Aaliyah, whose real name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, was known as one of the princesses of r&b and the queen of urban pop until her life was tragically cut short. She was born January 16, 1979 and died on August 25, 2001. She got her start on the competitive show Star Search. Her uncle Barry Hankerson was a record producer. He signed her to Blackground Records when she was 12. He was the one who introduced her to singer/songwriter R Kelly. R Kelly became Aaliyah’s mentor and helped create her sound for her first album Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number.
Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number was released in 1994. The album received positive reviews. She changed the music game with her debut album. The album peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 charts. The album features the hit singles “Back & Forth,” “At Your Best (You Are Love),” “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number” “Down with the Clique” and “The Thing I Like.” The album sold over six million copies.
Despite her success, she wasn’t shielded from controversy. There were reports that she had a relationship with her producer R Kelly. In fact, there were reports that she went on to marry him. The marriage was controversial because she was underage at the time of their marriage. She was 15 and he was 27 when they got married. She admitted that she lied about her age on her marriage license so they could get married. Their marriage wasn’t considered legal because they got married without her parents’ permission. Once the marriage was annulled, she cut ties with the r&b singer.
The controversy Aaliyah faced because of her relationship R Kelly made it hard for her to find producers who were willing to work with her on her second album. She didn’t let the controversy stop her from making music. She could have easily given up, but she decided to keep recording. She worked with Timbaland and Missy Elliott. They were nervous to work with her because they were newcomers to the business. She also worked with Jermaine Dupri, Rodney Jerkins, Daryl Simmons and Diane Warren.
Aaliyah’s second album One in a Million came out in 1996. The album received positive reviews. The album peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 charts. The album spent an impressive 22 weeks on the charts. It features the singles “If Your Girl Only Knew.” “Got To Give it Up,” “One in a Million,” “4 Page Letter,” “Hot Like Fire” and “The One I Gave My Heart To.” The album went on to sell over eight million copies. The success of this album proved that the controversy didn’t destroy her.
She tried her hand at acting. She went to school for acting and was able to accomplish her goal as an actress. She made her acting debut on the television show New York Undercover. She landed her first major film role in 1999 when she starred in Romeo Must Die. The movie debuted at number two at the box office. Critics praised Aaliyah’s performance. She recorded the hit single ”Try Again” for the soundtrack. In 2002, she appeared in the movie Queen of the Damned. The film was released after she passed away.
In 2001, Aaliyah released her eponymous album. It was released a little over a month before she died. The album debuted at number two. Sales for the album stalled so the producers wanted her to increase the sales by releasing a chart-topping single. She went to the Bahamas to shoot the video for her single “Rock the Boat.” Unfortunately, Aaliyah died in a plane crash on her way back to the United States. After news of her death spread, her album sales spiked. The album peaked at number one on the Billboard charts. The album features the singles “We Need a Resolution,” “More Than a Woman” and “Rock the Boat.” The album sold more than two million copies.
Aaliyah’s career was short lived, but she managed to make her mark in the music industry. She competed with artists like Brandy and Monica, but still managed to have a career. She also paved the way for artists like Beyoncé, Ciara, Rihanna, etc. It was a little hard to come up with just 10 songs for this Top 10 Aaliyah Songs list because she has quite a few songs that could have made this list. This list will focus on some of her biggest hits. Did your favorite Aaliyah song make the list?
#10 – Rock the Boat
The first song on our Top 10 Aaliyah Songs list is the sensual “Rock the Boat” from the Aaliyah album. This midtempo song has an r&b sound. This arousing song is about her telling her lover how to please her sexually. Here is some trivia about the song. She didn’t want to compare having sex to getting high because she didn’t want her fans to think that she was singing about drugs. This song is bittersweet because this is the song she filmed a video for when she tragically died. Her vocals are sultry and sensual. Her breathy vocals were a perfect fit with the music. She sings the lyrics in a way that doesn’t make them sound dirty. The music has a Caribbean feel to it. The rhythms are hypnotic and make you feel like you are on an island. The chorus is simple and easy to remember. It will stick in your head after you are finished listening to it.
# 9 – More Than a Woman
The next song on our Top 10 Aaliyah Songs list is the mesmerizing “More Than a Woman” from the Aaliyah album. This up-tempo song has a pop, electro, and hip-hop sound. This promising song is about her being more than a woman for her love interest. The music in this song was a different sound for Aaliyah. It has digital strings, synthetic bass and guitar riffs, which weren’t often used in her songs. She usually has an urban and r&b sound and this one was more of a pop and dance song. The lyrics tell a story that she’s more than enough for her lover. The assertive lyrics are empowering for women who want to be more than enough for their significant other. She sings the verses in a lower register while she sings the hook in an upper register. Her voice sounds really good with the music. The only problem with the song is she’s a little hard to understand.
# 8 – Back & Forth
This laid-back song is from her debut album Age Ain’t Nohin’ But a Number. This up-tempo song has a dance, pop and R&B sound. This party song is about Aaliyah having fun with her friends on the weekend. This is the track that introduced the world to Aaliyah. This song is age-appropriate for her because she was a teenager at the time. It’s relatable to anyone who wants to hang out and have fun with his or her friends. R Kelly didn’t write a too grown-up song for her. It wasn’t about sex or love. It was just about hanging out and having fun. It is simply a song for dancing. Her voice shines in this song. She sounds similar to Janet Jackson. Aaliyah’s vocals are layered on this track. She has a catchy double in the chorus and throughout the song.
