If you’re over the age of 25, chances are you can connect an Anita Baker song to some memorable moment in your life. Whether it’s from childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood, a memory that has an Anita Baker song as its soundtrack is something a great number of folks in the black community have in common. She’s right up there with Luther Vandross or Frankie Beverly and Maze when it comes to musicians whose work creates strong cultural and personal imprints.
Even if you grew up without the benefit of an Anita Baker song underscoring any of your milestones, it’s not too late. The chanteuse is slated to return with her first studio album in seven years this fall. The first single, “Lately,” drops tomorrow, and chances are, an entirely different generation will be fondly recalling this track when they talk about watching their parents slow drag in the kitchen, about the sound of laughter at a backyard barbecue where uncles and aunts played bid whist, or about the exact location and time of their first kiss.
In a recent interview with USA Today, Baker explains that she’s come to terms with the role of her music in the lives of listeners:
“I’d love to be the political voice of my generation, but that’s not my gift,” says Baker, taking a breather in the downtown studio where she’s laying down final tracks for the album. “Typically, the theme of my albums, if there is a theme, is, ‘How does it feel?’ And that always leads to love songs. It just does.”
Although she understands that she’s here to paint us portraits of love and healthy relationships, we wonder if she can really grasp how vast and wide the scope of her influence has been. In advance of the October 23 release of her new disc, Only Forever, we thought it would be fun to reflect on Baker’s influence on our romantic and social lives. Here are a few Anita Baker songs that have made it to the soundtrack of my life thus far:
1. “Same Ole Love” (Rapture, 1986)
Baker isn’t always known for her happy uptempo tunes, but this is one of the best in that category. I first heard “Same Ole Love” when I was seven, and the only part of it that really hit home with me was the “from beginning to end, 365 days of the year” line. It would be years before I would be able to make sense of anything related to romantic love, but I remember thinking then how permanent and consistent it was supposed to be.
2. “Angel” (The Songstress, 1993)
The plaintive notes on the word “angel” in the chorus really connected with me at 14 when I was well into the throes of a long, unrequited schoolgirl crush. Also, who’s seeing Ms. Baker’s line delivery on, “Ask me to go with you… you know I wi-iii-iiill!”? Who, I ask you?
3. “Giving You the Best That I Got” (Giving You the Best That I Got, 1989)
Ask any woman who was a little girl in the ’80s how she felt when she sang along to Anita Baker songs with a brush in her hand. She’ll probably describe the feeling with one word: womanish. “Giving You the Best That I Got” just made me feel strong and bewitching and, above all, grown. I still feel that way when I hear it.
4. “Fairy Tales” (Compositions, 1990)
This is one of precious few Anita Baker songs that can land with school-aged girls and grown women in the very same ways. In it, she reflects on her childhood belief in the simpleness of happily-ever-afters and how life experience gradually wrings that out of you. For the girl who still believes in happy endings, listening to this is the equivalent of finding out the Tooth Fairy is actually your mom. It toughens you and prepares you for what’s to come. And for Mom, listening to this is the equivalent of a sisterhood empowerment rally. It toughens you and prepares you for what’s to come.
5. “Sweet Love” (Rapture, 1986)
This song is a brilliant confection, but it manages not to sound nearly as vapid as so many popular love songs. When Anita says she feels no shame about being in love, you understand exactly how powerful a confession that is and how freeing.
What are some memories and experiences you connect to Anita Baker classics?