Recording Artists Who Released Five Consecutive Albums of Exceptional Artistic Growth

JOv2

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This is the flipside of Mike’s recent statement regarding bands that had a strong first album and then every album after that was decidedly weaker.

This thread should highlight artists who experienced a period of remarkable album-to-album artistic growth.

Ground rule: To focus on the truly exceptional, let's require a minimum of 5 consecutive albums that go from very good to excellent to magnificent.
 

JOv2

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Two come immediately to mind:
  • The Beatles
    • Rubber Soul (1965)
    • Revolver (1966)
    • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
    • The Beatles (aka "The White Album"; 1968)
    • Abbey Road (1969)
  • Miles Davis
    • E.S.P. (1965)
    • Miles Smiles (1966)
    • Sorcerer (1967)
    • Nefertiti (1967)
    • Miles In The Sky (1968)
 

LPJim

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Procol Harum: Self titled (1967, RI in '73); SHINE ON BRIGHTLY; A SALTY DOG; HOME; and BROKEN BARRICADES (A&M except Deram for original 1st).
 

Harry

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I'll add Simon & Garfunkel.

  • WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3AM
  • THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE
  • PARSLEY SAGE ROSEMARY & THYME
  • BOOKENDS
  • BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER
Their first album was mostly folkie-type stuff, had the strong song of "The Sound Of Silence" that was later adapted to be a hit single. It was even strong enough to be placed on the next album in its hit-single mix.. Each succeeding album built on the strengths of the prior one, and their final album BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER was laden with both hit singles and Grammy awards.
 

Rudy

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My first thought is Steely Dan. Regardless of which of the first three albums you start with, you end up at either Royal Scam, Aja or Gaucho. I don't hate on Gaucho like most of the Internet does, although they scrapped the best song from the album ("The Second Arrangement"). At worst, Gaucho maybe a plateau, and I'd have no issue of Aja being the high point. One could stretch this slightly to include Donald Fagen's masterpiece The Nightfly.

The Police are another one--they got steadily better with each album, and Synchronicity was a fully-developed masterpiece. None of them have done anything as good since then, although Sting has had some interesting albums along the way. Outlandos d' Amour was at best an average album for its day, but each album beond that was an improvement, and Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity each took the music farther along than anyone thought imaginable.

My controversial pick here might be The Beatles. IMHO they peaked with Revolver. So that leaves an incredible five-album run (UK, not the hacked up US versions) including A Hard Day's Night, Beatles For Sale (mainly for its Lennon-McCartney tunes only), Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver. I see Sgt. Pepper as a plateau at best. (Truth be told, I'll take the double A-side "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields" over anything on Pepper or for that matter, side two of the Magical Mystery Tour LP which includes those two tracks.) But I had to start with the UK Hard Day's Night since the album was primarily their own songwriting, which was really hitting its stride. And this five-album run shows how they evolved from their original "beat" sound to what they would become in later years (mainly the psychedelia).

Prince is a good one to look at, but unlike others, I thought Sign of the TImes was unfocused and bizarre, not the "masterpiece" others make it out to be. For me, his five album growth run would be Prince, Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain. That first album in the list was a solid funk/R&B record, and each album dialed it up higher and higher. Dirty Mind showed more of a rock edge, where Controversy folded in touches of New Wave music as well. 1999 (my favorite of all his albums) combined all of his influences and took the music to a place where he created his own unique sound and solidified it as the Minneapolis Sound, kind of a blueprint for all that followed. Purple Rain further honed that formula and brought his music to the top of the pop music charts. His last good album, IMHO, where the focus was more on pop singles than extended funk workouts. And I have to say that the B-sides through this era were legendary, easily as good as the album tracks if not better.

Rush -- I'd have to pick the run from 2112 to Moving Pictures. If evolution is growth, this is a prime example. They went from a prog rock high point to concise rock songs with a story and real-world lyrics. Although my personal favorite run is Permanent Waves to Hold Your Fire. 😁 (Excluding live albums in both cases.)

