Our Top 10 Etta James Songs list takes a look at a prolific singer who crossed over into different genres of music with great success. Her biggest hits are “At Last,” “The Wallflower,” “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” “Tell Mama” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” She’s known for her powerful and deep voice. She proved she could belt with a deep voice. Throughout her career she faced personal demons. She battled a severe drug addiction, abuse and incarceration. James was able to persevere and make a come back. She’s won numerous Grammy and Blues Music Awards for her work. She’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. James was discovered by a new fanbase when the movie Cadillac Records was released. Her character was featured in the movie and played by Beyonce Knowles. It’s time to get to know more about Etta James’ life in music.
Jamesetta Hawkins was born on January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012. Etta James got her start in music by being in a girl group called the Creolettes. They were an unknown group when she was discovered. She met musician Johnny Otis when she was 14. He took control over the group and helped them get signed to a record label. He changed their name from the Creolettes to the Peaches. He also gave Hawkins her stage name Etta James. After recording hits with the Peaches, James left the group to pursue a solo career.
James’ first album At Last came out in 1960. The album peaked at number 12 on the Top Catalog album charts. It features the singles “All I Could Do Is Cry,” “My Dearest Darling,” “At Last” and “Trust in Me.” The album sold over 500,000 copies. This album helped launch James’ solo career. The album was considered one of the best of all times. The Second Time Around was released in 1961. It features the singles “Fool That I Am,” “Don’t Cry Baby,” “Seven Day Fool,” “Dream” and “It’s Too Soon to Know.”
She released her eponymous album in 1962. It features the singles “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” “If I Can’t Have You” and “Spoonful.” Etta James Sings for Lovers also came out in 1962. The album only features one single “Fools Rush In.” The Queen of Soul came out in 1964. It features the singles “I Wish Someone Would Care,” “That Man Belongs Back Here with Me,” “Do Right” and “Loving You More Every Day.” Call My Name was released in 1967. It features the singles “I Prefer You,” “Don’t Pick Me for Your Fool,” “Call My Name,” “That’s All I Want from You” and “You Are My Sunshine.”
Tell Mama came out 1968. The album peaked at number 21 on the r&b charts and number 82 on the Billboard 200 charts. It features the singles “Tell Mama,” “Security,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Steal Away” and “Just a Little Bit.” Etta James Sings Funk was released in 1970. It features the songs “Tighten Up Your Own Thing,” “Sound of Love” and “The Man I Love.” Etta James was dealing with a lot of personal issues when she released her next project. She was facing a tough battle with drugs. Losers Weepers came out in 1971. The project features the singles “Losers Weepers,” “Hold Back My Tears,” “Someone” and “I Think It’s You.”
James released another eponymous album in 1973. The album peaked at number 41 on the r&b charts and number 154 on the Billboard 200 charts. It features the singles “Leave Your Hat On,” “Only a Fool,” “All the Way Down,” “Yesterday’s Music” and “ Just One More Day.” Come a Little Closer came out in 1974. James continued to deal with her drug addiction when this album was released. It was hard for her to finish recording the album because she was constantly battling her drug addiction. The album peaked at number 47 on the r&b charts. It features the singles ”Come a Little Closer,” “St. Louis Blues,” “You Give Me What I Want,” “Mama Told Me” and “Sookie, Sookie.”
Etta is Betta Than Evvah! was released in 1976. It features the singles “A Love Vibration,” “Only a Fool,” “Little Bit of Love,” “Leave Your Hat On,” “Groove Me” and “Jump Into Love.” Deep in the Night was released in 1978. It features the singles “Piece of My Heart,” “Only Women Bleed,” “Take It to the Limit,” “Lovesick Blues” and “Blind Girl.” James released Changes in 1980. The album features the singles “Changes,” “Night People,” “Mean Mother,” “Don’t Stop” and “Who’s Getting Your Love.”
Seven Year Itch was released in 1988. It features “Shakey Ground,” “I Got the Will,” “Breakin’ up Somebody’s Home,” “The Jealous Kind” and “Jump into My Fire.” Stickin’ to My Guns came out in 1990. It features the singles “Your Good Thing (Is About to End),” “Love to Burn,” “Beware,” “Stolen Affection,” “A Fool in Love” and “Out of the Rain.” The Right Time came out in 1992. It features the singles “Love and Happiness,” “Give It Up,” “Evening of Love,” “You’re Taking Up Another Man’s Place,” “You Got Me” and “Let It Rock.”
Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday was released in 1994. It peaked at number two on the Jazz charts. It features the singles “You’ve Changed,” “Don’t Explain,” “Embraceable You,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Body and Soul,” “The Very Thought of You” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” James earned a Grammy Award for this album. Time After Time came out in 1995. It peaked at number five on the Jazz charts. It features the singles “Don’t Go to Strangers,” “Love Is Here to Stay,” “The Nearness of You,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Willow Weep for Me,” “Teach Me Tonight” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Love’s Been Rough on Me came out in 1997. It peaked on number six on the Blues charts. It features the songs “Cry Like a Rainy Day,” “Don’t Touch Me,” “If I Had Any Pride Left at All” and “I Can Give You Everything.” James would go on to release several more albums throughout her career.
