As the largest city in the Southeast United States, Atlanta is a Southern cultural capital. While Georgia’s Southern voice is an indelible part of the city, Atlanta’s diversity and growing urban influence also gives it a unique twist on its culture. This is evident in the city’s music. Whether it’s hip-hop, rock, R&B or Soul, Atlanta’s unique blend of cultures makes for a thrilling experience.
1. Who Did You Think I Was – John Mayer Trio – 2005
Classically trained John Mayer started his career with a pair of acoustic pop albums that established him as a purveyor of easy listening radio friendly hits. But in 2005 he shifted towards Blues, at one point even forming a Blues Rock trio and accompanying tour. His first single Who Did You Think I Was segued into his Grammy nominated and Blues Rock influenced Continuum.
2. Welcome to Atlanta – Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris – 2001
The 2000’s were the decade when rap moved beyond East vs West battlegrounds to include the South and Midwest. Ludacris was one of the first Southern rappers to move into the mainstream and Welcome to Atlanta would later become an iconic song of the decade. A later remix featuring New York City, St. Louis and Los Angeles would help solidify the song as a hip-hop hit.
3. Waterfalls – TLC – 1994
TLC is America’s best-selling girl group and was one of the most popular musical groups of the 90’s. Their single Waterfalls was their second number one hit and spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
4. Hard to Handle – The Black Crowes – 1990
As a Southern rock group in the 90’s, The Black Crowes were somewhat of a throwback to an older era. Their hard rock vibes earned them the title the “most rock n roll rock n roll band in the world” as well as Rolling Stone’s as the Best New American Band in 1990. Hard to Handle is a perfect example of this new age rockibility mixed with alternative instrumentations.
5. Stay – Sugarland – 2006
The country-rock duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush was one of the most popular country acts of the 2000’s. Their album The Incredible Machine was certified platinum and helped them sell more than fourteen million records world-wide.
6. Sorry – Justin Bieber – 2015
When Justin Bieber released his single Sorry, the song could be read as more than just another apologetic love song. The single, and ensuing album came after years of public mishaps and embarrassments. There was the pet monkey abandoned in Germany, the public misconduct and tabloid rumors in Brazil. And that was all in addition to several derivative albums and lackluster performances.
Sorry and the album Purpose was Bieber’s redemption. Featuring his best production team to date, the album would be nominated for multiple Grammys and feature on several of the year’s “best of” lists.
7. One, Two Step – Ciara, Missy Elliot – 2004
Atlanta based Ciara launched one of 2004’s most popular dance numbers with One, Two Step. The single peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100.
8. Losing My Religion – R.E.M – 1991
Formed in nearby Athens, R.E.M was one of the first breakthrough alternative rock bands. Their ringing guitar work, distinct lyrics and vocals put American alternative rock on the musical map. R.E.M served as the original inspiration for other alternative bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Pavement while also providing the model for a handling commercial success as a band.
Unique for successful bands, R.E.M were universally praised for keeping their music creative, authentic and engaging while still selling millions of records throughout the 90’s.
9. Hey Ya! – OutKast – 2003
No other hip-hop group did more to popularize Southern hip-hop than Atlanta based duo OutKast. Made of rappers Andrew 3000 and Big Boi, the duo added influences from funk, jazz and techno to hip-hop and R&B beats. OutKast is one of the most successful hip-hop groups of all-time with six Grammy wins and millions of records sold world-wide.
10. I’ve Got a Woman – Ray Charles – 1957
American icon and musical legend Ray Charles was born in Albany, Georgia and although he got his start in music outside of the state, he remains a favorite son of Georgia. Ray Charles was called “the only true genius in show business” and is noted for his wide influences on a variety of genres, especially soul music.
Artists as varied as Billy Joel, Van Morrison and Aretha Franklin have attributed their work to inspiration from Ray Charles.
11. Live Your Life – T.I., Rihanna – 2008
Clifford Harris, better known as T.I is one of Atlanta’s most successful rappers and one of the pioneers of the Southern trap rap sound that grew popular in the 2000’s and 2010’s. T.I. has released ten albums, of which his sixth Paper Trail was most successful. Live Your Life, produced with Rihanna was one of T.I.’s most popular songs and peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
12. The Silence – Manchester Orchestra – 2017
Another indie star from nearby Athens, Manchester Orchestra was one of the most popular alternative acts of the 2010’s. Named after the English city of Manchester, Manchester Orchestra combine lush textures and instrumentation with indie sensibilities.
13. Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding – 1968
Universally considered one of the greatest singers in American history, Otis Redding revolutionized soul music and R&B. Born in Dawson, Georgia, Redding overcame racial prejudice in the segregated South to become one of the most successful musicians of his time. His song Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay quickly became an iconic mainstay of the R&B genre as well as the first posthumous number one record on the Billboard Hot 100.
14. Power of Two – Indigo Girls – 1994
Atlanta folk-rock duo Indigo Girls are one of the most successful folk-rock duos of the 90’s and 2000’s. Composed of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls released nine albums between 1987 and 2007 before forming their own independent record label. The duo is active in outside causes outside of music such as developing projects in the restaurant industry as well as engaging in political causes.
15. U Got It Bad – Usher – 2001
This multi-talented singer, songwriter, actor and dancer is also one of Atlanta’s most beloved sons. One of the best-selling music artists of all-time, Usher has won eight Grammy Awards and as well as filling countless TV, film and Broadway roles. Usher is perhaps the hardest working man in modern show business with ventures in business, fashion, and media to go with his long career in music.
16. Mister Sandman – Chet Atkins – 1954
One of the great songwriters, record producers and musicians in American history, Chet Atkins is credited with creating a pop Nashville sound that popularized country music around the nation. Atkins is also well regarded for his guitar work and was ranked by Rolling Stone as the twenty first best guitarist in history.
17. The Boss – James Brown – 1973
Known both as “the godfather of soul” and “soul brother no.1”, James Brown is an unforgettable institution of American popular music. In a career that spanned for over fifty years, Brown created an influence that has lasted beyond generations.
Brown recorded seventeen singles on the Billboard R&B charts, as well as released more than thirty studio albums. Rolling Stone named him the seventh greatest musician ever, as well as the greatest musician of the rock era.
18. Right Hand On My Heart – The Whigs – 2008
The Whigs were a garage-band revival group from Athens that rose to national prominence, appearing on both late-night shows as well as touring with acts such as The Black Keys.
19. Airplanes, Pt II – B.o.B, Eminem, Hayley Williams – 2010
Hailing from Decatur, Georgia, B.o.B achieved wide popularity during the 2010’s especially for his debut album that achieved double platinum. Although he struggled to find lasting relevance, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray featured five singles, many of which topped major music charts.
20. Summertime Magic – Childish Gambino – 2018
At age 23, while studying at New York University, Donald Glover was hired by Tina Fey to write for her NBC sitcom 30 Rock. A few years later Glover rose to fame after starring on another NBC sitcom Community. Amid his rising acting career, Glover managed to find the time to release several albums under the name Childish Gambino.
His third album, Awaken, My Love! was certified platinum and cemented his status as a star in the hip-hop and R&B community.
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