This post includes albums which cross the lines of pop music, ballads, jazz, R&B and other lite and easy styles of music. All these albums, in their own way, are pop music classics and have generated influence and inspiration on musicians and music listeners alike.
Anita Baker - Rapture (1986)
The first single released from the album "Watch Your Step" failed to spark interest with the public, although it did reach #23 on the U.S. R&B chart. Finally it was "Sweet Love", the album's 2nd single (and her 6th single overall) that hit the upper portions of the charts. The song hit #8 on Billboard's U.S. Singles chart, #2 on the R&B chart and #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart as well as reaching #13 in the UK.
After "Sweet Love" became a huge hit the album scored 3 more hits with "Caught Up In The Rapture Of Love", "Same Ole Love (365 Days A Year)" and "No One In The World". At this point in time Baker was destined to continue her wave of hits to become one of the most cherished vocalists of the 80's and onward. "Caught Up In The Rapture Of Love" proved to be as durable a hit as "Sweet Love" as it became an anthem for many a lovestruck couple. The song made it to #37 on the U.S. pop charts but reached the top 10 on both the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts as well as #51 in the UK.
Bobby Darin - That's All (1959)
"Mack The Knife" was first introduced to the United States by Louis Armstrong in 1956 but it was bobby Darin who turned the song into a classic. Darin took the song to #1 in October 1959 and stayed there for an impressive 9 weeks. It also reached #6 on the Black Singles chart, and earned him a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The song was certified gold in the U.S. for selling more than 1 million copies. The song also reached #1 in the UK. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht wrote "Mack The Knife" in 1928 for the German play The Threepenny Opera. "Mack" is Macheath, the title character, portrayed as a criminal. The light melody can make this feel like an upbeat song, but it contrasts sharply with the lyrics, which are about a murderer. Darin took a chance when he recorded this. His previous hits like "Splish Splash" and "Dream Lover" were aimed at a teenage audience, and this song had very dark subject matter. Darin's management didn't want him to record this, but he ignored their advice and it paid off: it introduced him to a wide audience of adult listeners.
Continuing his streak of top ten hits, "Beyond The Sea" reached #6 in the U.S. and #8 in the UK. "Beyond the Sea" is a 1946 contemporary pop song with music taken from the song "La Mer" by Charles Trenet and lyrics by Jack Lawrence. In English La Mer translates to The Sea. Beyond The Sea was also the title for the 2004 movie about Darin's life starring Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin. Spacey himself performed most of the songs in the movie.
David Gray - White Ladder (1998-2000)
The album's first single "This Year's Love" released in March 1999 failed to captured very little attention but did manage to reach #25 on the Irish singles charts. The 2nd single "Babylon" released in July 1999 failed to chart anywhere. The 3rd single "Please Forgive Me" fared a bit better reaching #26 in Ireland and #72 in the UK. Despite his minor showings on both the UK and Irish charts Gray had eluded any enduring chart success.
Finally after Matthews took hold of Gray's career "Babylon" was re-released as a single in June 2000 and that's when the major breakthrough happened. This time around the song showed solid chart positions reaching #5 in the UK, #31 in Ireland and his chart debut in the U.S. at #57. He also made it to #8 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart. Gray was finally on his way to a permanent residence on the landscape of popular music. "babylon" remains Gray's biggest hit to date.
From here "White Ladder" was also re-released in several countries around the world between March and October of 2000. The album became a universal hit selling over 7 million copies worldwide. It reached #1 in both the UK and Ireland as well as making it to #4 in New Zealand, #18 in Norway, #34 in Australia, #35 in the U.S., #51 in the Netherlands and #59 in France.
Jack Johnson - Sleep Through The Static (2008)
Before making music Jack Johnson was a professional surfer. He was born and raised in Oahu, Hawaii, the son of well known surfer Jeff Johnson. Jack took an interest in surfing at the young age of five. At age 17, he became the youngest invitee to make the surfing finals at the Pipeline Masters on Oahu's north shore. One week later, however, his stint as a professional surfer ended when he suffered a surfing accident at the Pipeline that put over 150 stitches in his forehead and knocked a few of his teeth out.
After graduating from high school he moved to California to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with a degree in film. While in college, he developed his passion for music, and in 1993 played rhythm guitar for the party band Soil. Johnson got his first break in music when G. Love recorded his song "Rodeo Clowns" in 1999 for his album Philadelphonic. 2 years later Johnson began recording his own albums.
"Sleep Through The Static" is Johnson's 5th studio album and was released on February 1, 2008. The album has reached the top 3 in more countries around the world than any of his other albums. It's chart performance is staggering as follows; the album reached #1 in the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. It peaked at #2 in Germany and Switzerland, #3 in Austria and Portugal, #4 in Holland, #5 in Denmark, #6 in France, #8 in Belgium, #9 in Greece, #13 in Sweden, #14 in Spain and #17 in Norway. The album also did very well in Japan but chart data in Japan is not available at this moment.
In the album's liner notes it states that the album was recorded with 100% solar energy, printed on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, and carrying the 1% For The Planet logo. It's easy to say that Jack Johnson is an advocate of "green" technology.
"Sleep Through The Static" is Johnson's most personal album to date having been recorded at the time of the death of his cousin Danny Riley (who sang backup vocals on "If I Had Eyes"). Johnson has commented, "Some of the songs on this album are about making babies. Some of the songs are about raising them. Some of the songs are about the world that these children will grow up in; a world of war and love, and hate, and time and space. Some of the songs are about saying goodbye to people I love and will miss."