For Depeche Mode, I'd have to roll with these five: Some Great Reward, Black Celebration, Music for the Masses, Violator, and Songs of Faith and Devotion. But I'm going to cheat (sorry!) and include Ultra, a sixth album. Their first three albums were good synth-pop records, but they were somewhat lost in the fray until they came out with their fourth album Some Great Reward, where they finally found a formula for their unique sound and had recognizable hit songs on the charts, like the "why can't we all get along?" anthem "People Are People." (A song we sorely need in these times we live in!) From there it's an upward trajectory. Violator is the masterpiece among all these, but they continued to explore darker places on SoFaD and Ultra, which arguably has some of their finest songwriting. "In Your Room," in its original SoFaD album version, is my favorite of all their tunes. And Ultra has the three-song run of "Home" (very haunting), "It's No Good" and "Useless." They've had good music past these core five six albums, but I've heard nothing that reached them at their height.

The single and video edits of this tune completely change the mood. This one is best listened to loud. Better yet, loud in surround. 😁 The mix and production completely wraps around the listener--it's very cinematic.

 

rockdoctor

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I have to give credit to Enya.
Her first five were all superb, beginning with Enya-later retitled The Celts- then onto Watermark, Shepherd's Moons, The Memory of Trees and then the dynamic A Day Without Rain.
 

Rudy

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That reminds me that there was a 5-album stretch by Yellowjackets where they basically reinvented themselves and set the stage for all their future recordings.

  • Four Corners: Very fusion-esque, even Spyro-Gyra-like.
  • Politics: A bit subdued, and more jazz-oriented later in the album.
  • The Spin: Further drifting towards jazz, with some of saxophonist Marc Russo's finest playing, especially on the title track.
  • Greenhouse: Marc Russo leaves the band as a trio; the band adds strings on a few tracks, and Bob Mintzer guests on many of the tracks. A lot of new musical textures in their palette now.
  • Like A River: Mintzer is now a full-fledged Yellowjacket, and the jazz direction has fully set in.
There were two other albums in there. I wouldn't include a live album in a survey like this, and they had Live Wires released after Greenhouse. They also recorded an album under Bob Mintzer's name, One Music, for dmp Records--I've always called that the "lost Yellowjackets album." And actually, the transition between Greenhouse and Like A River makes more sense when you include One Music between them.
 

JOv2

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Procol Harum: Self titled (1967, RI in '73); SHINE ON BRIGHTLY; A SALTY DOG; HOME; and BROKEN BARRICADES
I have the first three -- definitely happening that far along. (I need to check out the next two. Thanks!)

I'll add Simon & Garfunkel.
At its finest Bridge does surpass Bookends; however, after The Only Living Boy in New York, the LP runs out of steam. (Why Don't You Write Me seems like a throwaway while that silly hand-clapping number never set well with me. I speculate that these two were added given Cuba Si, Nixon, No and Feuilles-O -- both of which are far more interesting -- were removed from consideration... We all know Simon is not prolific, so there just wasn't anything else in the can for the LP.)

My first thought is Steely Dan. Regardless of which of the first three albums you start with, you end up at either Royal Scam
I'm one of those that'd take it from the debut to Royal Scam 😁 (With Aja the overall shindig just gets too dang perfect, if that makes any sense. Be that as it may, man, I gotta say all things considered, Countdown To Ecstasy is hard to top.)

My controversial pick here might be The Beatles. IMHO they peaked with Revolver.
Yeah. I agree that from a songwriting viewpoint they've reached full maturity with Revolver; yet, no matter how I slice it, Beatles For Sale is a come down after A Hard Day's Night.