# 7 – At Your Best (You Are Love)
This soothing song is from the album Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number. This ballad has an r&b and soul sound. This is remake of the Isley Brothers’ song. This tender song is about the way she feels about the person she loves. This song was a break away from the hip-hop and New Jack Swing songs she was used to doing. She proved that she could sing a ballad. It was a nice change to hear her sing a ballad. This song proved that she was capable of doing more than just dance songs. The soft music gives the listener a chance to focus on her voice. Her voice sounds angelic. Her vocals are layered because she sings in a double towards the middle of the song. She keeps her voice simple. She doesn’t hold any notes, but she sings the song beautifully. This version is just as good as the original.
# 6 – One in a Million
This banger is from the album of the same name. This club ballad has an r&b sound. This loving song is about her telling the man she loves that he is her one in a million. Here is some trivia about the song. Radio stations didn’t want to the play the song because of the sound effects. The music has a quirky sound that will captivate you. The music is very synth heavy. It has a booming drum bass. The music has a futuristic vibe. Aaliyah took a vocal risk by rapping and singing the lines in the song. Songwriter Missy Elliott didn’t know how to write for singers because she has a rap background. She wrote the lyrics in a way so Aaliyah could sing as well as rap. Aaliyah pulled it off and did a good job. She made it sound easy and effortless. Her style made the song sound even better.
# 5 – Are You That Somebody ft. Timbaland
The next song on our Top 10 Aaliyah Songs list is the astounding “Are You That Somebody” from the Doctor Doolittle soundtrack. This up-tempo song has an R&B, pop, and funk sound. This sexual song is about her hooking up with somebody and wanting to keep it a secret. This song gave Aaliyah a chance to be a good but naughty girl. ‘She mixes her sweet and street personality in the song. Timbaland mixed a start-stop rhythm in the music and lyrics. The beat has half-second pauses, which makes the song sound different.
The music has a lot of different sounds. It features staccato guitars, beatboxing, and a drumming bass. For some reason, Timbaland included the sound of a baby crying throughout the track. The inclusion of the baby crying could have hit the cutting room floor. It gets annoying at points, but it doesn’t keep the song from being good. Aaliyah’s vocals are smooth and sultry. Her voice sounds pretty with every beat change. She was able to keep up with the start-stop rhythm of the beat.
# 4 – If You’re Girl Only Knew
This anthemic song is from the One in a Million album. This mid-tempo song has a funk and pop sound. This sassy song is about her putting a man in his place for hitting on her while he has a girlfriend. This song could have been a good thing or a bad thing for her career. It is the first single from her sophomore album. She faced the possibility of her album flopping because of the sophomore jinx.
She also had to overcome the controversy she faced when rumors swirled about her marriage to R Kelly. She showed the world that she could still be successful with this hit song. The music is funky and has a lot of keyboard and organ chords. It also has live drums and thumping bass lines. There are retro guitar riffs throughout the song. Handclaps are also included in the background. Aaliyah utilizes her lower register throughout the song. Her harmonies in this song are amazing.
# 3 – Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number
This controversial song is from the album of the same name. This ballad has an r&b, hip-hop and soul sound. This head bopper is about her longing to be with an older guy. The song contains a sample of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love.” Here is some trivia about the song. Aaliyah was accused of stealing the sample. This song is controversial because Aaliyah was 14 when she recorded it about having a relationship with an older man.
Art imitated life with this song because she ended up dating and marrying R Kelly, who was older than she. With that said, this is a good song. Her crooning was perfect for the track. Even though she was young when she sang the song, she poured her heart out as she was convincing the guy that she wanted to be with him. Her vocals are hypnotic in the song. The breathiness in her voice gives the song some sensuality. She sounds more mature than her age. The song is enjoyable if you can get past the controversy surrounding the lyrics.
# 2 – Try Again
This love song is from the Romeo Must Die soundtrack. This up-tempo song has an r&b, electro, dance, and pop sound. This infectious song is about love and not giving up if you don’t succeed the first time. Here is some trivia about the song. It was originally supposed to be an inspirational song, but Barry Hankerson wanted it to be a love song. The lyrics were changed so it could be a love song. The song has a positive message about not giving up if you don’t succeed at love. The music has a futuristic sound, which was a staple for Timbaland and his music. It is perfect for the club scene. Her vocals are sultry and blend well with the danceable music. It is easy to see why this catchy tune became her biggest pop hit single. It is a great song and could have easily been number one on this Top 10 Aaliyah Songs list.
# 1 – The One I Gave My Heart To
The number one song on our Top 10 Aaliyah Songs list is the powerful “The One I Gave My Heart To” from the One in a Million album. This ballad has an r&b and pop sound. This heartbreaking song is about the guy she loves breaking her heart. Songwriter Diane Warren wanted to work with Aaliyah. Diane Warren wanted Aaliyah to do a song that was out of her comfort zone. Here is some trivia about the song. Babyface was supposed to produce the song, but he wasn’t able to do it.
He suggested songwriter and producer Daryl Simmons to produce the song instead. This power ballad was more of a pop song than an R&B song. This song differs from her other songs because it isn’t R&B or hip-hop. Diane Warren brought out the best in Aaliyah. This song gave her a chance to show off her vocal style. She belts and holds notes towards the end of the song. This song proved that she could compete with other vocal powerhouses. She took the song to heights unknown with her impressive soprano voice.
Updated November 8, 2023
Top 10 Aaliyah Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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