The first single from the album "If I Had Eyes" is a bluesy somewhat upbeat number which was released in December 2007 via his MySpace page. "If I Had Eyes" is about the break-up of a longterm relationship, he had some good friends who were in the middle of a divorce. Johnson attributes his song Moe (3years old at the time) for giving him inspiration to write this song. Moe is a helpful source of ideas for his songs, and he contributed to the chorus of "If I Had Eyes." Johnson told the interviewer with a smile, "I'll have to give him a songwriting credit. The little conversations we're having are ending up as the basis for a lot of songs, because he's always asking me, 'Why?' He's at the 'Why?' stage."
"Hope" is the 2nd official single from the album having been released in May 2008 for digital download. The third single "Sleep Through The Static" contains Johnson's classic acoustic style electro-groove that is effective in getting a crowd swaying to the music. Johnson is an enthusiastic eco-warrior and he explained to the Sun newspaper January 25, 2008 how this song reflected his concerns, "'Sleep Through The Static' is about how we have the ability to turn off the war whenever we please. Or you can use a plastic bag to bring home all your groceries. You throw it in the waste and then you don't see what happens but it sits there for 2,000 years. A lot of things are out of sight, out of mind for us and it's easier to 'sleep through the static'."
The song "Go On" is the album's most poignant moment with emotions running deep. In 2007, Johnson's wife's cousin Danny Riley tragically died at age 19 from a brain tumor. He had spent his final few months living with Johnson and his family. The album "Sleep Through the Static" is dedicated to Riley, and the song "Go On" juxtaposes coming to grips with Riley's death and watching his own son grow up and learn to tread water for the first time. Johnson told Rolling Stone magazine, "It's about learning how to let go of someone you love, watching them swim away."
Norah Jones - Come Away With Me (2002)
Norah Jones' debut album "Come Away With Me" released on February 26, 2002 is one of the world's most celebrated albums. To date the album has sold more than 23 million copies worldwide making it one of the 70 best selling albums of all-time in the world.
It took a while for the album to catch on. It first entered the U.S. charts in early 2002 but took an entire year to finally hit #1. "Come Away With Me" was released on the predominantly jazz-based label Blue Note and recorded with several jazz musicians, and has been noted by music writers for its acoustic pop style and incorporation of jazz, folk, soul, and country music elements. The album has enjoyed phenomenal success reaching #1 in many countries around the world including the U.S., UK, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, Sweden. Additionally the album reached #2 in Austria and Switzerland. #3 in Poland and Portugal. #4 in Norway. #5 in Finland and finally #61 in Spain and Italy.
In 2003 the album"Come Away With Me", Norah Jones, related songs and album personnel won an amazing total of 8 Grammy Awards. The awards include:
Best New Artist: Norah Jones
Album of the Year: Come Away With Me
Best Pop Vocal Album: Come Away With Me
Record of the Year: Don't Know Why
Song of the Year: Don't Know Why
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance: Don't Know Why
Best Engineered Album - Non Classical: Come Away With Me
Producer of the Year - Non Classical: Arif Mardin
Although she was happy about her success, Jones felt bad about sweeping the Grammy Awards. In an interview for 60 Minutes, Jones told Katie Couric: I felt like I went to somebody else's birthday party and I ate all their cake. Without anybody else getting a piece. That's how I felt. —Norah Jones
The genre of "Come Away with Me" was the subject of much debate, especially within the vocal jazz community. Many artists held that because Norah Jones made few changes to the original melody and rhythm of the covered tracks, such as "Turn Me On" and "The Nearness of You", that the album did not qualify as jazz, which entailed some degree of interpretation and improvisation. Still, the presence of accomplished jazz musicians Bill Frisell, Adam Rogers, Brian Blade, and Sam Yahel, as well as the complex and sophisticated jazz-influenced compositions of Jesse Harris, gave the album an overall jazz feel. Critics have viewed the music of "Come Away with Me" as a blend of vocal jazz and acoustic pop with soul and country music overtones.
"Don't Know Why" was Norah Jones' first single released in July 2002. Quickly it began receiving radio, internet and music video airplay. with in a month after it's release Norah Jones and the album "Come Away With Me" began sweeping the world. The song was written by Jesse Harris and originally appeared on his 1999 album, Jesse Harris & the Ferdinandos. Harris had a big role on Norah's album writing and/or co-writing 4 other tunes for the album along with playing acoustic and electric guitar. Although the song received a good amount of airplay and was received positively by the music listening public it only reached #30 on the U.S. singles chart.
The subsequent singles "Feelin' The Same Way", "Come Away With Me", "Turn Me On" and "Nightengale" also failed to spark high chart positions in the U.S. but continued to generate mega sales for the album.
Jones did however score fairly well on the singles charts in various countries. In Australia "Don't Know Why" reached #5. "Come Away With Me" reached #2 in Canada and #3 in Italy. Finally "Turn Me On" hit #10 in Canada.
Also included on the album Jones does a tasty rendition of the Hank Williams classic "Cold Cold Heart". The song begins with a simly infectious deep bass line soon accompanied by Jones' tinkling keyboard prowess. Jones sings the song with a Rickie Lee Jones sort of feeling and gives it a downbeat sort of soul. In it's simplicity Jones' rendition of "Cold, Cold Heart" is effective in reaching out to pull the listener in to the rustic emotion of the song.
About her music Norah Jones says, "I'm not soft-spoken and romantic, at all. I must be, somewhere deep down, otherwise I wouldn't like that kind of music. But I'm only like that when I'm on stage. I'm pretty much just loudmouthed, obnoxious, and silly."