_____

There are quite a fair number of artists that delivered 3 or 4 straight (e.g., The Kinks, Randy Newman, Jackie McLean, The Who, Laura Nyro, Charles Mingus, Ry Cooder, Zappa), but 5 is quite a challenge. I thought hard about it today and came away with the following:
  • Joe Henderson-- the entire Blue Note run. In a word: Impressive with a capital "I".
    • Page One (1963)
    • Our Thing (1963)
    • In ’N Out (1964)
    • Inner Urge (1964)
    • Mode For Joe (1966)
  • The Byrds -- Notorious, with Croz' 3 songs and his participation on most the others, is a supreme achievement and caps a 5-LP journey that is stunning.
    • Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
    • Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965)
    • 5D (1966)
    • Younger Than Yesterday (1966)
    • Notorious Byrd Brothers (1967)
  • Stevie Wonder -- Probably the all-time best 5-LP run. Wonder basically goes from A to A+
    • Music Of My Mind (1971)
    • Talking Book (1972)
    • Innervisions (1973)
    • Fulling (1974)
    • Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
  • Bill Evans Trio -- This one is stellar -- the growth and interplay is beyond words...you feel Bill's kinship with Scott LaFaro (who tragically passed after the Sundayrecordings.)
    • New Jazz Conceptions (1956)
    • Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1958)
    • Portraits In Jazz (1960)
    • Explorations (1961)
    • Sunday at the Village Vanguard (1961)
  • Eric Dolphy -- Another growth cycle for the time capsule. By Out To Lunch Eric had moved beyond how jazz, per se, was generally characterized. This is not "free jazz" -- it is truly something else...and as melodic as all get out.
    • Outward Bound (1960)
    • Out There (1961)
    • Far Cry (1962)
    • Conversations (1963)
    • Out To Lunch (1964)
 

Rudy

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yet, no matter how I slice it, Beatles For Sale is a come down after A Hard Day's Night.
That was one reason I put my disclaimer in there--I'd include it only for the originals on the album. The covers could have been dispensed with but from what I understand, they were touring heavily at the time and rushed to get this one out. And yeah, to be honest, I rarely play it (once every five or so years, if that). It's the "flaw" in my 5-album run.

My only other way around it would be to really break the rules, omit the album, and put the first volume of Past Masters in its place, just due to the volume of great singles they had during this run of albums.

But when I'm in the mood to listen, the only records I really gravitate towards are the UK Hard Day's Night, Help!, the B-side of Magical Mystery Tour, and the first Past Masters anthology. I bought that LP box set and there are records in there I've never played. Makes me wonder why I wasted the money.

Stevie Wonder -- Probably the all-time best 5-LP run. Wonder basically goes from A to A+
This is one where I'd probably cheat and add Hotter Than July. Maybe. 😁 (It was huge here in my area and was arguably his last great album, aside from the new tracks on Musiquarium.) But yeah, I can't believe I overlooked Stevie. Anything prior to Music Of My Mind was a throwaway, except maybe the last one or two leading up to it which started to show how he was trying to get out of the generic Motown sound from the 60s.

Bill Evans Trio -- This one is stellar -- the growth and interplay is beyond words...you feel Bill's kinship with Scott LaFaro (who tragically passed after the Sundayrecordings.)
You could break your own rule with #5½ by adding Waltz For Debby. 😁 Never fails when I play Village Vanguard, I play the other. (For anyone following along, both albums were from the same gigs at the Village Vanguard.)
 

Mike Blakesley

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I recognize the greatness of Stevie's Songs in the Key of Life, but I thought it was kind of a bloated album. Some of the songs went on too long (I'm looking at you, side four) and with a bit of judicious editing and maybe a few of the less-commercial tunes left out, it would have made an absolutely killer followup to Fulfillingness' First Finale. As is, for me at least, it was what I would call a magnificent letdown. Super ambitious, for sure, but it didn't really seem to have focus. It was like he was trying too hard to do everything.

I would submit the following five-LP run of Elton John:

- Tumbleweed Connection -- almost a country vibe running through a lot of it

- Madman Across The Water -- he gets serious and very orchestrated

- Honky Chateau -- he strips his sound down and the inner pop/rocker starts to take over. Plus he finally finds the style that'll serve him up plenty of hits.

- Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The PIano Player -- still plenty of gravitas, but he finds a little more humor and lightness with songs like "Elderberry Wine" and "Teacher I Need You"

- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road -- he consolidates all the changes from the previous four into this spectacular two-album set. Has there ever been a finer opening song than this album has?

And he still had Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy waiting in the wings!
 

JOv2

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I recognize the greatness of Stevie's Songs in the Key of Life, but I thought it was kind of a bloated album
That story play does tend to play out again and again in pop music when an artist or group issues a 2-LP album: All Things Must Pass, the first three Chicagos, Uncle Meat, "The White Album", et al. -- all of these would have been stronger releases if paired down to a single LP.

I offer one more:
  • Nara:
    • Nara (1964)
    • Opiniao de Nara (1964)
    • O Canto Livre de Nara (1965)
    • Nara Pede Passagem (1966)
    • Manha de Liberdade (1966)
 
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JOv2

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You could break your own rule with #5½ by adding Waltz For Debby. 😁 Never fails when I play Village Vanguard, I play the other. (For anyone following along, both albums were from the same gigs at the Village Vanguard.)
Touche`! I actually have both together a 2-fer CD case: #5½ it is!
 

Mike Blakesley

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That story play does tend to play out again and again in pop music when an artist or group issues a 2-LP album

Yes, and there are lots more examples. Think of all the acts in the CD era who put out an album that fills a CD, but would have been a better album at about 40 minutes. (Such as, Say You Will by Fleetwood Mac)

I have 2 x-tra long albums that I whittled down to where they fit into one CD and they were made the better for it, back when CDs were still a thing:

The aforementioned Songs in the Key of Life
Neil Diamond's Hot August Night

Back on track, five albums from a band that I've always loved. They changed completely from one style of music to another over the course of their career:
Talk Talk.


The Party's Over - lots of danceable pop tunes propelled by a lot of programmed drums and synths.

It's My Life - a hit single in the title track, still danceable stuff, but lots of moody introspective pieces too

The Colour of Spring - the dance music and drum machines were all but gone, replaced with a much more organic sound -- but still good rockin' rhythms in most songs. This is probably their most accessible album.

Spirit of Eden - A huge stylistic shift to a more brooding, sometimes explosive-with-guitars sound that had virtually no top-40 potential, but gives more rewards the more you listen

Laughing Stock - a final leap into something called "post-rock," with almost all of the earlier band's sound gone in favor of a moody, intense sound that pivots between bright and gloomy, even though the core musicians and lead vocalist (Mark Hollis) remained the same throughout their career.

This group only did these five albums before they finally split up -- I suppose partly because no record company knew what to do with them.
 

Rudy

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That story play does tend to play out again and again in pop music when an artist or group issues a 2-LP album: All Things Must Pass, the first three Chicagos, Uncle Meat, "The White Album", et al. -- all of these would have been stronger releases if paired down to a single LP.
I think it depends on the album. I wouldn't change Stevie's album for anything. Although if I had to get rid of one side, it'd probably be the first side on the first record, and I'd replace it with the tracks from the 45 RPM record. ("All Day Sucker" beats anything on side 1, IMHO.) Stevie's Musiquarium I feel is one of the best anthologies of all time--three of the four new tracks are stellar, and the hits are perfectly sequenced across all four sides. Although I would have dumped the awful new track "Front Line" and included "All I Do" and/or "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It" in its place, as both of those were huge on local radio (the latter includes the Gap Band on backing vocals), even more than "Master Blaster (Jammin')."

Yet there are other two-LP sets that are better as a single LP or, as I've joked in the past about the White Album (of which I'm not a fan), it would barely make a weak four-song EP. 😁 Fleetwood Mac's Tusk could be trimmed to a single LP, only because some of the tracks seem repetitive. As long as the Stevie Nicks tracks were minimized (or eliminated) and all the Christine McVie tracks remained, I'd be happy.

