Court & Spark: Joni Mitchell’s most textured and engaging album is the luscious Court & Spark, which features some of her most notable songs including “Help Me,” “Free Man in Paris” and her rendition of Annie Ross’s “Twisted.”
Elis & Tom: Brazil’s finest female singer, Elis Regina, and its finest composer, AntonioCarlos Jobim, joined forces on this sublime bossa nova masterpiece; their renditions of Jobim’s classic shave not been surpassed.
Heart Like a Wheel: A classic and highly influential album featuring sterling renditions of songs popularized by The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Betty Everett, as well as newer songs by The McGarrigle Sisters, James Taylor and Little Feat.
Phoebe Snow: Snow’s voice had a fluid ethereal sound and quirky sensibility that made her stand out from her singer-songwriters in the mid-1970s thanks to originals like “Poetry Man” and “Harpo’s Blues.”
The Changer & the Changed: Cris Williamson was one of the most beloved singers to merge from the 1970s lesbian feminist “women’s music” circuit and this folk-rock masterpiece features beautiful anthems celebrating nature, spirituality, and female sensuality.
Pieces of the Sky: Classic and modern Emmylou Harris was a folkie who grew to love country music through her association with Gram Parsons; her first significant album reveals her excellent taste in music and mastery of classic country (Louvin Brothers), contemporary country (Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton), and rock music (The Beatles).
Dreamboat Annie: Ann and Nancy Wilson translated their love for Led Zeppelin style heavy metal into a potent personal style on their debut, which introduced listeners to their approach on the rock classics “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You.”
First Night: New York cabaret singer evoked the melancholic beauty of Edith Piaf on her stunning debut, highlighted by dulcet performances of “Some Enchanted Evening,” Don McLean’s “Vincent,” and The Fleetwoods’s 1958 hit “Come Softly to Me.”
Rumours: Romantic drama fueled Fleetwood Mac’s rock masterpiece, largely known for Stevie Nick’s “Dreams” and Christine McVie’s “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun.”
Gail Davies: Davies was part of a new vanguard of female country musicians who wrote, played, sang and eventually produced their own music; her debut is a masterpiece with charming songs like “Grandma’s Song,” “Soft Spoken Man,” and the hit “Someone is Looking for Someone Like You.”
Parallel Lines: Blondie, defined by the voice of Debbie Harry, found the right balance of dance pop energy and punk attitude here landing at multiple stops including rock-disco (“Heart of Glass”), ‘60s pop homage (“Hanging on the Telephone”), and genuine punk rock (“One Way or Another”).
The Audience with Betty Carter: Bop songstress Carter was the most adventurous vocal improviser in jazz and this set finally captured her dynamic ability to completely transform standards, compose and perform her own original improvisational vocal showcases, and interact like an instrumentalist with her band.
Bad Girls: Donna Summer continued to expand the scope of disco and transcend it rocking out on “Hot Stuff,” sashaying to the dance floor on “Dim All the Lights,” and commenting on fame on the sassy title rack (“Toot Toot, Beep Beep”) and “Sunset People.”
Brenda Russell: Classic soul ballads like “If Only for One Night,” “So Good, So Right,” and “In the Thick of It” originated from the penand voice of singer songwriter Brenda Russell who invites you in with her gentle piano and intimate vocal delivery.
Rickie Lee Jones: Drawing on the rhythms and attitude of the Beats, the improvisational spirit of jazz, and the free flowing style of Laura Nyro, Jones was a fresh voice on her classic 1979 debut, which features her biggest hit, the loping “Chuck E’s in Love.”
Bad Reputation: Joan Jett emerged as one of the freshest new voices in ‘80s rock on this album; influenced by rock ‘n’ roll, glam rock, ‘60s pop/rock, and R&B she defined herself on the gutsy title track, “Do You Wanna Touch (Yeah)” and a rocking cover of “Shout.”
