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From Smokey Robinson to Anita Baker: an ode to quiet storm

Amanda Parris
Listen to Marvin's Room, Nov 24th 2017

Marvin's Room with Amanda Parris on CBC Radio


The scene opens on a cosmopolitan, dimly lit lounge. Well-dressed people congregate, speaking in low tones, ordering cocktails with complicated descriptions and sipping martinis. This is the image that always comes to my mind whenever I hear the music commonly known as quiet storm. Named after the Smokey Robinson album that marks its origin and the mid-'70's radio show by the same name hosted by Melvin Lindsey, the subgenre quiet storm marks the sophisitcated, elegant and smooth soul potential within R&B.

Although it was birthed in the midst of the tumultous '70's and reached its creative peak in the '80's, the music of quiet storm rarely dealt with the reigning topics of the day: politics and dancefloors. Instead, quiet storm focused on crafting warm, intimate ambience. Often played on late-night radio stations, it was the music for the mature who could sit back and enjoy the textures and tones of music about love.

Here are four songs that perfectly capture the R&B subgenre known as quiet storm:

Smokey Robinson, 'Quiet Storm'

Legend has it that it was Marvin Gaye's album What's Going On? that inspired Robinson to dig inward and emerge with his very own conceptual album: A Quiet Storm. Describing his process, he said, "A butterfly caught up in a hurricane — the image suddenly came to me. I put the words in the song. I heard distant thunder, smelled the air before the rain.... a tender force.... quiet storm.... blowing through my life.... I finally had the musical concept I'd been seeking since hearing What's Going On."

Luther Vandross, 'A House is Not a Home'

The things that the late, great Luther Vandross could do with his voice remain unparalleled. On his 1981 debut album, Never Too Much, the final track is his cover of Dionne Warwick's song "A House is Not a Home," which he extends from it's original three minutes to a melodramatic, vocally dexterous seven-minute smooth soul epic. Just try watching this live tribute to Warwick without swaying. It's impossible.

Anita Baker, 'Sweet Love'

Anita Baker is the epitome of classic, refined and sophisticated romantic soul music and you can't help but feel “adult” when you listen to her. Baker defined quiet storm in the '80's and her album Rapture is one of the subgenre's milestones. Her music remains a staple of any radio show dedicated to late-night slow jams.

Sade, 'Smooth Operator'

Although they've been classified under a number of subgenres such as soul, smooth jazz and sophisiti pop, no quiet storm list is complete without the smooth sounds of Sade. Understated elegance and seductively smooth tones helped establish Sade as one of the most successful acts to emerge from the quiet storm era.

Marvin's Room Playlist for Nov. 24, 2017:

  1. Stevie Wonder, "Superstition"
  2. Beyonce, "Blow"
  3. Bootsy Collins, "I’d Rather be With You"
  4. Majid Jordan, "Not Ashamed"
  5. Cold Specks, "Wild Card"
  6. Etta James, "I’d Rather go Blind"
  7. Tanika Charles, "I am Your Woman"
  8. Percy Sledge, "When a Man Loves a Woman"
  9. Veronica, "Money"
  10. Cherrie feat. Z.E., "163 För Evigt"
  11. Anita Baker, "Sweet Love"
  12. Adria Kain, "Running Away"