Prince had two 2-LP sets among his earlier albums, and my opinion of both is split. 1999 only had eleven tracks, as many were the full-length versions that were longer than six minutes each. And I wouldn't jettison any of them. Yet with Sign of the Times I felt like a lot of it was filler (it doesn't help when even the hits from the album don't even catch my interest). I've played the former probably well over 100 times in my life; the latter, I think I got through it maybe two or three times since it was first released.
 

Rudy

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I've been thinking on this one for a few days now, and can't wrap my head around which five albums I'd pick.

Earth, Wind & Fire.

I'm of a couple of minds. First, if I include That's The Way of the World as the final album (it was their sixth), that leaves out their excellent first album. Their first two on Warner didn't do much, but that self-titled first album had all the signature elements we'd come to know over the years, as Maurice would fine tune the EW&F formula from that point up until they finally hit the big time with TTWOTW and topped the charts with "Shining Star." The only way I can make this work is if I cheat by including six albums, or if I'm allowed to remove The Need of Love (their unfocused second album). Or I really cheat by removing the two Warner albums and replace it with the 2-LP Another Time set, which is the first two albums, resequenced, a few years later after they became popular. But IMHO the resequencing upsets the balance of that first album.

I'm also of the mind that All 'n' All (their ninth) should be the penultimate, as this is where their influences all combined in one place (including Brazilian elements they incorporated more fully, despite covering Edu Lobo's "Zanzibar" on one of their earlier records, where it was more like an extended jam). Many regard it as their best album, and rightfully so. Yet if All 'n' All finishes the run, the first album would be Open Our Eyes, when they were in the middle of their upward trajectory, not the beginning. I'm also mixed about how I feel about Gratitude being in this series--I'm not a big fan of live albums, but the album also had six new tracks, and the live portion gave us a hint at what a live tour d' force the band had become, and captured a lot of the excitement of their band in that point in time.

My third vote might be for the run from TTWOTW to I Am, although the latter kind of reaches more for hits than the others. Yet it also includes some punchy work from the brass section. It's a great high-energy album but after All 'n' All, I see it more of a lateral move than growth. And that's leaving out Faces, the double-LP that followed, which is perhaps the last true EW&F album (and is a continuation of I Am in terms of development).

So it's essentially a nine-album stretch that I can't decide on where I'd start and end my five-album run...
 

Bobberman

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I will say Barry Manilow ( like him or not) had at least a good strong 5 album run starting With Barry Manilow II Which featured "Mandy" here are the rest
1, Trying to get the feeling 1975
2. This one's For you 1976
3. Barry Manilow Live 1977
4 Even Now 1978
5. One Voice 1979
After One Voice he started declining as his Followup album "Barry " in 1980 yielded only one hit. "I Made it through the Rain" but this was Manilow's peak period
 

Rudy

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This featured article showed up in the Qobuz app today. It was penned in 2018. We aren't the only ones who thought Stevie had an excellent five-album run!

Between 1972 and 1976, a young Stevie Wonder recorded five albums that would leave their mark on the history of Motown, as well as on the entire world of pop and soul music: A musical and technological nirvana that is still just as influential today.

He said it himself: “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes, doesn’t mean he lacks vision”. Stevland Hardaway Judkins - a.k.a. Stevie Wonder - had that vision between 1972 and 1976. During this short period he went from a young pop star to a revolutionary melodist and producer. In 1972, Little Stevie was only 22 years old but already had an impressive career under his belt. The musician, who has been blind since birth, had already proved to his fans that he knew how to do everything. Really, everything! It had been that way since he was 10 years old, when Ronnie White from Smokey Robinson’s Miracles introduced him to Motown’s charismatic boss, Berry Gordy. His first hit came three years later (Fingertips, Pt.2) and it was apparent that the child star was a born hard-worker. However, he was imprisoned in a very restrictive contract that was drawn up by a cash drawer-obsessed Gordy. Stevie was the Motown boss’ circus freak, accumulating gold discs thanks to his masterful mix of soul, R&B and pop.

