, Whitney Houston is regarded as one of the best albums of all-time.

Jody Watley – Larger Than Life (1989)

Jody Watley has always been a trendsetter, whether it be in fashion, dance, music, or videos.  Never one to rest on her laurels, Watley continuously challenges herself and strives to take her artistic vision and expression to new heights.  Larger Than Life, the follow-up to her solo debut album Jody Watley (1987), proved to be no exception.  Reuniting with producer Andre Cymone, Watley co-wrote and produced 11 of the album’s 12 tunes.  Larger Than Life incorporates a hypnotic blend of R&B/Soul, dance, funk, Latin, pop, and hip-hop music.  Watley serves up her A-game with sassy, funky, aggressive  (almost industrial-sounding) tracks like “Once You Leave,” “What ‘Cha Gonna Do For Me,” “L.O.V.E.R.” and “Real Love” (#1 R&B/#2 Pop/#1 Dance), New Jack Swing tracks like “Friends” Featuring Eric B. & Rakim (#3 R&B/#9 Pop/#7 Dance), and passionate, sparse ballads like “Everything” (#3 R&B/#4 Pop/#11 AC), “Only You,” and the beautiful, Latin-tinged “Precious Love” (#51 R&B/#87 Pop).  Watley’s influential single “Friends” is most notable for being the “first multi-format crossover hit to introduce and pair the custom and specialized 16 bar verse with a rapper and singer in Pop music in 1989” (Jody Watley’s Bio)And Watley’s video for “Real Love,” directed by David Fincher, received seven MTV Music Video Award nominations, making it then one of the most nominated videos in history.  Larger Than Life went gold in the States and sold over four million copies worldwide.  Larger Than Life is one of Watley’s top albums and is one of the best albums from the late 80s.

Related Posts:
Running Into Memories: A Tribute to Vesta Williams (1957-2011)
Vesta Williams’ Final Album, Seven, Set for March 2013 Release
All 4 Janet.
Day 91: Happy Birthday Michael Joseph Jackson
The P/H Factor – Phyllis Hyman: Tribute to a Sophisticated Lady
Day 66 – Happy Birthday Phyllis Hyman!
Day 71: Nothin’ But Love For Whitney Houston
Jody Watley is Still a Thrill

Day 66 – Happy Birthday Phyllis Hyman!

Today would’ve marked the 63rd birthday of legendary singer, songwriter, actress, model, and entrepreneur Phyllis Hyman.  A serious void has been left since her untimely death in 1995.  A singer’s singer, she was one of the greatest interpreters of song to grace the stage.  She had a larger-than-life voice, personality, and presence.  Hyman was a star in every sense of the word.

Born in Philadelphia, PA and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Hyman was the eldest of seven children.  Inspired by Nancy Wilson, Dionne Warwick, Minnie Riperton, and James Brown, Hyman said she didn’t know she could sing.  But anyone who heard her voice then or now would tell you differently.  Hyman perfected her chops by performing on the club circuit in the early 70’s with groups such as New Direction, All the People, The Hondo Beat, and The P/H Factor.  After leaving The P/H Factor, she moved to NYC and relaunched herself as a solo artist and became the talk of the town.  She initially recorded songs like “Leaving The Good Life Behind” and “Baby (I’m Gonna Love You)” for the Roadshow Records/Desert Moon imprint.  However, it was her work with Norman Connors on his You Are My Starship (1976) album that brought her major mainstream attention.  Their remake of the Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow” was a major Jazz and R&B radio hit.  The Starship album also united Hyman with Michael Henderson for the first time on their duet “We Both Need Each Other,” another radio hit.

Hyman and Henderson would later have a top-ten R&B hit with their classic duet “Can’t We Fall In Love Again” in 1981 (from Hyman’s album of the same name).  Between the years of 1974 and 1991, Hyman released 8 studio albums (Phyllis Hyman, Sing A Song, Somewhere In My Lifetime, You Know How To Love Me, Can’t We Fall In Love Again, Goddess Of Love, Living All Alone, and Prime Of My Life), starred in 4 films (Lenny, Too Scared To Scream, School Daze, and The Kill Reflex) and appeared on Broadway in Sophisticated Ladies, where her role earned a Tony Award nomination.  Two albums were released posthumously in 1995 (I Refuse To Be Lonely) and 1998 (Forever With You).

