Ice Cream Everyday (Blisslife, 2013): When you hear the word intimacy, you don’t think of it as something beyond soft or restrained. Amel Larrieux’s music was always intimate, yet could be groovy, downtempo and anything else imagined. Ice Cream Everyday embodied that stated sentiment―a record that revealed something new anytime I came back to it.
Tropico (Chrysalis, 1984): Reinvention was a great look on Pat Benatar. The rockier bits she was known for previously were fine, but hearing Benatar on “Diamond Field,” “Painted Desert” and “Love in the Ice Age” made me ecstatic! Her versatility flexed its muscles to show she wasn’t just a spandex clad wet dream.
Infinity Within (Elektra, 1992): That Deee-Lite were dismissed as one-hit wonder fluff made no sense; their second record is where the groove really got it in for me. The way Deee-Lite lined Infinity Within with vintage funk and contemporary dance scored major points. Not to mention the album was socially conscious and deflated the oft cited balloon that pop couldn’t pack a message.
Statues (Echo, 2003): Moloko threw me for a loop when I started getting into them. Their first two records were acerbic and crazy, not too many cuts had replay value outside of a handful. Their third album, Things to Make and Do (2000), bore a maturity that took root on their fourth (and last) LP, Statues. The album split itself between heartbreak and hedonism, but with Moloko that wasn’t surprising.
Scoundrel Days (Warner Brothers, 1986): “Take On Me” was a great song, but arguably an anomaly for these gentlemen whose work was often introspective. Scoundrel Days extended on a-ha’s synth-pop styling, but the songwriting kept me rapt with attention. “Manhattan Skyline’s” draconian atmosphere was a slice of what to expect on Scoundrel Days for the uninitiated.
Fantasy (Ode, 1973): Tapestry (1971) clouded the view for a lot of great records from Ms. King. Fantasy, a lush song cycle, was one such recording. I loved it at first spin. The segue between “You Light Up My Life” and “Corazon” drove me bananas (in a good way).
Because I Love It (Columbia, 2007): To go from being a producer’s palette to her own woman, Amerie had the goods. Her cerebral R&B was lovably fussy on Because I Love It. I copped the album as an import at the time, so it was pretty cool to have had this when so many people were unaware she had a junior long player forthcoming in the U.S.
So Natural (Arista, 1993): The logical successor to Real Love (1991), Stansfield’s overlapping of soul and pop was unrivaled. Without hesitation, I maintain that So Natural was the “ballads beast” of her output; she put down some sultry, and sensitive, songs. It wasn’t all downtempo though― “Little Bit of Heaven,” a lost U.K. single from the LP, got the most play from me back when I bought So Natural.
Return of Saturn (Interscope, 2000): Reading about this album now, it’s unfathomable that it was a commercial misfire. Then again, No Doubt was always in the shadow of Tragic Kingdom (1996). That said, the band made an album that clutched the feelings encapsulated by that weird junction in the lives of all young adults.
Electric Circus (MCA, 2002): When I stumbled across Electric Circus, it blew me out of the water. It was hip-hop, but at the same time it took to task what hip-hop was supposed to sound like. The instrumental vignettes between the actual tracks were appetizing too.
The Magic Garden (Soul City, 1967): What endeared me to music from this time was its evocative nature―but that it wasn’t consciously trying. Artists were not afraid to feel and relate that to the album format (slowly burgeoning at this point). The 5th Dimension went on to do more commercially accesible stuff, but The Magic Garden was effusive.
Energy (Planet, 1978): From slapper-era jazz to (then) modern funk music, the Pointer Sisters were studied in diversity before they even got to Energy. They furthered that axiom with this, an album of rock-and-roll covers that possessed enough R&B to maintain that audience. Astonishing.
the id (Epic, 2001): The wilder pace hopping on this bad boy was so much fun! Gray’s albums were engaging affairs; her idiosyncrasies on the id made it difficult not to love the record, sort of like that wild aunt / relative we all know. Gray left some room for quieter moments too.
Nine Objects of Desire (A&M, 1996): Vega as an artist was (and is) voracious; her musical appetites never knew any border. When I heard Nine Objects of Desire, I was taken aback with how jazzy it was, but the slinkiness suited her. Vega’s canvas on the long player had breadth, so it was not a monotonous album by any stretch.
A Little Spice (Virgin, 1984): Looking at its historical context, A Little Spice was pitched between post-disco and hip-hop. The record slotted neatly in between those extremes to produce an uptown / downtown sound that got both sides of the Atlantic moving.
Brenda Russell (A&M, 1979): Russell was member of a group of women who connected jazz and R&B at a time when they were not adjoined. Russell’s earthiness and melodies combined splendidly on “You’re Free” and her inaugural (and superior) take of “If Only For One Night”. It was apparent that jazz and R&B were better together than apart thanks to Russell.
Savage (RCA, 1987): I remember reading about Savage and how people just didn’t get what the Eurythmics were doing with it. As the years passed after acquiring Savage, its neurotic behavior grew on me. Underneath their tech beat a human heart and that made the record relatable, even in its madder moments. Plus, “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)” just rocked.
Homogenic (One Little Indian, 1997): Homogenic was a majestic statement of heartbreak colored in varying hues of anger, resentment and self-examination. I didn’t “get it” when it hit my ears at 15, it wasn’t until I was 22 and had experienced more personally. Arriving back to the stormy album in lieu of that, of course it clicked.
Brave (Epic, 2007): What’s not to love about Brave? Jennifer Lopez was in great voice throughout the album’s run time; the production was muscular without overpowering her too, something she had struggled with in the past. It was good pop music in a time when pop was becoming increasingly rare to find.
La-La Means I Love You (Philly Groove, 1968): My Dad’s music is what I’ve affectionately termed this kind of soul. It’s Philly, it’s creamy, it’s romantic, it’s heartbreaking. The trio’s vocalizing was crisp, nothing out of line or messy.
[Editor’s Note: Please visit your local record store or online retailer for information on availability.-QH]