Rhythm and blues, also known as RB, is a genre of music that originated in African American communities in the 1940s. It combines elements of jazz, blues, and gospel and has become one of the most influential and popular genres in the world.
Over the years, many talented artists have released incredible RB albums that have stood the test of time and continue to be celebrated by fans all over the world. In this blog post, we will be taking a closer look at the top 10 best rhythm and blues albums of all time, based on various criteria. So get ready to groove to some classic RB tunes and add these albums to your must-listen list!
Criteria for Ranking Best Rhythm and Blues Albums of All Time
Before we dive into the top 10 albums, it’s important to understand the criteria used for ranking. There are several factors that contribute to an album being considered the “best” in any genre, and RB is no different. The following were taken into consideration when compiling this list:
- Impact and influence on the genre: An album that has had a significant impact on the development and evolution of RB holds more weight in terms of ranking.
- Critical and commercial success: The reception of an album by critics and its commercial success can also play a role in determining its ranking.
- Timelessness: A great album stands the test of time and continues to resonate with listeners even decades after its release.
- Musicality and quality of production: The overall sound and production quality of an album also contributes to its ranking.
Now that we have a better understanding of the criteria, let’s jump right into the top 10 best RB albums of all time.
1. What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
The very first album on our list is none other than Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, ‘What’s Going On’. Released in 1971, this album is considered a landmark not just in RB but in music history as well. Gaye’s soulful, smooth vocals combined with thought-provoking lyrics and socially conscious themes make this album not only one of the best RB albums of all time but also a cultural touchstone.
The making of ‘What’s Going On’
After experiencing personal and professional setbacks, Marvin Gaye was looking for a new direction in his music career. He reached out to Motown producer and songwriter, Al Cleveland, with an idea for a song called “What’s Happening Brother”. After playing around with the lyrics and melody, they presented it to Motown founder Berry Gordy who initially rejected it. However, Gaye persisted and eventually recorded the song.
The success of “What’s Happening Brother” gave Gaye the confidence to pitch a full album centered around social and political issues. He teamed up with writers Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson from the group Four Tops, along with his brother, Frankie Gaye, to co-write the rest of the album.
The impact of ‘What’s Going On’
Upon its release, ‘What’s Going On’ received critical acclaim and became one of Gaye’s most successful albums. It topped multiple charts and spawned three hit singles: “What’s Going On”, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”, and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”. The album also had a significant impact on the music industry, paving the way for more socially conscious and politically charged music.
2. Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
‘Songs in the Key of Life’ is the eighteenth studio album by American singer-songwriter, Stevie Wonder. It was released in 1976 and is widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, not just in RB but in any genre. With its mix of soul, funk, and jazz elements, this album is a masterpiece that showcases Wonder’s incredible talent as a musician and songwriter.
The making of ‘Songs in the Key of Life’
After the release of his previous album, ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’, Wonder experienced writer’s block and struggled to come up with new material. However, after taking some time off and finding inspiration from his family and friends, he was able to create an album that he described as “a journey through my mind”.
‘Songs in the Key of Life’ took over two years to complete and featured numerous guest artists, including Michael Jackson, Minnie Riperton, and Herbie Hancock. It also features Wonder’s signature sound of layered vocals, complex arrangements, and multi-instrumentalism.
The impact of ‘Songs in the Key of Life’
The album received universal acclaim upon its release and won several awards, including Album of the Year at the 1977 Grammy Awards. It also became Wonder’s second consecutive album to hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart. To this day, ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ continues to be praised for its musicality, diversity, and social commentary.
3. Innervisions by Stevie Wonder
It’s no surprise that Stevie Wonder makes another appearance on our list with his album ‘Innervisions’. Released in 1973, this album is considered one of Wonder’s greatest works and is known for its fusion of funk, soul, and socially conscious lyrics.
The making of ‘Innervisions’
Following the success of his album ‘Talking Book’, Wonder faced pressure from Motown to produce another hit record. However, he decided to take control of his music and experiment with different sounds and themes. This resulted in the creation of ‘Innervisions’, which showcased Wonder’s growth as an artist and songwriter.
