Top 10 Steve Winwood Songs
Like many of his fellow British rockers who came of age in the '60s, Steve Winwood's career crisscrosses with many of the era's legends. He was only 18 when he scored his first Top 10 hit, 'Gimme Some Lovin',' with the Spencer Davis Group; he formed Traffic by the time he was 20. He also joined Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in the shortest-lived supergroup of the period, Blind Faith. But Winwood had his biggest hits as a solo artist, reaching No.1 twice in the '80s. Our list of the Top 10 Steve Winwood Songs doesn't include any songs by Traffic (who have their own Top 10), but you'll find everything else.
Just like on his 1981 solo album 'Arc of a Diver,' Winwood plays all of the instruments himself on his third LP, 'Talking Back to the Night.' The album didn't make the Top 20 ('Arc of a Diver' hit No. 3), and 'Still in the Game,' the record's first single, just missed the Top 40. But its synth-driven pop paved the way for Winwood's bigger hits later in the decade.
Winwood opened up his fourth solo album to a bunch of studio pros and pals, who give 'Back in the High Life' a warmer, richer sound. It paid off with his first No. 1 (see No. 2 on our list of the Top 10 Steve Winwood Songs). The fourth and final single from the album features backing vocals by James Taylor and made it to No. 13.
After a four-year break, Winwood returned in 1986 with his fourth solo album and his most mainstream-leaning work. After the insular approach to the first three records, Winwood worked with other musicians on 'Back in the High Life.' The album reached No. 3 and spawned four singles. The mid-tempo 'The Finer Things' made it to No. 8.
Winwood got back to his R&B roots on his fifth solo album. Still reeling from the overwhelming success of 1986's 'Back in the High Life,' Winwood returned to the studio with more seasoned pros and checked in with his most soulful album since his days with the Spencer Davis Group. The title track (Winwood's second No. 1) was so soulful, he had to give co-credit to Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland, whose '(I'm a) Road Runner' served as, um, inspiration.
Winwood's self-titled debut solo album from 1977 wasn't a hit. So when he started making his second LP, he did everything his way, playing all of the instruments himself. Turns out he knew what his fans wanted. 'Arc of the Diver' hit No. 3 and went platinum. The album's first single, 'While You See a Chance,' reached the Top 10 (see No. 1 on our list of the Top 10 Steve Winwood Songs); the follow-up, and title track, missed the Top 40, but it's one of his most engaging solo cuts.
'Valerie' was originally released in 1982 as the second single from Winwood's third solo album, 'Talking Back to the Night. It made it to No. 77. But in 1987, after 'Back in the High Life''s four singles ran their course, the song was remixed for a compilation LP and reissued. This time, the song reached the Top 10. (They tried the same thing with 'Talking Back to the Night''s title track, which stalled outside the Top 50.)
Eric Clapton had a history of jumping from one project to the next, even back in 1969, when he formed Blind Faith from the ashes of Cream with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Ric Grech. He also recruited Winwood, after Traffic took a temporary break. Winwood wrote three of their only album's six tracks; the folksy 'Can't Find My Way Home' is the undisputed highlight.
Winwood was a 14-year-old organ player when he and his older brother formed a band with Spencer Davis. Within a couple of years, they had a No. 1 song in the U.K. Their classic R&B number 'Gimme Some Lovin'' (which Winwood co-wrote) became the group's biggest U.S. hit, reaching No. 7, and prompting Winwood to start Traffic the next year. It's still one of his greatest performances.
Whether he was growing tired of working alone, or maybe because he wanted a hit, Winwood recorded his fourth solo album with a studio crew that infused his music with some much-needed soul, which was lacking on the previous two records he recorded by himself. The LP's first single -- with Chaka Khan providing backing vocals -- shot up the chart and hit No. 1 (the song also snagged a couple of Grammys). The killer hook is one of Winwood's all-time best.
Like the No. 2 and 3 tracks on our list of the Top 10 Steve Winwood Songs, 'While You See a Chance' rides a massively huge hook. It was Winwood's first chart single in almost a decade (since Traffic's 'Rock & Roll Stew' barely cracked the Top 100) and biggest hit since the Spencer Davis Group's 'Gimme Some Lovin'.' 'While You See a Chance' sent his second solo album into the Top 10. More importantly, it bubbles with synth-pop futurism and some old-fashioned soul.