No pop historian in the business right now is as successful at reinventing top 40's past as Bruno Mars. Since his emergence, the singer-songwriter has displayed the ability to capture the essence of what made so many of the greats' music timeless, making him one of the most consistently popular artists of his era.
That trend should only continue with Bruno Mars' latest album, 24K Magic, released Friday (Nov. 18), which pays homage to any number of pop performers from his canon, in winking tributes that still keep one foot (or at least a couple of toes) in the present.
Here's a track-by-track guide to 24K Magic. Once you've fallen under its spell, check out some of the older songs that likely helped influence Mars' latest gem.
1. "24K Magic": Zapp & Roger
The title track and lead single from Bruno's latest synthesizes a bevy of influences into one of his most irresistible concoctions to date, but one will feel particularly obvious to '80s funk devotees from the first seconds of Mars' heavily vocodered hit. Zapp & Roger made a career out of such synthetic vocals and sparkling electro-funk, and it's not surprising that Bruno would borrow their swagger to get maximum bounce to the ounce for his comeback smash.
2. "Chunky": Cameo
If you're talking a slow-and-easy strut based on sweet synths and gently popping bass, you gotta invoke the type's all-time gold standard: Cameo's 1986 pop-funk classic "Candy," which the second track on Bruno's new LP echoes down to the letter structure of its one-word title. Also bubbling under the chorus to this one: a little bit of "Outstanding," the 1983 Billboard R&B No. 1 hit by Mars' old friends The Gap Band.
3. "Perm": James Brown
Reaching back a little further than most of the MTV-era grooves on 24K Magic, "Perm" channels the Godfather of Soul for the album's sweatiest workout. Bruno already went a little James Brown on the album's title track ("I'm a dangerous MAN with some money in my pocket!"), but here, he and his band go full JB's, with a superbad soul shuffle featuring Mars in near spoken-word form as he offers his whoopingest rasp over the track: "Throw some PERM on your attitude!"
4. "That's What I Like": Jodeci
"That's What I Like" is one of the least obviously past-indebted jams on 24K Magic -- unlike much of the album, you might get through the whole track without getting any particular sense of deja vu. But if you're transported somewhere by it, it's probably more to the early '90s than the '80s -- to R&B that had a little bit of a New Jack Swing and hip-hop edge to it, like the horny harmonies and Uptown production of early Jodeci.
5. "Versace on the Floor": Freddie Jackson
Nobody's storm was quieter in the mid '80s than soul balladeer Freddie Jackson's, with eternal slow jams like "You Are My Lady" and "Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times Sake)". The latter crossover hit in particular reverberates throughout Bruno's show-stopping 24K Magic centerpiece, with Jackson's aqueous synths and breezy guitars providing the plushest of beds for Mars to get intimate on.
6. "Straight Up & Down": New Edition
Not so direct an homage, but the playful lilt of "Straight Up & Down" carries a little bit of the popcorn-love bounce of New Edition's mid-'80s ballads -- even if Mars' decidedly PG-13 lyrical content might've been a little mature for the teen-pop crew back in those days. Also, can't repeat the phrase "Straight up" as many times as this song does without giving a shout out to Paula Abdul, undoubtedly still forever Bruno's girl.
7. "Calling All My Lovelies": Silk
A molasses-slow groove looking to get down tonight by any means, with massive harmonies and bass-voiced spoken-word pronouncements for punctuation -- should be recognizable to any fan of early-'90s R&B, in particular Silk's Hot 100-topper "Freak Me." And even though the song certainly didn't need any extra 1993 juice, an answering-machine message from Halle Berry and a shoutout to Iesha -- last repped for in pop music by a contemporaneous Another Bad Creation hit -- set the early Clinton-era mood particularly well.
8. "Finesse": Bobby Brown
"Straight Up & Down" might've given you light Bobby B flashbacks, but within five seconds of hearing "Finesse" you'll be searching for Ghostbusters 2 on Netflix without even realizing it. Indeed, the penultimate track on 24K Magic feels like Bobby Brown's entire Don't Be Cruel album condensed into one three-minute floor-filler - everything from Bruno's tightly clipped vocal delivery to the orchestral-stab synths to (of course) the song's slamming New Jack beat.
9. "Too Good to Say Goodbye": Luther Vandross
For a big closing ballad with oversized emotions and vocals reaching to the heavens, no better standard to be measured against the Luther Vandross, one of the biggest R&B presences of the late '80s and early '90s. Bruno's closer also touches on a little of Diana Ross' version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on its chorus, and that sitar-inflected intro leaves the R&B world altogether for Vandross' preeminent peers in rock power-balladry: Bon Jovi.