Great R&B and Soul Albums

Favourite R&B And Soul Albums

I confess to not having heard every single R&B and soul album ever made so this list is made up of great R&B and soul albums I have heard or that I already own.

You may believe that any Great R&B album list is not the real thing without some Robert Johnson or Rolling Stones.

Your tastes in female vocals may not be like mine - I prefer my soul singers a little raw with their delivery - emotional girls who keep it real so apologies to those other talented ladies like Brandy, Monica, Whitney and Mariah.

These great R&B albums are all best-sellers.

They have also been a huge influence on other artists.

I hope you enjoy this list.

Marvin Gaye - What's Going On

Marvin Gaye was already pretty famous as both a singer and songwriter when, affected by the tragic death of his singing partner, Tammy Terrell from a brain tumour, he shut himself away in the studio for 9 months to rethink his life.

Already struggling with cocaine addiction and depression, he probably wasn't in the right frame of mind to be starting a Motown tour so instead he made this album.

What's Going On is really an album about Gaye's sadness, his disaffection with the social injustice in the streets and especially with the Vietnam War. it is Motown's 'protest' album and was a huge success in spite of Berry Gordy not wanting it to be made.

In Marvin Gaye's life at this time, it was the only thing he wanted to do and yet, it was released in 1971, almost 4 years after most protest songs had made the news and 2 years after Motown's biggest anti-Vietnam protest song, 'War' by Edwin Starr.

It was as if he was deliberately casting off his 'hit making' shackles to make a very different sort of soul album

What's Going On became Marvin Gaye's 'project', 9 months with Motown's best session musicians and songs that he believed in.

It is one of Rolling Stone magazine's Top 10 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You

Amazingly, this album was Aretha Franklin's tenth!

Aretha Franklin had hit albums before this one with Columbia Records but spent too many years in the early 60s recording songs which did not allow the public to hear her at her best.

Her early 60s albums and singles were all hit records but belonged in the similar cute style of many other female artists.

Then she switched over to Atlantic Records and someone decided to let her record Otis Redding's 'Respect' as the opening track.

The rest is history. Her recording of Sam Cooke's Good Times is also worthy of mention here but this was a great album from first to last, it was like Aretha had finally opened up to her audience.

'Respect' was something else! It put the gospel back into Franklin's up until then watered-down pop singing. Aretha finally gave us soul!

She is still referred to as 'the queen of soul' but this album made her queen.

Nuf said!

Mary J. Blige - My Life

I had to decide on a MJB album and almost went for What's The 411 but settled on My Life because it is Mary J Blige proving that she could make a second album as good if not better than her amazing debut album.

I love Mary J Blige's honesty and rawness. Sometimes you listen to her sing and want to write her a letter to tell her it's going to be alright.

This album took a full year to make and has Sean 'Puff Daddy' Coombes at the production desk again and once again, he infuses Mary J Blige's music with his hip hop sensibilities and her voice just belongs in this groove, where soul meets hip hop in an effortless way - it was like this lady's voice was made to blaze a trail for a 'new' R&B sound.

After this album, there was no going back for R&B, it became more urban, more about the real lives of its listeners - Mary J Blige was one of the first and she is still blazing that trail now.

Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key of Life

Songs in the Key of Life has to be one of the top 10 best greatest soul albums ever released?

Stevie Wonder spent over a year making the album and it was released in September 1976 and spent 80 unbroken weeks on the Billboard Top 100.

Songs In The Key of Life was Stevie Wonder's first album after re-signing with Motown in 1975 with the agreement by them to allow him full artistic control over the next 10 years.

How they must have cheered when they heard Songs In The Key of Life, an ambitious double album with an additional E.P. as a freebie.

Stevie Wonder was at the top of the charts in almost every English speaking country worldwide and this amazing soul album has stood the test of time - listen to Sir Duke now on YouTube and enjoy the retro feel of it.

Stevie Wonder understood the value of great musicianship, he was a perfectionist and this album is damn near perfect!

Michael Jackson - Off The Wall

Before I get shot down in flames for suggesting this is a 'soul' album rather than a sort of disco inspired funk album - I think Off The Wall has enough depth song by song to be considered both a soul and R&B album.

Its track list reveals a lot of influences from both R&B and soul.

Don't Stop Til You Get Enough is a fusion of blues and funk with some Quincy Jones inspired orchestration pushing disco into the mix as well. Use of blues guitar is there for all to hear and this theme continues in a number of the other tracks.

An album filled with co-starring roles from other top musicians like Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Patti Austin and the songwriting chops of the likes of Rod Temperton and Carole Bayer-Sager, Off The Wall could not fail.

It was Michael Jackson's last album before he started to become self-conscious and it is its 'un self-consciousness' which makes listening to it such a joy.

An album released in 1979 just as pop video was becoming more popular, it also gave us all a flavour of Michael Jackson's amazing dancing - once upon a time he was the real deal; this album is living proof of his genius.

Prince & The Revolution - Parade

Parade was the album Prince & The Revolution made after the movie and soundtrack album, 'Purple Rain'.

Purple Rain was the ultimate Prince ego trip, the band were along for the ride and the movie was a hit, even if it all seems a bit cheesy now.

