When Beyonce released her latest album, “I Am … Sasha Fierce,” she stated on her official web site, “I am in a different place right now and I wanted people to see the many sides of me. The music is upbeat for the dance, fun side and it is reflective, passionate and serious for the personal side. I have taken risks here. I am not afraid and my music will explain it all. There is no label or tag on my sound.”
As “Sweet Dreams” this week makes its way to the Adult Contemporary chart at No. 29, while remaining bulleted in the top five of the Rhythmic and Hot Dance Airplay radio charts, the four Billboard Hot 100 top 10s from the album clearly represent four very different sides of the superstar’s artistry.
First cut “If I Were a Boy” signaled an intimate, acoustic turn, while “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” oppositely aimed for more core R&B/hip-hop audiences (ultimately becoming a pop-culture crossover smash). “Halo,” co-penned by OneRepublic‘s Ryan Tedder, fared best at mainstream top 40 radio, with its lush production and obvious hook. The current “Sweet Dreams” is perhaps the most pure dance song Beyonce has ever released, solo or with Destiny’s Child.
The variety of sounds in the set’s singles follows the tradition of albums that not only produced a bounty of radio hits, but also an artistic mini-reinvention on each track.
Many star acts have drastically evolved over years and albums – the Beatles, Elton John, Chicago, Heart, Sting – but when such a buffet of styles is evident on a single album, the dimensions of an artist’s creativity are magnified.
Here, then, is a sampling of 10 more pop albums over the past 25-plus years whose hit songs showed artists through a different prism with every single. (The philosopher Gump would describe the phenomenon in confectionary terms).
If variety is the spice of life, these artists found recipes for success when mining the many sides of their talents:
Cyndi Lauper, “She’s So Unusual,” 1983-85
Lauper will always be best-known for the joyous kitsch of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” but it was the evergreen ballad follow-up “Time After Time” that became her first Hot 100 No. 1. Third single “She Bop” featured textbook ’80s synthesizers, and “All Through the Night,” written by pop/rock singer-songwriter Jules Shear, found Lauper in a gentle, midtempo groove. The set’s guitar-based fifth hit “Money Changes Everything” took the singer to new heights (No. 37) on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.
Bangles, “Different Light,” 1986-87
Prince‘s (or “Christopher”‘s) pure pop “Manic Monday” gave way to the jangly, Byrds-like “If She Knew What She Wants” (also written by Shear). The quirky “Walk Like an Egyptian” continues to sound unique (Weezer‘s current “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” could be a distant descendant), and “Walking Down Your Street” found the band most closely channeling its earlier punk-pop influences.
Madonna, “True Blue,” 1986-87
The Material Girl’s third album showcased more mature sounds than the younger-skewed “Madonna” and “Like a Virgin,” with all five singles reaching the top 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Ballad “Live to Tell” led off, followed by the bouncy “Papa Don’t Preach.” The album’s title cut was reminiscent of ’60s girl-group R&B/pop, and “Open Your Heart” brought Madonna back to her dance roots. By the time the Latin-tinged “La Isla Bonita” topped Adult Contemporary, the musical (and lyrical) experimentation that would infuse later ground-breaking hits like “Vogue” and “Justify My Love” was becoming her trademark.
George Michael, “Faith,” 1987-88
Leaving behind the sugary, Motown-inflected “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Freedom” as the creative force in “Wham!,” Michael ruled the Hot 100 with four No. 1s from his solo debut. Billboard’s top album of 1988 yielded the controversial “I Want Your Sex,” the church organ-driven title cut, gospel anthem “Father Figure,” ethereal ballad “One More Try,” dance jam “Monkey” and swinging lounge number “Kissing a Fool.”
B-52’s, “Cosmic Thing,” 1989-90
The Athens, Georgia, troupe had been beloved in alternative circles for the left-field punk-pop classics “Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho” until “Love Shack” lifted the band to mainstream stardom. Follow-up single “Roam” balanced the act’s newfound pop success with its rock origins, as did the easy-paced “Deadbeat Club.” The album also produced two rock radio-exclusive hits most reminiscent of the group’s ever-eccentric earlier work: the title track and “Channel Z.”
Paula Abdul, “Spellbound,” 1991-92
After a run of four dance-pop Hot 100 No. 1s from “Forever Your Girl,” Abdul was anything but idle on her sophomore set, beginning with her first hit ballad, “Rush Rush,” which reigned over the Hot 100 for five weeks. “Promise of a New Day” approximated her earlier uptempo smashes, and Abdul then scored with two more keyboard-driven slow songs: “Blowing Kisses in the Wind” and “Will You Marry Me.” “Vibeology” found the singer exploring early-’90s techno territory along the lines of decade-defining hits both before (C&C Music Factory, “Gonna Make You Sweat”) and after (Haddaway, “What Is Love”).
Mariah Carey, “Daydream,” 1995-96
After singles from her earlier albums alternated between soaring ballads and dance fare, “Daydream” foreshadowed that Carey was a butterfly preparing to fly artistically. “Fantasy,” with its sample of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” began her transition to a more R&B-centered sound (“Honey,” “Loverboy” and other collaborations with hip-hop and rap contemporaries would follow), while quintessential Carey ballad “One Sweet Day,” with Boyz II Men, became the longest-ruling No. 1 (16 weeks) in Hot 100 history. “Always Be My Baby” melded pop and R&B with an acoustic undertone, and waltzy ballad “Forever” paid tribute to ’50s and ’60s soul standards like “In the Still of the Night” and “Unchained Melody.”
Avril Lavigne, “Let Go,” 2002-03
The then-17-year-old burst onto pop and adult radio with “Complicated” in 2002, and the set’s next two singles illustrated her range. “Sk8er Boi” played up her youthful punk image, while the pendulum shifted with the tender ballad “I’m With You.” Lavigne’s favorite song on the album, fourth single “Losing Grip,” presented a moodier, modern rock-leaning edge reminiscent of tracks on fellow female Canadian trailblazer Alanis Morissette‘s “Jagged Little Pill.”
Rihanna, “Good Girl Gone Bad,” 2006-08
Six hits deep, including its “Reloaded” re-release, the album sported styles suitable for pop, R&B, dance and adult radio, starting with the multi-format monster “Umbrella.” “Shut Up and Drive” interpolated New Order‘s “Blue Monday,” while “Hate That I Love You” emphasized guest Ne-Yo‘s signature adult R&B smoothness. Reviving Michael Jackson‘s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Don’t Stop the Music” was Rihanna’s furthest foray into dance since her debut hit “Pon De Replay.” “Take a Bow” sent the singer to her highest Adult Contemporary peak (No. 21), and “Disturbia” accentuated synth-pop stylings. The set also included her rhythmic/rock duet with Maroon 5, “If I Never See Your Face Again.” (By the haunting sounds of her new single “Russian Roulette,” it appears that Rihanna’s forthcoming album “Rated R” will continue her penchant for intriguing sonic sojourns).
The Black Eyed Peas, “The E.N.D.,” 2009
Not only did the act make Hot 100 history by remaining atop the chart for 26 consecutive weeks, but the songs that granted the Peas the record also spotlight their unbridled inventiveness. Following the trippy “Boom Boom Pow” and the melodic “I Gotta Feeling,” the group stirs up disco-era grooves with its latest, “Meet Me Halfway.” The album builds upon the variety of Fergie‘s 2006 solo debut, “The Dutchess,” which traversed rhythmic/hip-hop (“London Bridge,” “Fergalicious,” “Clumsy”), dance (“Glamorous”) and adult pop (“Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Finally”).