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Madonna

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Rick James

Tainted Love

Soft Cell

Slippery When Wet

Bon Jovi
Slippery When Wet wasn't just a breakthrough album for Bon Jovi; it was a breakthrough for hair metal in general, marking the point where the genre officially entered the mainstream. Released in 1986, it presented a streamlined combination of pop, hard rock, and metal that appealed to everyone -- especially girls, whom traditional heavy metal often ignored. Slippery When Wet was more indebted to pop than metal, though, and the band made no attempt to hide its commercial ambition, even hiring an outside songwriter to co-write two of the album's biggest singles. The trick paid off as Slippery When Wet became the best-selling album of 1987, beating out contenders like Appetite for Destruction, The Joshua Tree, and Michael Jackson's Bad.

Part of the album's success could be attributed to Desmond Child, a behind-the-scenes songwriter who went on to write hits for Aerosmith, Michael Bolton, and Ricky Martin. With Child's help, Bon Jovi penned a pair of songs that would eventually define their career -- “Living on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” -- two teenage anthems that mixed Springsteen's blue-collar narratives with straightforward, guitar-driven hooks. The band's characters may have been down on their luck -- they worked dead-end jobs, pined for dangerous women, and occasionally rode steel horses -- but Bon Jovi never presented a problem that couldn’t be cured by a good chorus, every one of which seemed to celebrate a glass-half-full mentality. Elsewhere, the group turned to nostalgia, using songs like “Never Say Goodbye” and “Wild in the Streets” to re-create (or fabricate) an untamed, sex-filled youth that undoubtedly appealed to the band’s teen audience. Bon Jovi wasn't nearly as hard-edged as Mötley Crüe or technically proficient as Van Halen, but the guys smartly played to their strengths, shunning the extremes for an accessible, middle-of-the-road approach that wound up appealing to more fans than most of their peers. “It’s alright if you have a good time,” Jon Bon Jovi sang on Slippery When Wet’s first track, “Let It Rock,” and those words essentially served as a mantra for the entire hair metal genre, whose carefree, party-heavy attitude became the soundtrack for the rest of the ‘80s.

Andrew Leahey, Rovi

Thriller

Michael Jackson
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, Rovi

Synchronicity

The Police
Simultaneously more pop-oriented and experimental than either Ghost in the Machine or Zenyatta Mondatta, Synchronicity made the Police superstars, generating no less than five hit singles. With the exception of "Synchronicity II," which sounds disarmingly like a crappy Billy Idol song, every one of those singles is a classic. "Every Breath You Take" has a seductive, rolling beat masking its maliciousness, "King of Pain" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" are devilishly infectious new wave singles, and "Tea in the Sahara" is hypnotic in its measured, melancholy choruses. But, like so many other Police albums, these songs are surrounded by utterly inconsequential filler. This time, the group relies heavily on jazzy textures for Sting's songs, which only work on the jumping, marimba-driven "Synchronicity I." Then, as if to prove that the Police were still a band, there's one song apiece from Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers, both of which are awful, as if they're trying to sabotage the album. Since they arrive on the first side, which is devoid of singles, they do, making the album sound like two EPs: one filled with first-rate pop, and one an exercise in self-indulgence. While the hits are among Sting's best, they also illustrate that he was ready to leave the Police behind for a solo career, which is exactly what he did.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show was an invigorating record, but it looks like child's play compared to its monumental sequel, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a record that rewrote the rules of what hip-hop could do. That's not to say the album is without precedent, since what's particularly ingenious about the album is how it reconfigures things that came before into a startling, fresh, modern sound. Public Enemy used the template Run-D.M.C. created of a rap crew as a rock band, then brought in elements of free jazz, hard funk, even musique concrète, via their producing team, the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before. This coincided with a breakthrough in Chuck D's writing, both in his themes and lyrics. It's not that Chuck D was smarter or more ambitious than his contemporaries -- certainly, KRS-One tackled many similar sociopolitical tracts, while Rakim had a greater flow -- but he marshaled considerable revolutionary force, clear vision, and a boundless vocabulary to create galvanizing, logical arguments that were undeniable in their strength. They only gained strength from Flavor Flav's frenzied jokes, which provided a needed contrast. What's amazing is how the words and music become intertwined, gaining strength from each other. Though this music is certainly a representation of its time, it hasn't dated at all. It set a standard that few could touch then, and even fewer have attempted to meet since.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Best Of Volume 1

Van Halen

The Best Of Sade

Sade
It's easy to dismiss Sade as makeout music for Calvin Klein Obsession models, but she created an impressive body of work over the course of a decade, a series of moody singles with cool jazz passion and the kick of good R&B. All the hits are here, of course, from "Smooth Operator" to "No Ordinary Love."

Eddie Huffman, Rovi

Madonna

Madonna

Jason Derulo Free Track + Exclusive Video

Marry Me

Jason Derulo

Talk Dirty

Jason Derulo

Talk Dirty (en Español)

Jason Derulo

Cyberlove

Jason Derulo

Undefeated

Jason Derulo

Reloaded

Jason Derulo

Future History (Deluxe Version)

Jason Derulo
Deep down, R&B singer Jason Derülo is probably as complicated as anyone, but in pre-release press for his sophomore release he made the telling, youthful comment that “so much had happened” since he made that journey from 18 to 21. Granted, he went platinum and topped charts around the world, but for most that means the journey from being able to vote to being able to drink, along with a ton of other things that don’t seem so monumental down the road. Future History -- and that title fully displays the level of cleverness found here -- is an ambitious stab at growth in the pop-R&B world of 2011, where triumphant declarations of love are delivered over a sample of Toto’s “Africa” (“Fight for You”) and jamming together Robin S.’s "Show Me Love" and Harry Belafonte’s "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" (“Don’t Wanna Go Home”) gives you a shot at topping will.i.am. Derülo’s still saying nothing -- which is fine, since these are hooky, club cuts -- but it’s the talking louder that’s the issue, as cringe-worthy lines like “No matter, what you say/You always sound sexy to me/That’s when you know” are delivered with such conviction they become unavoidable. Luckily, the base formula remains the same as last time out, and when you parse out Future History in singles and slices for the weekend, titles like “That’s My Shhh” and “Don’t Wanna Go Home” come true.

It Girl

Jason Derulo

Jason Derulo Special Edition EP

Jason Derulo

Don't Wanna Go Home

Jason Derulo

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Make It Easy

We Are Scientists