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.
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