No dance music producer has taken the pop world by storm harder and more successfully than Calvin Harris. Skrillex may have Justin Bieber on his side, but Harris has worked with many A-listers, from Ellie Goulding and Florence Welch to Ne-Yo and Gwen Stefani — not to mention the ever-ubiquitous chart princess Rihanna.
He doesn’t even need a guest vocalist to croon over his hits. He’s a one-man hitmaking machine, and previous to the astronomically successful 18 Months, he did just fine singing his own impeccable hooks. Some of his biggest tracks, including “Summer” and “Feel So Close,” remain self-sung originals.
The dance music producer reigns supreme over dance floors but fits comfortably beside any rapper, rock band or pop starlet. Ahead of his Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival performance on Aug. 20, we take a closer look at his four full-length releases, and even dare to rank them worst to best.
It’s not really accurate to call any Harris album “bad.” How do you shake a stick at the LP that set the record for most Hot Dance/Electronic Songs top 10 hits at one time? In October 2014, “Outside” feat Ellie Goulding, “Blame” featuring John Newman and “Summer” mobbed up the ranks at No. 7, No. 2 and No. 9 on the chart, respectively. It would be a landmark moment for any artist, but by that time, no one was too surprised. Still, we’re going to go out on a limb and say Motion was Harris’ weakest offering to date. Critically speaking, it was his least adventurous. Perhaps it was aptly named, because it sounds like Harris was just going through the motions that brought him success with its game-changing predecessor, 18 Months. “Slow Acid” is a standout risk-taker. It is a collection of beautiful, uplifting crossover house perfection, but it’s nothing we haven’t already heard.
I Created Disco
Harris’ 2007 debut is his least polished but most artistically interesting. It secured him a place among the kings of the underground at a time when dance producers pushed themselves to reimagine the electronic sound. It’s playful and edgy, completely written, recorded and performed by the Scottish producer in his home studio. It begat hits like the coyishly sleazy “The Girls” and the post-punk-meets-disco attitude of “Merrymaking at my Place.” His cheeky style hits a meta highpoint on the LP’s title track, when Harris tells the story of how he “created disco” on a lark in the mid ’70s, much in the way Daft Punk would have Giorgio Moroder tell the tale on record six years later. I Created Disco put Harris on the map, set him up for future stardom, and remains a fan favorite for disgruntled, discerning hipsters everywhere.
Ready for the Weekend
Harris hit his stride hard on his sophomore LP, 2009’s Ready for the Weekend. It carries the tongue-in-cheek gaiety of his debut, but snuggles firmly into the beginnings of Harris’ signature, hook-laden style. It shows clear musical maturity and a focus on distinctive voice and vision. It debuted at the top of the charts in England, and singles “Flashback,” “You Used to Hold Me” and the record’s title track made Harris a regular favorite of DJs across America. It satisfies both indie die-hards and mainstreamers who never meander off FM familiarity. It is undeniably infectious and perfectly produced, and for that reason, it’s absolutely brilliant.
This 15-track monster of an album bore eight hit singles and officially crowned Harris king of the EDM empire. He set records across the pond as well when it became the first album in history to spawn nine top 10 singles on the Official U.K. Singles Chart. Lead song “Bounce” featured Kelis over an iconic staccato synth melody, but it was the second single, “Feel So Close,” that shot Harris through the roof. His husky voice falls raw over simple and elegant piano chords to create main-stage perfection. By the time the jubilant drop kicks, the game is won. Harris followed that with the Rihanna collab “We Found Love” and found himself forever etched in the annals of pop history. Tack on megahits “I Need Your Love” with Ellie Goulding, “Sweet Nothing” with Florence Welch, and “Thinking About You” with Ayah Marar, and it’s hard to imagine how any record could challenge its glory. Also, this was the moment he became a super babe. Coincidence?