The Pretenders: The Pretenders delighted rock fans with their spunky guitar driven rock spotlighted on “Brass in Pocket,” “Stop Your Sobbing,” and “Kid” which established Hynde as a rock goddess.
Bella Donna: Stevie Nicks took a break from Fleetwood Mac to create her own sound, a sleek contemporary rock sound that was musically accessible (“Edge of Seventeen,” “Leather and Lace,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”) but still informed by her gypsy lyric mythology.
Chaka Khan: Chaka Khan’s most accomplished R&B album is a shimmering funk masterpiece featuring a soaring version of Michael Jackson’s “Got to Be There,” a smoking duet with Rick James (“Slow Dancing”), and a stunning “Be Bop medley” featuring lyricized versions of classic bop melodies.
The Key: Rocker Joan Armatrading explores a variety of scenarios related to gender in her muscular voice and contemplative lyric style, in a punchy rock setting with vibrant new wave-ish touches.
Madonna: The legend begins here with spirited, melodic pop (“Holiday,” “Lucky Star,” “Burning Up”) delivered with the right mix of spunk and funk; the videos made her an MTV superstar.
Private Dancer: After spending three decades in the shadow of her former husband/bandleader Tina Turner got the opportunity to interpret a set of quality new songs and contemporary covers that gave her one of the most spectacular comebacks in pop music.
She’s So Unusual: Cyndi Lauper’s eclectic pop masterpiece made mid-1980s pop a more vibrant, eccentric and interesting space thanks to smart, buoyant tunes like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and her luscious ballad “Time After Time.”
Whitney Houston: Houston’s supple voice and soulful phrasing made her the premiere pop singer of the age thanks to her interpretive prowess on dramatic ballads (“Saving All My Love for You”) and her light touch with dance pop (“How Will I Know”).
Rapture: Anita Baker made R&B music for grown-ups on this retronuevo masterpiece, highlighted by the dramatic sweep of “Sweet Love,” and lush, unhurried songs like “Caught Up in the Rapture” and “Been So Long.”
Control: Janet Jackson made the leap from anonymity to stardom on this funky collection of anthems that reflected her budding personal independence (“Control”) and assertive sexuality (“Nasty,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”)
Famous Blue Raincoat: Jennifer Warnes’s honey smooth voice and smart phrasing transformed Leonard Cohen’s famously dour songs into melodic contemporary pop, and yielded a few new classics including the Warnes and Cohen original, “Song of Bernadette.”
Timeless: The soulful Diane Schuur was one of the most exciting new vocalists in vocal jazz in the 1980s and the mastery of big band swing, ballad standards and blues, she demonstrated on Timeless assured listeners the tradition would continue to thrive.
Coming Around Again: Carly Simon reignited her career with the wistful title track and a series of songs addressing the perspective of a woman reaching middle age and reflecting on love, relationships, and the nature of desire.
Female Trouble: Nona Hendryx, best known for singing in LaBelle, is an adventurous musician who pulls together her different sides very convincingly on this entertaining mix of funk, rock, and dance pop.
The Lion and the Cobra: Sinead O’Connor’s debut is a moody portrait of a complex artist with an intriguing vision of politics, sex, and spirituality beyond the juvenile themes and tiring musical formulas of much 1980s pop/rock.
Trio: Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt did what they have always done best; drawing on the best of American music from a variety of era and genres tocreate something special; in this case a beautifully harmonized country-folk masterpiece showcasing the songs of Jimmie Rodgers, Phil Spector (!), Linda Thompson and Parton.
Used Guitars: Marti Jones’s Used Guitars is a sublime meshing of singer, material and arrangements. Influenced by pop, folk, R&B, country and even aspects of punk she synthesizes them masterfully on the songs of Jackie Deshannon, John Hiatt, Janis Ian, Graham Parker, and originals.
