Qobuz’s experts gather all the essentials of each genre. These albums have marked music history and become major landmarks.

With the Ideal Discography you (re)discover legendary recordings, all whilst building on your musical knowledge.

Albums

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Funk - Released August 21, 1973 | Epic - Legacy

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Funk - Released March 15, 1975 | Columbia

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Earth, Wind & Fire has delivered more than its share of excellent albums, but if a person could own only one EWF release, the logical choice would be That's the Way of the World, which was the band's best album as well as its best-selling. Open Our Eyes had been a major hit and sold over half-a-million units, but it was World that established EWF as major-league, multi-platinum superstars. Fueled by gems ranging from the sweaty funk of "Shining Star" and "Yearnin' Learnin'" to the gorgeous ballad "Reasons" and the unforgettable title song, EWF's sixth album sold at least five-million units. And some of the tracks that weren't major hits, such as the exuberant "Happy Feelin'" and the gospel-influenced "See the Light," are equally powerful. There are no dull moments on World, one of the strongest albums of the '70s and EWF's crowning achievement. ~ Alex Henderson
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Funk - Released November 11, 1975 | Columbia - Legacy

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Funk - Released January 15, 1977 | Warner Bros.

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Funk - Released November 21, 1977 | Columbia

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Earth, Wind & Fire's artistic and commercial winning streak continued with its ninth album, All 'N All, the diverse jewel that spawned major hits like "Serpentine Fire" and the dreamy "Fantasy." Whether the visionary soul men are tearing into the hardest of funk on "Jupiter" or the most sentimental of ballads on "I'll Write a Song for You" (which boasts one of Philip Bailey's many soaring, five-star performances), All 'N All was a highly rewarding addition to EWF's catalog. Because EWF had such a clean-cut image and fared so well among pop audiences, some may have forgotten just how sweaty its funk could be. But "Jupiter" -- like "Mighty, Mighty," "Shining Star," and "Getaway" -- underscores the fact that EWF delivered some of the most intense and gutsy funk of the 1970s. ~ Alex Henderson
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Funk - Released January 1, 1980 | Warner Bros.

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R&B - Released July 25, 1980 | Legacy Recordings

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Teddy Pendergrass was near, if not at, the pinnacle of a prosperous music career upon this album's release, which spawned two Top Ten singles. "Can't We Try," with its tender introduction, slowly builds into a dramatic vamp in which Pendergrass' domineering baritone clinches each lyric with absolute conviction -- an awesome display of vocal power and control. The compassionate number peaked at number three on the Billboard R&B charts after 16 weeks. Pendergrass did not lose any steam on the charts. The follow-up single, "Love T.K.O.," came on strong. His testimonial lead carried this crafty number to the second position on the charts, holding down that slot for five consecutive weeks before bowing after 18 weeks. However, the best track on this album is the duet with Stephanie Mills; "Feel the Fire," penned by Peabo Bryson, rings with passion and sensuality. Pendergrass and Mills' vocals strikingly contrast each other in an admirable way. The song was never a single release, but remains a constant on quiet storm formats. On a few numbers, such as the Ashford & Simpson remake "Is It Still Good to Ya," Pendergrass labors through the verses, struggling to find his form. Though a great song, it does very little for the former Blue Note. Notwithstanding, there are quite a few gems here. ~ Craig Lytle
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R&B/Soul - Released November 30, 1982 | Epic

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Off the Wall was a massive success, spawning four Top Ten hits (two of them number ones), but nothing could have prepared Michael Jackson for Thriller. Nobody could have prepared anybody for the success of Thriller, since the magnitude of its success was simply unimaginable -- an album that sold 40 million copies in its initial chart run, with seven of its nine tracks reaching the Top Ten (for the record, the terrific "Baby Be Mine" and the pretty good ballad "The Lady in My Life" are not like the others). This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul -- expanding the approach to have something for every audience. That alone would have given the album a good shot at a huge audience, but it also arrived precisely when MTV was reaching its ascendancy, and Jackson helped the network by being not just its first superstar, but first black star as much as the network helped him. This all would have made it a success (and its success, in turn, served as a new standard for success), but it stayed on the charts, turning out singles, for nearly two years because it was really, really good. True, it wasn't as tight as Off the Wall -- and the ridiculous, late-night house-of-horrors title track is the prime culprit, arriving in the middle of the record and sucking out its momentum -- but those one or two cuts don't detract from a phenomenal set of music. It's calculated, to be sure, but the chutzpah of those calculations (before this, nobody would even have thought to bring in metal virtuoso Eddie Van Halen to play on a disco cut) is outdone by their success. This is where a song as gentle and lovely as "Human Nature" coexists comfortably with the tough, scared "Beat It," the sweet schmaltz of the Paul McCartney duet "The Girl Is Mine," and the frizzy funk of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)." And, although this is an undeniably fun record, the paranoia is already creeping in, manifesting itself in the record's two best songs: "Billie Jean," where a woman claims Michael is the father of her child, and the delirious "Wanna Be Startin' Something," the freshest funk on the album, but the most claustrophobic, scariest track Jackson ever recorded. These give the record its anchor and are part of the reason why the record is more than just a phenomenon. The other reason, of course, is that much of this is just simply great music. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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R&B/Soul - Released July 4, 1983 | Epic