The Sound of Prince & The Revolution became more cinematic with this album as Bobby Z, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman were allowed some artistic input of their own. Sadly, they were not credited with this and it was not long before rumblings began about disbanding.

Prince sacked Wendy, Lisa and Bobby and went on to make Sign O The Times without them but had already surrounded himself with a mixture of musicians, non-musicians and dancers with whom he would appear in videos, in spite of making most of his albums alone.

Parade is like a snapshot of Prince & The Revolution at their height before the ego and then the record company spoilt Prince's creativity.

There is rumoured to be an unfinished Prince and The Revolution album called 'Dream Factory' with song writing by all of the band - it is probably in Prince's 'vault' - his hidden lock-up for the several hundred songs he has written but never recorded! What a talent!

Adele -21

And so to my final includion - you couldn't expect a British person to write an article and not include a great British R&B and soul album, right?

I could have chosen any number of albums - I love The Spencer Davis Group and then I quite admired Steve Winwood solo.

Could I include some Rolling Stones or maybe feature Roxy Music's Avalon?

Instead, I have gone from one of the most recent great R&B albums, Adele's 21.

Can someone as young as Adele really understand real R&B? You bet she can.

This girl has been listening to Etta James and Aretha Franklin since she was a baby and she has cited Mary J Blige, Mos Def, Rascal Flatts and Dolly Parton as big influences. She understands what it is to write songs from experience and honesty (like Blige?) and her performances have a spontaneous quality; you can hear the emotion is every phrase.

In many respects, 21 is the ultimate R&B album, a fusion of country, bluegrass, blues, soul, hip hop, pop and gospel; all genres which have over the last seven decades fed into R&B in its many incarnations.

Adele is now walking where other female vocals long to follow -and she did it all with a small Indie label!

So What Makes An R&B and /or Soul Album Great?

Well, if we knew the answer to that, we would all be in the recording studio doing our thing!

Great R&B and soul albums bring the best of other genres into their orbit. That is the secret, it's that simple.

Mary J Blige, Adele, MJ, Stevie Wonder, Aretha, Prince and Marvin spent a lot of their down time listening to the music they loved and that transfer becomes the most natural thing in the world.

Great R&B and soul albums have heart - and in these albums, that heart is still beating today.

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Comments 32 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Sherry, many thanks for reading. I have quite eclectic tastes and most of these have stayed in my collection to occasionally dip into.

Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

Jools99: You have great taste in music. This is a wonderful list, I'll be sharing it.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Denise, thanks for your comment (and email). Adele has better to come but following 21 will take some beating! MJ - it breaks my heart that all of that talent was wrapped up in someone who clearly could not cope with the world. Marvin was amazing!

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

What a great list of R&B musicians, Julie. My favorite is Adele-boy, when she opens her mouth I just stop in my tracks and listen. What a set of pipes! "Someone like you" is one of my favorites from the 21 album. (I mean CD, hee hee).

I'm from Detroit, and what a tragedy it was when Marvin was shot by his senseless! I have to agree with your comment about MJ-strange, strange, strange! It's sad, really. Lots of wasted talent.

Two thumbs up and U/I/A will share it forward.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Maria, I knew this hub would appeal to you and your eclectic musical tastes. I have not heard of either Johnny or RL so I will go to seek them out sometime. I am less into 'old' blues than R&B though my hubby is a big fan.

marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

I stand with everyone you have and follow them all, the real deal.

Now are you at all into gents like Johnny Bassett, RL Burnside...the blues sounds moreso...always a good kick back sound for me too.

Jools, cool...voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Linda, I love Marvin Gaye - the real deal! Prince is a sexy bugger and I loved his earlier stuff but went on to be a big fan of Wendy and Lisa after the Revolution got the boot by him and I loved their music. MJ, great when young, later...we'll he was a strange young man.

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

What an amazing blast from my past! Marvin Gaye. I was so devastated when he was killed. Yet, his music lives on! At least it does for Sunshine. Same goes for MJ's music. I practically grew up with his tunes! I still love 'em! Prince. Weird, but awesome! Fabulous hub Jools!!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary, thanks for your comment. I think Michael Jackson was a great musician though he was a little weird as a person :o)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mike, thanks for your comment - both Amy and Adele went to the Brit school but I think Amy was more focussed on her jazz styling and Adele lacked a bit of focus at first. I agree that Amy's second album was a cracker but I s'pose it comes down to taste, as you say and Adele gets my nod:o) But Amy was a great talent, no arguments there!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Micgelle, thanks so much for your comment - I love Stevie Wonder; he's still writing great songs even today.

mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I'm not a big R&B Fan, but I have to say Michael Jackson was one of my favorite singers of all time. I did like Marvin Gaye, too.

Great review of these singers.