Lucinda Williams: Rocking, poetic, and romantic, Lucinda Williams finally stepped away from her country blues and folk influences and found her own voice as a writer on this blazing set featuring original versions of “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad,” “The Night’s Too Long,” “Changed the Locks,” “Passionate Kisses,” and “Crescent City,” covered later by Mary Chapin-Carpenter Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, and Tom Petty, among others.
This Woman: K.T. Oslin eschews the co-dependent sentimentality of country lyrics on This Woman by centering women’s desires in songs that reflect the upward mobility, sexual freedom and greater sense of choice available to women of her generation.
Tracy Chapman: Possessing a gift for melody, genuine narrative storytelling prowess and an endearing choked tremolo Tracy Chapman came out of left field to become the new voice of contemporary folk on her superb debut featuring “Fast Car” and “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.”
Absolute Torch & Twang: k.d. lang transitioned from a reverent student of country to one of its most trenchant writers and powerful vocalists thanks to the Bo Diddley-esque “Didn’t I,” the torchy “Pulling Back the Reins,” and the poignant “Nowhere to Stand.”
Porcelain: A gorgeous collection of sumptuous pop, lite samba, and jazz ballads written and performed by British singer-songwriter Julia Fordham.
Close Enough for Love: Shirley Horn was an interpretive magician; songs like “I Got Lost in his Arms” and the title song have rarely been sung with such intimacy, and she swings like mad on “Get Out of Town” and “Come Fly with Me.”
Like a Prayer: After five years of hit-making Madonna made her first serious concept album exploring faith, sex, and family on classics like “Like a Payer,” “Express Yourself,” and Keep it Together.”
Nick of Time: Bonnie Raitt’s nearly 20 years of dues paying paid off on this collection of performances; she captured the nuances of aging on the beautiful title track, along with radio friendly tunes like “Thing Called Love” and “Have a Heart,” and showed her blues roots on album cuts like “I Will not be Denied,” and “I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break my Heart Again.”
Mariah Carey: On her eponymous debut, Carey established herself as the new vocal standard in contemporary female pop-soul thanks to a dazzling range, a stunning command of gospel melisma, and a gift for writing and arranging memorable originals like “Vision of Love” and “Vanishing.”
Interiors: Rosanne Cash turned her back on commercial country in favor of the spare and searing confessional music on Interiors which uncovered the emotional layers of her marriage, and her identity.
Lying to the Moon: Nashville songwriter Matraca Berg finally got her chance to sing on her acclaimed debut, which introduced a host of contemporary country classics other singers have interpreted over the years.
Blue Lines: Massive Attack created the blueprint for what became trip-hop and vocalist Shara Nelson was their most outstanding voice, most notably on “Unfinished Sympathy” and “Hymn of the Big Wheel.”
Flying Cowboys: Rickie Lee Jones hit a second creative peak in the 1990s on this genreless mix of vibrant pop tunes, reggae, and folk vignettes.
Unforgettable with Love: After 15 years singing R&B Natalie Cole transitioned seamlessly to vocal jazz on this alternately lush and swinging tribute to her legendary father and the classic music that made him famous. [1991 Grammy Winner Album of the Year]
Blame it On My Youth: Canadian vocalist Holly Cole’s U.S. debut is a progressive blend of Broadway and pre-rock pop with songs by Lyle Lovett, Tom Waits, etc. that gels into a thrilling whole; a benchmark of ‘90s cabaret-jazz.
Diva: Annie Lennox redefined herself from the chameleonic front woman of the Eurythmics to the soulful diva of “Why” and “Walking on Broken Glass.”
Ingénue: After mastering country in the late 1980s k.d. lang turned her attention to crafting the smoldering torch pop on this collection of savory tunes, including “Constant Craving,” “Save Me,” and “Miss Chatelaine.”
What’s the 411?: Mary J. Blige’s unique fusion of soul music and hip-hop production birthed hip-hop soul and instantly redefined black pop in the early 1990s.
Check out Part 3: 1993-2017!
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