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Michael Jackson had recorded solo prior to the release of Off the Wall in 1979, but this was his breakthrough, the album that established him as an artist of astonishing talent and a bright star in his own right. This was a visionary album, a record that found a way to break disco wide open into a new world where the beat was undeniable, but not the primary focus -- it was part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk. Its roots hearken back to the Jacksons' huge mid-'70s hit "Dancing Machine," but this is an enormously fresh record, one that remains vibrant and giddily exciting years after its release. This is certainly due to Jackson's emergence as a blindingly gifted vocalist, equally skilled with overwrought ballads as "She's Out of My Life" as driving dancefloor shakers as "Working Day and Night" and "Get on the Floor," where his asides are as gripping as his delivery on the verses. It's also due to the brilliant songwriting, an intoxicating blend of strong melodies, rhythmic hooks, and indelible construction. Most of all, its success is due to the sound constructed by Jackson and producer Quincy Jones, a dazzling array of disco beats, funk guitars, clean mainstream pop, and unashamed (and therefore affecting) schmaltz that is utterly thrilling in its utter joy. This is highly professional, highly crafted music, and its details are evident, but the overall effect is nothing but pure pleasure. Jackson and Jones expanded this approach on the blockbuster Thriller, often with equally stunning results, but they never bettered it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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R&B/Soul - Released April 29, 1985 | Arista

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R&B/Soul - Released July 6, 1987 | Columbia

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R&B - Released June 7, 1988 | Elektra Asylum

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R&B/Soul - Released September 16, 1988 | Epic

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R&B/Soul - Released December 28, 1988 | Epic

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Funk - Released April 10, 1989 | Epic

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James Mtume's band Mtume hit its commercial and creative peak in 1983, when Juicy Fruit was released. The infectious, mildly risqué title song -- which contains the controversial lyrics "I'll be your lollipop/You can lick me everywhere" -- soared to number one on Billboard's R&B singles chart and ended up being sampled by quite a few hip-hoppers, including the late Notorious B.I.G. (who used the infectious gem on his 1994 hit "Juicy"). Some of the people who heard the "Juicy Fruit" single on the radio back in 1983 bought the single but not the album, which is a shame because the other tracks are also excellent. In fact, many of Mtume's hardcore fans agree that Juicy Fruit is the band's most essential album. This LP came at a time when funk was becoming increasingly technology-minded. Horn-driven funk bands were going out of style, and funksters were using a lot more keyboards and synthesizers. Juicy Fruit reflects that evolution; although not totally electronic, funk/urban pearls like "Hips" and "Ready for Your Love" are very keyboard-minded. Only one horn player is employed on this release: jazz saxophonist Gary Bartz, who did his share of R&B sessions in the late '70s and early '80s but eventually returned to being a full-time jazz improviser. Throughout Juicy Fruit, James Mtume takes a very hands-on approach -- in addition to producing the album and co-writing much of the material, he plays keyboards and provides some of the lead vocals (along with the expressive, big-voiced Tawatha Agee). Juicy Fruit isn't the only worthwhile album that James Mtume's band came out with in the '80s; as a rule, his '80s output was solid. But if you must limit yourself to one Mtume release, Juicy Fruit would be the best choice. ~ Alex Henderson
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Soul - Released June 9, 1991 | Legacy - Epic Associated

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A major turning point for the O'Jays, Back Stabbers took the group to the top of the charts and made them household names in the R&B world. The O'Jays had been paying serious dues since the late '50s, and their perseverance payed off in a major way when the unsettling title song, the infectious "Time to Get Down," and the uplifting "Love Train" became their biggest hits up to that point. Indeed, this album did more than its part to help establish Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International Records as the most successful soul label since Stax and Motown. ~ Alex Henderson
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Soul - Released January 1, 1969 | Motown

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Best known for their silky soul vocals and smooth-stepping routines, the Temptations were firmly entrenched as the undisputed kings of Barry Gordy's Motown stable when cutting-edge producer Norman Whitfield walked into the studio and announced that it was time to shake things up. The resulting freakout became the first half of the stellar Cloud Nine, an album that would become one of the defining early funk sets, with songs that not only took Motown in a new direction, but helped to shape a genre as well. On one side and across three jams, Whitfield and the Temptations would give '70s-era funk musicians a broad palette from which to draw inspiration. The title track, with its funky soul bordering on psychedelic frenzy, was an audacious album opener, and surely gave older fans a moment's pause. Only two more songs rounded out side one: an incredibly fresh take on "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," which jazzed up the vocals, brought compelling percussion to the fore, and relegated the piano well into the wings, and "Run Away Child, Running Wild," an extravagant nine-minute groove where the sonics easily surpassed the vocals. After shaking up the record-buying public with these three masterpieces, the Temptations brought things back to form for side two. Here, their gorgeous vocals dominated slick arrangements across seven tracks which included "Hey Girl" and the masterful "I Need Your Lovin'." Funk continued to percolate -- albeit subtly -- but compared to side one, it was Temptations business as usual. It was this return to the classic sound, however, which ultimately gave Cloud Nine its odd dynamic. The dichotomy of form between old and new between sides doesn't allow for a continuous gel. But the brash experimentation away from traditional Motown on the three seminal tracks which open the disc shattered the doorway between past and present as surely as the decade itself imploded and smooth soul gave way to blistering funk. ~ Amy Hanson
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R&B/Soul - Released October 15, 1993 | Maverick

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R&B - Released January 1, 1991 | Island Def Jam

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Soul - Released January 1, 1971 | Motown

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Eddie Kendricks said so long to The Temptations on this early-'70s album, with the glorious "Just My Imagination" being his swan song. The song that everyone missed was their lengthy, imaginative version of "Smiling Faces Sometimes," which wasn't a huge hit for them, but became a smash for The Undisputed Truth. Although they were successful with Damon Harris replacing Kendricks, things would never be the same. ~ Ron Wynn