Stevie would have to wait until 1970 for his first self-produced project with Signed, Sealed and Delivered, a record that was rooted in rhythm’n’blues. On the day of his 21st birthday (May 13th, 1971), Little Stevie from Saginaw, Michigan, took back his artistic freedom and brought Berry Gordy the music he (Stevie) had always dreamed of. Becoming more socially and politically engaged, as well as being at the forefront of the latest musical technologies, the new Stevie Wonder recorded five essential albums, slaloming between soul, funk, rock, R&B and pop with wonderful originality: Music of My Mind (1972), Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976).


Supported by Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, two inseparable sound engineers from this fruitful period, Stevie Wonder explored the functions of all the synthesisers that were fashionable at the time (Moog, Arp, Clavinet) as well as the different recording, overdubbing and re-recording techniques. This exceptional multi-instrumentalist, who was just as at ease with the piano as he was with the drums and harmonica, was impressed by the musical and ideological concepts coming from the Sly Stone Family and would play Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On on loop, an album that was released in 1971 and brought Motown into its adulthood. With Music of My Mind, which was released on March 3rd, 1972, Stevie Wonder offered up his own musical and ideological vision of a period in which America was bogged down with Vietnam and ghettos were multiplying in the big cities. He was in total control on this new record and is practically the only performer on the album. Despite not being a concept album, Music of My Mind was thought of as an entity, like a novel with various chapters. For the first time, Stevie tackled adult topics, confronting the political, the social and the spiritual. It was a maturity that he coupled with technological experimentations linked to his meetings with Margouleff and Cecil. The mutation was praised by fans and critics alike, but the album had mixed success… His label was going through some radical changes: Motown left its historical stronghold to move to the Mecca of entertainment, Los Angeles. Thirsty for independence, Stevie spent most of his time in New York, a buzzing playground that he thought was much more creative.

Only seven months later, he recorded his fifteenth album with Talking Book, which came out on October 28th, 1972. Much like a certain Paul McCartney, the American was obsessed with melody. His compositions were thought up vocally. That’s not to say that instrumentation was insignificant, it’s just that he believed the melody should be able to hold with the strength of a simple voice. We see this with the hit You Are the Sunshine of My Life, on which he vocally jousts with Jim Gilstrap and Lani Groves. His fascination with the machines that he discovered with Margouleff and Cecil became even more noticeable on Talking Book. On "Maybe Your Baby" and especially with his masterpiece "Superstition" TONTO breaks down the genre's code. What’s TONTO? The five letters hide a huge orchestra of synthesizers designed by the two sound engineers. It’s an acronym of The Original New Timbral Orchestra, and mixes the Moog, SEM from Oberheim, ARP 2600 and Clavinet by Hohner with other machines made by Roland and Yamaha. Boosted by this polyphonic keyboard, the sweet pop and percussive funk compositions sent sparks flying.

Composing without a break, Stevie Wonder managed to surpass what many people thought would be his ultimate masterpiece. At just 23 years old, he poured everything into the ground-breaking album Innervisions which was released on August 3rd, 1973: his struggles, his phobias, his passions… Playing all the instruments (even though some guests such as Jeff Beck, Ray Parker Jr., David Sanborn and Buzz Feiten make an appearance) and covering topics such as drugs, ghettos, spirituality, politics, racism and obviously love with a capital L, the genius from Michigan achieved the ultimate fusion of soul, rhythm’n’blues, funk and pop. The sounds of the synth, which were completely new at the time, were mixed into spiritual soul and took on some pretty crazy melodies. With Innervisions, America found the perfect soundtrack for its most troubling times, for example the track "Living for The City" where Stevie evokes the nightmares of a young Black man from Mississippi who moves to New York in search of a job that he’ll never get before ending up behind bars (to make the 7-minute composition even more realistic, he integrates the sounds of the street, siren noises and dialogue from the arrest). There’s also "He’s Misstra Know-It-All", a poorly disguised attack on the president at the time, Richard Nixon. The album was a perfect complement to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On from two years earlier: goodbye all things trivial, hello the broken American Dream! This was also a very personal moment for Stevie Wonder. He engraved braille onto the original album cover of Innervisions, which read “This is my music. It’s everything I have to say to you and everything that I feel. Know that your love helps mine to stay strong.”