Hyman made an indelible mark on the industry and with fans by singing realistic, heartfelt love/torch songs.  She wore her heart on her sleeve.  If she couldn’t feel or relate to the music in some way, she couldn’t sing it.  With songs like “Living All Alone,” “Old Friend,” “Meet Me On The Moon,” “When You Get Right Down To It,” “Somewhere In My Lifetime,” “You Know How to Love Me,” “Obsession” (with Lonnie Liston Smith), and her lone #1 R&B hit “Don’t Wanna Change The World,” Hyman captivated her audience with her signature style and one-of-a-kind voice.

Throughout her life, Hyman battled with bipolar disorder and suffered from alcoholism, along with drug and food addictions.  Hyman’s songs like “Living All Alone,” “Living In Confusion,” “The Sunshine In My Life,” and “I Refuse To Be Lonely,” offered a glimpse into the troubles Hyman had been experiencing.  In Jenice Armstrong’s article “Hyman’s Demons” from the Philadelphia Daily News, Jason A. Michael, author of Strength of a Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story, said that Hyman ‘”fought so hard to remain in control, but the truth is that she wasn’t…She would get so nervous. She would get so scared. She had a great fear of success because, deep down, she didn’t feel that she really deserved it.”‘  Sadly, Hyman took her life several hours before she was to perform at the Apollo Theatre on June 30, 1995.

She left behind a beautiful legacy of work.  While she may no longer be with us, her spirit will continue to live on in her family, friends, fans, and music.  Happy Birthday Phyllis Hyman!  We miss you!  Goddess of Love, rest in peace!

Check out my previous Phyllis Hyman Posts:

Have a great weekend!

Day 56: Black Music Month – Phyllis Hyman

I’ve written about Phyllis Hyman several times.  I never grow tired of talking about her or listening to her timeless music.  There’s so much that can be said about her artistry.  She really knew how to get inside lyrics.  Whether you had experienced what she was singing about or not, you couldn’t help but to feel it.  A supreme song interpreter and a dynamic performer, Hyman proved that she was in a league reserved truly for the greats.

Day 6: Chrisette Michele – One of this Generation’s Best Vocalists

I’ve been loving Chrisette Michele for a few years now. Her most recent album – Epiphany – stays in rotation. I play it once and cannot seem to stop playing it again. The sign of a great album is one that leaves a lasting impression on you. It moves you. You can’t get the music out of your head. It just hits the spot (or several spots). This album, I must say, is one of the best R&B/Soul releases of the year. While it may have been criticized for not having as many of the jazz-inflected arrangements as her debut, there’s no denying the jazzy vocals from this songbird.

Her voice is a mystical, musical instrument with personality, lots of color, varying tones, shades, and timbres, and a wide range. It’s sexy, soulful, and passionate. And it has a girlish quality that is reminiscent of the late great Ella Fitzgerald (one of her greatest influences – along with Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Natalie Cole to name a few). She has the innate gift to sing anything and make it believable. She takes you there. You’re riding with her from beginning to end. And every song is a performance. Each one different from the last. Which also brings to mind another great lady of song – Phyllis Hyman. Though she sounds nothing like Phyllis Hyman – there’s something about the way she delivers a song that reminds me of Phyllis Hyman. Phyllis Hyman owned her songs. She commanded the stage. She took you on a ride. It didn’t matter where she was taking you because you were so happy and so moved to go along anyway. And that’s what Chrisette Michele does. If her artistic and musical growth is any indication, she will go down one of the best vocalists of all time.

The P/H Factor – Phyllis Hyman: Tribute to a Sophisticated Lady

Gonna make changes
Gonna make minds aware
Moving together
Willing to share
There’s power in the masses
Collectively we can win

~ Phyllis Hyman, “Gonna Make Changes”, Somewhere In My Lifetime, 1978
I couldn’t let this week end without paying tribute to one of my all-time favorite vocalists, the late, great Phyllis Hyman (July 6, 1949 – June 30, 1995). The music industry hasn’t been the same since her untimely passing. If you are unfamiliar with her music – do yourself a favor and please check it out. It’s a rarity even to this day that someone comes along as gifted and talented as Hyman was. The singer, songwriter, model, actress and businesswoman would’ve turned 59 this year.

The P/H Factor

The angel with the resonant, rich, beautiful voice;
The Goddess of Love,
Commanding the stage like a queen;
Regal, striking, almost intimidating,
Queen of the blues, pop, soul, jazz, and gospel.
A true Sophisticated Lady,
In a class of her own,
In fact, ahead of her time;
Critically acclaimed yet under-recognized,
A mind-blowing woman with many talents
Who never achieved the stardom she truly deserved.
Yet, she is a legend.

