Some albums are so influential that they never go out of style. No matter how much technology changes, their greatness never does. These are the culture defining albums that have followed us throughout the ups and downs of life. From records, to cassette tapes, to CDs. to digital downloads, these are the albums we’ve owned on every platform since their release.
Thriller - Michael Jackson
Obviously, we’re starting with the best-selling album of all-time. Name another album where every single track is a single.
Purple Rain - Prince and the Revolution
There is no better transition between tracks than “I Would Die 4 U” into “Baby I’m a Star” into “Purple Rain.”
Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder
This is the greatest album of all time, and it’s not even close. Stevie Wonder is in his full musical genius bag on this one. I listen to this album at least once a month, because it just makes me happy.
Legend - Bob Marley and the Wailers
While I tried to stay away from greatest hits compilations, you can’t skip Legend. This Bob Marley collection is a brilliant representation of not just the Black experience, but the human experience.
Control - Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson - Control
Ask a middle-aged Black woman and I guarantee she has a story about how Control changed her life. “Control,” “Pleasure Principle,” “Nasty” and “Let’s Wait Awhile” are generation-defining classics.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Lauryn Hill
This is THE break up record. From “Lost Ones” to “Everything is Everything,” Lauryn Hill brilliantly takes you through every emotional beat of your heartbreak. It’s exactly what you need, when you need it most.
Rapture - Anita Baker
Anita Baker at the peak of her powers, destroying every other R&B singer in the ‘80s. Honestly, this is a masterclass of vocal perfection.
Confessions - Usher
Usher - Burn (Official Music Video)
Say what you will about the way Usher confesses to infidelity on the title track, this album was a clear signal that Usher was moving from heartthrob to R&B elder statesman.
Waiting to Exhale - Various Artists
This is the break up album for those early stages when you’re still deep in your heartbreak. This is what you need when you’re working through loss, anger and triumph when you get to “Not Gon’ Cry.”
Baduizm - Erykah Badu
Has any artist ever given a clearer view of who they are on their debut album? From the moment she started singing on “Rimshot” and “On & On,” Erykah Badu let us know exactly what kind of artist she was, and what we could expect from her music. And she’s never disappointed us since.
What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye is such a brilliant artist, he gave us music that made us fall in love, get up and dance and fight the system. And as if that wasn’t enough, all that music is timeless, so it still delivers an emotional release today.
Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite - Maxwell
Maxwell - Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder) (Official 4K Video)
If you’re a fan of smooth, romantic R&B—and why wouldn’t you be—Maxwell’s debut album is probably still your favorite. Don’t tell me you don’t still feel some kind of way when you hear his voice on “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).”
That’s the Way of the World - Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth, Wind & Fire - Reasons (Official Audio)
Look, you don’t need me to tell you that Earth, Wind & Fire are everything, but just in case, the group lets you know on this classic album featuring “Shining Star” and “Reasons.”
Sign o’ the Times - Prince
If I’m being honest, this could have just been a list of Prince albums. Every single track demonstrates a different aspect of his genius, but for my money “Adore” is absolute perfection.
Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston
From the minute Whitney started singing on “You Give Good Love” we knew we were listening to something special. Every song was a clear signal the we were in the presence of greatness and our musical lives would never be the same.
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