Usually, the term underrated is associated with a body of work that was never acknowledged to its full extent. Experts comment on the importance of that piece including the ironic twist of its influence yet lack of acknowledgement. These pieces of work tend to grow a cult following. Often, this work is praised amongst the who’s who of the industry. Moreover, those who recognize the work add a level of sophistication to their artistic taste. Nevertheless, the masses still ignore the body of work.
This list contains my top three underrated albums of the 1970s. This decade dealt with corrupt politics, acknowledging racism, voicing feminism, celebrating love, and defining freedom. All aspects we are dealing with now. These albums not only represented an audio groove of Black America, they empowered.
Granted, Patti Labelle is one of the most recognizable and influential artist in the world. However, before strutting out to her own tune, Patti Labelle, Sarah Dash, and Nona Hendryx (my personal favorite) formed the group Labelle. Choosing not to ride the wave of “Lady Marmalade”, Labelle’s follow-up album Chameleon shifted R&B onto the border of stylized glam rock and funk. Lyrical content is a standout on the album with my favorites the feminist, “Not Taking Your Shit” “Get Ya Somebody New” and the politically charged “Who’s Watching The Watcher?” Labelle offers melodic sweetness on the track “Come Into My Life” while summoning the Goddesses of Funk from within with “A Man in A Trench Coat”. Whether the time Labelle spent in London seeped through their signature sound or Nona Hendryx , who wrote for the album, influenced the group’s direction, Chameleon is heart-pounding, sing sista’ shouting badass album.
Sylvester live album Living Proof cemented his cult status as “The Queen of Disco”. Fused with pop, gospel, jazz and blues influences, this musical gem surpasses the Studio 54 stereotype associated with disco. Instead, Living Proof offered musicality to disco, a genre some critics declared a one trick pony. Recorded live in San Francisco, Living Proof is a joyride for the listener. Standouts on the album is the track, “You Are My Friend,” a love letter to a mellow mood ( originally recorded by Patti Labelle), “ Dance Heat” a heart pumping, calorie burner dance tune, and “(You Make me Feel) Mighty Real,” Sylvester’s most successful chart topper. Though the music catches the ear, it’s the message that catches the heart: Love.
Though moderately successful, Marvin Gaye’s I Want You perfectly captures the essence of the man, a sensitivity of strength. Marvin Gaye, Arthur Ross, and Leon Ware produced an album the exude sensuality with its racy lyrical content, subtle vocals, and mellow melodies. Standouts on the album is “I Want You,” the longing for and rejection of another, “Come Go With Me,” the epitome of newfound love “And” “After the Dance ( Vocal),” the possibility of the first time. I Want You is the testament that black men understand and are willing to explore love. If James Brown made us proud to be black, Marvin Gaye’s I Want You made us love.
The beautiful aspect of the recording arts is immortality. These exceptional albums continue to influence future generations with messages of love, authenticity, and unity. Chameleon , Living Proof, and I Want You are not out-dated melodies, but reminders of where we came from and how we overcome. If history does repeat itself, it’s a great thing these albums are our checkpoints.