Only three days after the release of the masterpiece, Stevie Wonder had a near death experience. On August 6th, while on tour in North Carolina, the car in which he was riding hit the back of a 38-ton truck. He spent several days in a coma and remained in hospital for a long period before finally getting back on stage at the beginning of 1974. On July 22nd he released Fulfillingness' First Finale which placed him at the top of the charts, mostly thanks to the two singles"Boogie on Reggae Woman" and "You Haven’t Done Nothin’", another anti-Nixon song with the Jackson 5 in the choir. Often considered as the weakest album from this period, Fulfillingness’ First Finale does contain a few beautiful songs about human relationships such as Please Don’t Go and Too Shy to Say.

A long break then began before Stevie Wonder sealed off the golden period with Songs in the Key of Life, which was released on September 28th, 1976. After Fulfillingness’ First Finale his status as a star didn’t stop him from being increasingly repulsed by government policy. He even talked about emigrating to Ghana to care for disabled children, and rumour had it that there was a farewell concert in the pipeline. But on August 5th, 1975, he signed a mind-blowing 37-million-dollar contract with Motown and decided to create a complete work. Shutting himself away for two years, he reached a new pinnacle of black soul and white pop fusion with this double album (accompanied by an EP). Recorded in the Crystal Sound and Record Plant studios in Hollywood and the Hit Factory in New York, and involving more than 130 musicians and technicians, Songs in the Key of Life was conceived without Margouleff and Cecil. The tandem had jumped ship during the last sequences of Fulfillingness’ First Finale, exhausted and annoyed by the star's noisy studio environment.

At the heart of a genre that he alone had created, Stevie Wonder unfurled his unique poetry. Songs in the Key of Life is full of harmonies from start to finish. These songs displayed his sophisticated songwriting, uniting genres such as soul, funk, reggae, jazz (overtly paying tribute to Ellington on the aptly named "Sir Duke"), rock or even classical. We find instrumental experimentation and a wide array of topics, from light songs to bitter sentiments ("All Day Sucker") and more serious subjects ("Black Man", "Village Ghetto Land"). It’s a rainbow of flavours, a symphony of eclectic hits that later lent themselves to numerous rappers (in 1995, Coolio transformed "Pastime Paradise" into "Gangsta’s Paradise"). In contrast to his four previous releases, Stevie is surrounded by people here and there are big names from the jazz scene by his side, such as pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist George Benson, flautist Bobbi Humphrey and harpist Dorothy Ashby. With this album he produced a piece of work that would go on to influence music for years to come, from Prince to Michael Jackson. In just over two years, Stevie Wonder laid down a straight flush of essential albums. Romantic ballads, melodic pop songs or furious funk. Gospel, soul or pop. Divorce, religion or politics. Rarely does an artist fuse together so many ideas, sounds, atmospheres, instruments and words in such a short period. And even when he approaches darker subjects and hits a raw nerve, he always leaves a little glimmer of optimism at the end of the tunnel. Another one of his visions no doubt…
 

Mr Bill

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Rudy beat me to The Police! But with an almost identical arc was their label-mates Squeeze, who, like the Police, migrated to A&M from Miles Copeland's UK-based Illegal Record label conglomerate. And like The Police, they evolved from a guitar and drum-driven punk edginess to melodic, lushly arranged, sonic soundscapes.

