He's chiefly known for a string of big '80s hits, but Robert Palmer's music was always about more than the grinding riffs and thunderous beats of "Addicted to Love" and "Simply Irresistible."
Sadly, Palmer's career was certainly prolific – he recorded 14 studio albums – and highlighted by periods of commercial and critical success, but it was over far too soon. Palmer suffered a fatal heart attack on Sept. 26, 2003, at the age of 54, bringing a sudden end to nearly four decades of brilliantly eclectic musical adventures.
He'll always be missed, but the music survives, and in honor of his life's work, we're taking a few moments today to look beyond those smash hits with our list of the Top 10 Robert Palmer Songs.
'What's It Take?'From: 'Secrets' (1979)
Musically speaking, Palmer was always far too restless to pin down, but his lyrics were largely preoccupied with one thing: women, and how they get along (or don't) with men. This 1979 track is a fine early example of his knack for painting scenes of dark domestic discord with sunny arrangements and a bemused perspective, a recurring theme on our list of the Top 10 Robert Palmer Songs.
'Looking for Clues' From: 'Clues' (1980)
Palmer spent much of the '70s working in an R&B-infused rock vein with backing from Allen Toussaint and members of Little Feat, but like every other genre he'd explore throughout his career, it was a detour, not a destination. At the turn of the '80s, he switched things up, taking more of a synth-assisted approach with an assist from New Wave star Gary Numan. But as he demonstrated with 'Clues' – the video for which aired during MTV's first day of programming – Palmer remained thematically focused on telling stories about men haplessly outmatched in the battle of the sexes.
'Work to Make It Work' From: 'Pressure Drop' (1975)
Palmer felt compelled to revisit this song in 1999 for his Rhythm & Blues LP, but he didn't need to: He got it right the first time around, on 1975's reggae-infused Pressure Drop album.
'Lucky' From: 'Drive' (2003)
Palmer's commercial stock fell quickly after his '80s peak, and he recorded sporadically after the muted reception that greeted his 1994 Honey LP, but as this highlight from his career-closing 2003 Drive set proved, he retained his creative vigor. Constructed from a slinking, sideways guitar riff, cacophonous homemade percussion, and tightly stacked background vocals, it added a dash of exotic color to a largely blues-dominated record.
'Casting a Spell' From: 'Heavy Nova' (1988)
After he really hit the big time with the smash Riptide single 'Addicted to Love' in 1985, Palmer must have endured at least a little record company pressure to play it safe. To an extent he did, recording the similar-sounding Simply Irresistible and filming a nearly identical video to lead off the follow-up LP, Heavy Nova. But he still made plenty of room for left-field choices – like this hard-driving mashup of metal riffs and global rhythms.
'Flesh Wound' From: 'Riptide' (1985)
The year 1985 was busy for Palmer, and it brought yet another evolution in sound. After spending a few years dabbling in New Wave-influenced synths, he released a pair of records that fused R&B rhythms with hard-rock riffs. First, he joined up with the Duran Duran side project the Power Station, handling vocals on their successful self-titled debut LP before shuttling back to his solo career – with Power Station members in tow – to record his eighth album, Riptide. The record spun off a string of big hits that included "Addicted to Love" and "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On," but the deep cuts are just as entertaining. "Flesh Wound," for example, rides a thundering beat and spitfire guitar riffs, rocking as convincingly as anything in Palmer's catalog.
'Spanish Moon' From: 'Some People Can Do What They Like' (1976)
This list of the Top 10 Robert Palmer Songs deliberately focuses on songs he wrote or co-wrote, but he was also an extremely gifted interpreter with impeccable taste in cover material. Early in his career, he displayed a deep affection for the music of Little Feat, working with members of the band backing him during the sessions for a string of solo records, and he covered a number of their songs throughout his discography. It's hard to pick a favorite, but the best of the bunch might be his authoritative take on "Spanish Moon," originally released on the Feat's 1974 album Feats Don't Fail Me Now.
'Pride' From: 'Pride' (1983)
Exercise and healthy living were all the rage in the early '80s, with Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton-John adding "fitness icon" to their resumes and Richard Simmons exhorting viewers to sweat off the pounds. Palmer wasn't so sure how he felt about this, as he made clear in the tongue-in-cheek title track to 1983's Pride' LP. "Sister, don't you jog it all away / Sister, don't you run it all off," he warned against a Bahamian-flavored beat, lamenting that his lady "used to yield like flesh / Now it's all muscle."
'Every Kinda People' From: 'Double Fun' (1978)
The second cover on our list came courtesy of former Free bassist Andy Fraser, who let Palmer record "Every Kinda People" even before he'd had a chance to release his own version – and then watched Palmer turn his cover into a breakthrough Top 20 hit. One of the sunnier songs in Palmer's catalog, this single has proven a radio mainstay for decades, thanks to its distinctive Caribbean-flavored arrangement and multicultural message of peace and positivity.
'How Much Fun' From: 'Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley' (1974)
As we've demonstrated repeatedly in this list of the Top 10 Robert Palmer Songs, he traveled great musical distances, assembling a discography as noteworthy for its sharp global focus as for its classic songs and solid performances. But even if he'd never delved into so-called "world music," Palmer would have been just fine. As far back as his solo debut, 1974's Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley, he exhibited a distinctive identity and strong artistic command. The self-penned "How Much Fun," recorded with the Meters serving as his backing band, lives up to its title with an ebullient arrangement and one of Palmer's most soulfully elastic vocals.