Mike Robbers profile image

Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

Jools it was so great to listen all these fab classics in this order and read about the artists at the same time :)

I truly loved your list,, Ι need to say though that you should have chosen Emin Winehouse instead of Adele as she is the one who layed out the blueprint for her and paved the way - actually I prefer Amy's voice and persona as well but this is my personal taste

thanks for your wonderful hub , pinned, shared and twitted!

midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

I simply love soul music. Stevie Wonder is a talent, though he is visually impaired. Some greats here, include Marvin Gaye and Aretha...soul won't be the same without them! Thanks for sharing.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Lybrah, I do like Alicia but I think she has stayed deliberately more 'non mainstream' so I have not heard a lot of her stuff. I will try to check her out a bit more! Thanks for your comment.

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Lybrah 4 years ago

I agree that Adele and Mary J Blige are great singers, but you should check out Alicia Keys. She is awesome.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

I get to say 'told you so!' :o), Brandi was someone I found by accident on YouTube, now I'm a great fan of hers. I had tickets to see her in the UK then that Icelandic volcanic dust cloud stopped her flying over and she cancelled all of the gigs - I'm still gutted now! Adele is amazing. If you get a chance to see her gig at Albert Hall on TV or elsewhere (YouTube?) watch it. It's one of the best gigs I have ever seen - boy that girl can sing (and swear!...a lot!)

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

OK...That does it. You are my great music connection. Went directly to first, find Brandi Carlile ( try to understand, I live a life, second only to a choice) Heard her sing "The Story," and I'll be damned if I didn't hear a subtle touch of Adele.....she's excellent. Then found "Hiding My Heart" by my gorgeous Adele......and the tears were flowing......WOW. That's all I can say.

Thank you Julie......Bunches!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Paula, it is always such a pleasure to get a comment from you - you encourage me to keep writing :o) If you can, try to download Adele singing "Hiding My Heart", its a cover of a Brandi Carlile song and she so nails it. Brandi must be so proud!

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Jools....I am familiar with all of these artists and like them too. I love Prince. No doubt. Mary J is quite good too.

At the moment, I'm having a love affair with Adele. I adore her voice, her style... Can listen for hours.... I get stuck on someone and listen until I just can't anymore! Her voice is so unique.....never heard one like it. She has a stunning aura about her too.

Thanks for this great hub. You are so very talented, young lady and you write and write and write!! Bless your heart ...and your little finger tips!...UP+++

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Martin, how wonderful that you got to see Adele when she was doing her 'Across America' tour. I got into her first listening to her singing on small American radio stations live, just her and her guitar. The radio stations put them on YouTube and I kept telling everyone she'd be the next big thing. How great to see her live! I could not afford a ticket now :o(

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mell, thanks for your comment. FGlad you liked my choices. I like some of the newer R&B because it is a bit more raw and I like the electronic instrumentation but not the effin' and blindin'. But I am a sucker for the real thing - give me Marvin Gaye over Drake any day.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Alecia, thanks for your kind comment. I think you are spot on about MJ and Off The Wall remains my fave of his albums because it has everything! You are right about him being able to do any genre - musically he is a huge miss. I love Marvin Gaye - Heard It Through the Grapevine is my second favourite song of all time (behind Otis Redding's Sitting on The Dock of The Bay!) and I think What's Going On is a fantastic album.

Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

Once again good choices. I'm kind of sorry Adele is now a star. I got to see her live in a small venue.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi Jools, what I love about your choice is that you chose the 'proper' Rn B songs, I think the trouble is today too many records come under the 'umbrella' of that title, and to be honest most of them are just rubbish songs that manage to have something slightly in common with the real soul and R n B records, so yes I totally agree with your choice! lol! voted up and shared and tweeted, nell

Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

I love your choices. They are broad ranging and span the diverse lengths of R&B. I can't even really pick a favorite.

I give Marvin Gaye a lot of credit for switching his style mid-career. I remember Barry Gordy being hesitant but he finally relented. If I remember right, when he relented it opened the door for Stevie's landmark Songs in the Key of Life. That's pretty awesome to think they're tied together in that way.

About Michael, I think the thing is many people don't recognize how much he was able to incorporate other genres so seamlessly. In fact, I think you can see how he influences artists like Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, and even John Mayer to mix R&B with other genres to produce classics.

I could go on and on but the hub speaks for itself- voted up and shared!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

dwachira, thanks for your comment, gladd there were a couple that you liked.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bill, yippee...I've found some stuff you have heard on the radio :o)

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Thanks Julie! I am happy to report that I have heard five of these albums. I love your warning at the beginning...LOL great list!

dwachira profile image

dwachira 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Hi Jools99,

I was not surprised to see Marvin Gaye on your list, he was a talented singer and his hit song "Sexual healing" still hits big. MJ was my first expectation but am not disappointed either, great article and voted up.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Janine, many thanks for your comment. I think Adele deserves her place here; 21 is an R&B album no doubt about it - she has created a fusion album, she steals from the southern USA musically and then gets some urban beats to go with it - it's a brill album. I have the extended version where she sings a cover of Hiding My Heart Away by Brandi Carlile, one of my favourite singers - it's a real treat to listen to that song.

Janine Huldie profile image

Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

Julie, all great and wonderful R&B musicians in one place. I totally loved the inclusion of Adele, because she really is just such a talented and wonderful singer. I cannot believe how awesome her music is, she truly deserves all the accolades and then some. Have of course voted way up and shared all over!!

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