1 - U. K. Squeeze
2 - Cool For Cats
3 - Arbybargy
4 - East Side Story
5 - Sweets From a Stranger

And, like the Police, this run would stop at five albums -- for a time. Leaders Difford and Tilbrook were constantly compared to Lennon and McCartney, a comparison that no one would want to be expected to live up to. That and personality-driven changes in band line-up took a toll and their "sixth" was strictly a Difford and Tillbrook affair that was just that, an album named Difford and Tilbrook.

Again, similarities to The Police abound with the various members doing solo work, just as Mr. Sting, Mr. Summers and Mr. Stewart Copeland did.

After a hiatus of a few years, Squeeze reemerged with former band member (and UK music/talk show host) Jools Holland returning to the line up. This time they didn't take themselves as seriously and eschewed the Lennon/McCartney comparisons, releasing Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti and two more albums before A&M dumped them, re-signed them after a release on Reprise then dumped them again. where they returned to Miles Copeland's I.R.S. Records and in a strange joint release with A&M on Copeland's new Ark 21 Records after I.R.S. folded...

Squeeze still records and performs today, with Difford and Tilbrook being the only constants in an always changing line up.

I would say another A&M artist that evolved across a five album arc would be Joe Jackson... From the punk roots of his first two albums, Look Sharp! and I'm The Man to the beatnik grooves of Beat Crazy and then from his take on the Big Band sound with Jumpin' Jive to his adult contemporary best seller Night and Day and Body and Soul (with the odd Mike's Murder soundtrack between those two)

--Mr Bill
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
Staff member
Site Admin
I'm not as familiar with Squeeze but they most definitely grew beyond the excellent tunes on Cool For Cats to make the single "Tempted" (from East Side Story). I was a fan of Mike + The Mechanics back when the group released their first album in 1985, and didn't realize that Paul Carrack (who sang on their hits "Silent Running" and "The Living Years") had also sung "Tempted." (He also sang the lead for the one-hit wonder Ace's track "How Long.")

Joe Jackson, too...that was an incredible 5- or 6-album arc, having reinvented himself a couple of times in that stretch. Mike's Murder was kind of overlooked but as an extension of Night and Day, so I'd be hard pressed to cut the 5-album run at that point, given the direction that Body and Soul took. For that matter, Big World was no slouch either, and that's where I feel as though he peaked.

Willpower is a favorite of mine, but nobody understood it--a neo-classical recording. I don't think many of his fans knew he was classically-trained, and the tune "No Parasan" was written years earlier as a piano duet piece, just as one example. If you believed the press at the time, you'd think he just up and decided to try his hand at making classical/instrumental pieces. 🙄 I'm not always fond of the instrumentation in places but the works themselves are (to me) notable. Unfortunately it scared most people away. 😁 "Nocturne" is one of my top five Joe Jackson tunes, in fact.

 

Mark-T

Well-Known Member
For something totally different than what was mentioned- I'll toss in Donna Summer (I was thinking Eagles but...)
She's not a strong favorite, but I cherry pick her songs and like many of them. I was forced to relook at her work after hearing This Time I Know It's For Real and was hooked on it. :) Anyway, here goes.

I Remember Yesterday- Songs styled decade by decade but ending with "I Feel Love" which is hypnotic and ahead of its time.
Once Upon a Time- a reworking of the Cinderella story that I have never heard in full but understand it to be groundbreaking in concept.
Bad Girls- enough said. Hard and soulful.
The Wanderer- Punk and disco mix better than I thought it would. She kept stretching herself.
Donna Summer- With Quincy. Still a fun listen proving she could sing anything.

I'd say the peak has to be her reworking of MacArthur Park. The suite version (of 17 minutes) is a great track to run to. Followed by that disaster with Barbra Streisand, Enough is Enough...
 

GDB2LV

Well-Known Member
Everything from her second album Love Trilogy through The Wanderer is excellent! I think she released more consecutive 2 record sets than any artists ever. Once Upon A Time, Live and More, Bad Girls, and On The Radio- Greatest Hits. She and Giorgio Moroder were a force to be reckoned with in the mid 70’s to early 80’s.
Thanks Mark-T.
 
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