The impact of ‘Innervisions’
The album was a critical and commercial success, reaching number one on the Billboard 200 chart and winning multiple Grammy Awards. Hits such as “Higher Ground” and “Living for the City” are still widely recognized and sampled in modern music. ‘Innervisions’ solidified Stevie Wonder’s position as one of the greatest musicians of all time and continues to inspire artists to this day.
4. Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin, also known as the Queen of Soul, is considered one of the greatest RB singers of all time. Her album ‘Lady Soul’, released in 1968, is a timeless classic that showcases her powerful vocals and range.
The making of ‘Lady Soul’
After achieving success with hits like “Respect” and “Chain of Fools”, Franklin wanted to delve deeper into her artistry and push boundaries with her music. She worked with renowned producer Jerry Wexler and a team of talented musicians to create an album that would cement her legacy in the RB world.
The impact of ‘Lady Soul’
‘Lady Soul’ became Franklin’s second consecutive album to reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart and was praised by critics for its diverse sound and strong vocals. It also featured the hit single “Ain’t No Way”, which has become a classic in its own right. ‘Lady Soul’ is a testament to Aretha Franklin’s talent and remains one of the best RB albums of all time.
5. Off the Wall by Michael Jackson
No list of the top RB albums would be complete without mentioning the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. His fifth solo studio album, ‘Off the Wall’, released in 1979, marked a shift in his career and established him as a solo artist outside of his family’s group, The Jackson 5.
The making of ‘Off the Wall’
After leaving his father’s management and signing with Epic Records, Michael Jackson was free to explore his own musical style. He teamed up with producer Quincy Jones, who had worked with artists like Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin, to create an album that would showcase Jackson’s vocal range and artistry.
The impact of ‘Off the Wall’
‘Off the Wall’ was a commercial success, reaching number three on the Billboard 200 chart and spawning four top 10 hits, including “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock with You”. It also earned Jackson his first Grammy Award as a solo artist. This album marked the beginning of Jackson’s reign as the King of Pop and continues to inspire generations of musicians.
6. Purple Rain by Prince
Prince is undoubtedly one of the most unique and influential artists in RB, and his album ‘Purple Rain’ is a testament to his talent and versatility. Released in 1984, this album was the soundtrack to Prince’s film of the same name and marked a turning point in his career.
The making of ‘Purple Rain’
Prince had complete creative control over the album and took inspiration from his personal experiences and struggles to create a mix of rock, pop, and funk. He also collaborated with his band, The Revolution, to produce the iconic sound of ‘Purple Rain’.
The impact of ‘Purple Rain’
‘Purple Rain’ topped the charts and became one of the best-selling albums of the 1980s. It also earned Prince an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and two Grammy Awards. The album’s title track is still regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time and solidified Prince’s status as a music legend.
7. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill
Released in 1998, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ is the only studio album by American singer-songwriter and rapper, Lauryn Hill. This album blends elements of hip hop, RB, and reggae and has been praised for its honest and raw lyrics.
The making of ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’
After achieving success with her group, The Fugees, Lauryn Hill decided to pursue a solo career. She took a break from music to focus on starting a family and writing powerful and personal songs for her debut album. She collaborated with several artists, including D’Angelo and Carlos Santana, to create an album that would solidify her as a solo artist.
The impact of ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’
The album was both a critical and commercial success, earning Hill five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. Its themes of love, relationships, and social issues continue to resonate with listeners, making it one of the best RB albums of all time.
Rhythm and blues is a diverse and constantly evolving genre of music, and these top 10 albums represent some of the best that the genre has to offer. From iconic voices like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin to musical geniuses like Stevie Wonder and Prince, each album on this list has left an indelible mark on the world of music.
Whether you’re a long-time fan or new to the genre, these albums are a must-listen for anyone who appreciates great music. So turn up the volume and let the smooth sounds of these RB classics transport you to another time and place.