Although you’re no longer with us in the physical sense,
Your spirit lives on in your music.
Each time one of your songs plays, you are born again.
We relive the joy and wonder in our memories of you.
You touched us deeply
With your songs of love—
About its many facets, the ups and downs, the joys and the pain.
You took us there;
We were with you each step of the way.
With each note on the musical scale
You left us enraptured,
Capturing us in your mesmerizing essence.
You spoke to us and we could definitely relate.
That’s why we will never forget you
And the many gifts you gave to the world.

Phyllis Hyman—the woman, the actress, the fashion model, the singer, the songwriter, and the performer:
You will always remain special,
You will always have a place in our hearts,
And a significant place in history.
One of the world’s most beautiful women, with one of the greatest vocal instruments,
You are truly appreciated.
You will forever go on.

Phyllis, you were and still are loved.

Phyllis Hyman’s music at Amazon

Have a happy and safe holiday weekend!

© 2012 BuddahDesmond


Now playing: Phyllis Hyman – Complete Me via FoxyTunes

You Ain’t Got No Home Buddah!!!

Funny as it sounds, that’s how it feels. Traveling, traveling. It’s a good thing. But it’s very tiring. In the last two-and-a-half months, I’ve been to Seattle, Montreal, DC, San Jose/Mountain View, and Rochester. Mostly for job interviews. I went to Montreal for a week in April to attend the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (more about that later).

I’m heading back to DC for another job interview next week (YAY I get to go home!). Then back to Rochester. And the following week I may be heading to Pittsfield, MA for another interview. It’s crazy. As soon as I drop my bags and get comfortable it’s time to pack those bags and board the plane again!

As I mentioned above, I had the opportunity to attend the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal back in April. This is the annual conferernce for the Human Computer Interaction community. For those who are wondering, Human Computer Interaction (or HCI) is a field of computing which focuses on the interaction between people and computers. One of its main goals is to improve the interaction between people and computers by developing computing systems that efficient, effective, easy to use, and easy to understand. And most importantly, that computing systems meet the needs of the people who use them. It’s a multidisciplinary field that depends heavily on computer science, information science, cognitive science, anthropology, ergonomics, psychology, and sociology to name a few.

At the conference, there were several presentations, workshops, courses, and discussions devoted to recent innovations and developments within the HCI community. It was a wonderful experience for networking and learning about what other students, researchers, and practitioners are doing in the field. I was one of several student volunteers there. And I had a blast! Got to party a little bit. Got to meet a lot of new people. And I got to talk with several employers about possible job opportunities in their HCI departments. I even got to attend hospitality events in some of the local hotels sponsored by employers such as Microsoft, Google, eBay, and IBM. The Conference is held in a different location each year and usually lasts about five days. Next year it will be in San Jose, CA. I’d really love to go next year. But it all depends upon the money! I guess if I start saving now, I might be able to make it.

Other than that, I’m chillin’ like a villain up in Da ROC. I’ve been listening to a lot of Chaka Khan and Phyllis Hyman lately. They are two of my all-time favorite vocalists. Both of whom I’ve been listening to and loving since I was very young.

Chaka Khan recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BET Awards. Much deserved and long overdue if you ask me. I’ve been bumping the following albums: Chaka, I Feel For You, Come 2 My House, Classikhan, The Best of Rufus & Chaka Khan, and Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1. Word on the street is that she’s been working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on a new album. Sounds like it’s going to be hot! I’ll be first in line to get it when it drops.

Phyllis Hyman is yet another consummate artist who never received the acclaim and accolades she rightly deserved. I’ve been playing the following over and over again: Phyllis Hyman, You Know How To Love Me, Living All Alone, The Prime of My Life, and The Legacy of Phyllis Hyman. It would be nice if she were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame or received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame even. (If Britney Spears has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, why not?) Though she’s no longer with us, her legacy continues to live on. Now that I think of it, it would also be nice if Arista/BMG would re-release all of her earlier albums from 1977 – 1983. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s an audience out here who craves them. I wrote a poem in tribute to Phyllis a few years back. Since her birthday is approaching, I may put it up. She would’ve been 57 this year.

Until later, hope you all have a great weekend!