Etta James had quite a career. She worked with some high profile singers during her career. She worked with the likes of B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson as well as others. She faced a lot of personal issues but she didn’t let them stop her from releasing music. She kept going and released her albums. James was able to achieve success in different genres of music. There aren’t that many singers who can claim this right. They are known for one style of music. Etta James had a lot of singles so it was a challenge to narrow them down to 10 songs. This Top 10 Etta James Songs list will feature some of her best songs.
# 10 – Tell Mama
The first song on our Top 10 Etta James Songs list is “Tell Mama” from the album of the same name. The song has a southern soul sound. This song was released after James’ battle with drug addiction. The song was part of her comeback. The supportive song is about a man going through a bad breakup and she’s there to comfort him. She is metaphorically the “mama” in the song. She’s willing to take the woman’s place that broke his heart. The music was suitable for the theme of the song. It’s has an excellent brass arrangement and rhythm section.
The horn-driven song takes you to a different place. The drums give the song enough tempo to have listeners moving in their seats. This track was perfect for James’ voice. As mentioned earlier, she was battling drug addiction when she recorded this song. The drug abuse didn’t take over her voice. She sounds sassy. Her vocals are velvety and thick. She is fierce on this track. She doesn’t turn the song into a power ballad, but she does convince the listener that she’s the one he should want.
# 9 – Sunday Kind of Love
The next song on our Top 10 Etta James Songs list is “Sunday Kind of Love” from the At Last album. The song has a jazz sound to it. The longing song is about a woman searching for love that would last longer than a fling. She wants something real. This song was recorded years ago, but people can relate to it now. People want to find their true love and not a one-night-stand. The song has a smooth jazzy sound. The music is soft and relaxing considering it’s a sad song. The track has an orchestral swell, which adds to the emotion of the music.
The melody is similar to “At Last.” The violinist plays the song just like her other classic hit song. It has a similar accompaniment to “At Last.” Etta James’ vocals will make you feel emotional. She pours her heart out with this track. She mixes emotion with sassiness. She manages not to come off desperate as she cries out about wanting to have a lasting relationship. She wants what most people want. She just wants to be loved. She shows versatility by belting and vocalizing throughout the song.
# 8 – I Just Want to Make Love to You
The passionate song is from the At Last album. The song has an r&b groove. The naughty song is about making love to the man she loves. This is a remake of Muddy Waters’ song “Just Make Love to Me.” In his version, he doesn’t want the woman he loves to do anything domestic for him. He just wants her to have sex with him. In James’ version, she’s willing to do the domestic jobs as long as he’s willing to make love to her. Her version is a mid-tempo track. The guitar, piano, bass and drums lead the music. The song also includes a fantastic tenor saxophone that shouldn’t be missed.
The violin sounds regal and is a great addition to the song. It has a classic sound without being dated. Feminists may not approve of the lyrics because she comes across as submissive as she talks about wanting to do everything for her man. James sounds sassy while she’s singing about wanting a man to make love to her. Her vocals are gorgeous and gritty. She manages to make the song her own.
# 7 – Stormy Weather
The heartbreaking song is from the At Last album. The song has a jazz sound. This gut-wrenching song is about anguish. It’s a metaphoric song about losing the man she loves. “Weather” is a metaphor for how she’s feeling about the breakup. The song is a remake of Ethel Waters’ song. The string section gives the song a bluesy sound. The music has a classic sound. You can clearly tell this song was recorded many years ago, but the music could still be appreciated today.
The piano chords were designed to make the listeners feel emotional. The tempo of the music was befitting with her voice. It’s powerful and emotional. Let’s get started on her vocals. James sounds outstanding on this track. She sings with full-throated glory on the song. Her phrasing in this song is truly amazing. She sounds sublime. She uses a lot of grit and power to display the right amount of emotion in the song. She belts at the right time on the track. She does just enough without sounding too showy. She takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the track. She nailed the song and made it her own.
# 6 – All I Could Do Is Cry
The regretful song is from the At Last album. The track has a doo wop and r&b sound to it. The drama-filled song is about her sitting by and watching the man she loves marry someone else. Here is some trivia about the song. The song was inspired by James’ ex-boyfriend Harvey Fuqua dating Berry Gordy’s sister, Gwen. Gordy and Fuqua ended up getting married when the song was recorded. The music is beautiful. It blends doo wop, r&b and blues music perfectly. It’s a magnificent blend of music. The music sounds rhythmic and melodic.
The music is soft and soothing giving the listeners a chance to focus on Etta James’ beautiful and soulful vocals. You can hear the rage and heartache in her voice as she talks about her man marrying someone else. The pain feels fresh in her voice. It’s a terrible experience to lose the person you love to someone else and she expressed that pain brilliantly. She turned pain into art and it was refreshing. She has enough grit in her voice to give it the extra punch it needed to sell the song. The song is flawless.
# 5 – Something’s Got a Hold On Me
The next song on our Top 10 Etta James songs list is “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” from her eponymous album. The track has an r&b sound with a mix of gospel and soul music. This romantic song is about her being in love. It’s a simple track about falling for someone. The music starts off slowly and bursts into flames by the next verse. There’s also a moment when there’s no music playing and it allows James to focus on her singing.
The musicians are trying to take the listeners to church with their playing. The song picks up the pace after the first verse. It will make you want to get up and move around. The beat is very danceable. The music has an old school sound to it that could still be appreciated beyond its years. The background singers sound like a choir and give the song a gospel feel. James belts as if she’s singing a gospel song instead of an r&b song. Her raspy vocals were the perfect touch for this love song. She does a tremendous job belting through the song. The only thing missing was big power notes.
# 4 – My Dearest Darling
The seductive song is from the At Last album. The track has an r&b beat to it. The pleading song is about her wanting a man to love her and be with her. James is looking for that special connection with someone the same way as everyone else. The music is mellow. The musical arrangement is phenomenal. The string section and the horn section are superb. The music will leave you speechless. It has enough tempo to have you dancing. It’s the perfect song for a wedding as well as for slow dancing. The violinist isn’t playing any games.
The musician wants everyone to take notice of the violin portion of the song. James’ vocals are absolutely stellar. She practically screams the lyrics as she sings them. She’s trying her best to make this song a power ballad. She did a good job because she turns it into a power ballad. She uses the grit in her voice to the best of her ability. She has such a raw talent and it’s displayed in this song. Her tone is gorgeous. She showcases a lot of vocal control because she knows when to belt and when to bring her vocals down.
# 3 – Trust in Me
The controversial song is from the At Last album. It has a jazz and blues sound to it. The bitter song is about her father. As you may or may not know, James’ father is Caucasian. The song is about her wanting him in her life, but he doesn’t want anything to do with her. During the time this song was recorded, people weren’t accepting of children with mixed heritage. The song was appropriate for its time. It was a departure from her love songs.
Etta James was known for singing love ballads so this song was outside of her comfort zone. It’s also a personal song for her because she was dealing with issues with her father accepting her. The musicians turn this song into a killer ballad. They created just the right mood for the message she’s trying to convey. They take you to places you’ve never been before. The music will send chills up your spine. Etta James’ husky voice is breathtaking. She croons every lyric flawlessly. She sounds exquisite throughout the song. It’s easy to see that this song is personal for her because she sells it flawlessly. She hits this song out of the park. She vocalizes throughout the song.
# 2 – I’d Rather Go Blind
The sorrowful song is from the Tell Mama album. The song has a soul and blues sound to it. The poetic song is about her turning a blind eye to her man’s wrongdoings. She’s determined to keep him in her life even if she has to overlook the things he’s done. She begs him to stay with her. The music has a catchy beat to it. It will have you bopping your head while your listening to it. You will get lost in the music. The bass guitar is captivating and gives the song a bluesy sound. The horn section is show stopping. If you close your eyes and listen to the music, it will make you feel emotional. The musicians take the listeners on a musical ride.
Etta James’s vocals will take you to church. She has such a powerful and soulful voice. You can feel the raw pain in her voice as she’s letting the listener know the pain she’s going through at the idea of losing the man she love. Her singing will touch your soul. She hits high notes that are out of this world. She has incredible vocal control because she can go from zero to 60 in no time flat. She sells the song beautifully. This song could have easily been number one on our list if it weren’t for the one we picked.
# 1 – At Last
The number one song on our Top 10 Etta James Songs list is “At Last” from the album of the same name. The song has a pop sound to it. The iconic song is about her finally finding the man she loves. This is the song Etta James is most known for singing. It’s her signature song. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this was the number one song on our list. Everything about the song works. The musicians did a fabulous job with the instrumentation. You can get hooked on the music as soon as the violist starts the solo. The music is romantic and enchanting. It’s perfect for slow dancing. It could also be used as a wedding song. It would be appropriate because the song is about finally landing that special someone.
This sentimental song will make you feel emotional. There aren’t enough words to compliment James’ spectacular vocals on this song. Her voice will give you goosebumps. She belts in the right spots and knows when to pull back in the right spots. She made the right decision to sing the song that way so it wouldn’t be too loud or too soft. Tina Moore covered this song in the 1990s. Celine Dion covered the track in 2002. Beyonce also made this song famous again when she remade it, but James’ version is truly something special. There are other versions of this song but none compare to this one. This song deserved to be number one on our list.
Top 10 Etta James Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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