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DAR Music: The 10 Greatest Maxwell Singles

By @TrueGodImmortal

One of the greatest Neo-Soul singers of his time, Maxwell has been a legend in this music game and amassed a catalog of hits. With only 5 official albums under his belt, he would only have around 20 singles under his belt, but most of them are really top tier songs. With that being said, I wanted to list and rank his 10 greatest singles. This list was hard to comply and it was actually tough as I had to leave out a number of singles that could make the list. That's the tough part of ranking anything with Maxwell's catalog. They all could be deserving of a spot on the list. Which singles make the list here? Let's take a look.

10. Lake By The Ocean (2016)

-So, I was shocked by the lack of response to his last album, but I get it. The album fell short of expectations and most of the songs feel lifeless. Except this one. I thought about including some of the other singles on this list, especially the Embrya singles, but there is something about this song that screams both vintage Maxwell and new age Maxwell together. The production is amazing, the vocals are excellent, and if I'm being honest, the song is the best track from his 2016 BlackSUMMERSnight album. It would be mildly successful, cracking the top 50 on the charts, but it definitely dominated on Urban Contemporary radio.

9. Lifetime (2001)

-I chose this song over the Embrya singles and the other secondary singles from Urban Hang Suite because this was a return to form for Maxwell after a slight departure from his usual success. This song just hit at the right time and actually had the perfect vibe. With a subdued at times yet resounding production backing an infectious hook and solid vocals, Maxwell would create a classic single that reached the top 5 of the R&B charts and was a big success for him.

8. Whenever, Wherever, Whatever (1997)

-One of the best songs in his career, this was a slow ballad where Maxwell sings his heart out to remind his lover that he will be there for her no matter what. I would have ranked this one higher, but as a single, it wasn't quite as strong. As a standalone song, this is a classic in itself and it is one of my personal favorite singles from Maxwell, it just narrowly misses the mark for a higher ranking. 

7. This Woman's Work (1997)

-Who would have guessed a live version of a cover would actually become a huge single and one of the most important songs in his catalog? Originally recorded and written by Kate Bush in 1989, Maxwell delivered a live version of this in 1997 on his Unplugged album and then re-recorded the song for his Now album in 2001. The song would become a trademark for him, and most people refer to this as Maxwell's song, a testament to how well this was executed.

6. Sumthin' Sumthin (1996)

-One of his biggest records, this was a breakthrough single for Maxwell with upbeat flavor that gave his audience more of a window into his sound and charisma. The third official single from Urban Hang Suite, this track would be successful, making the top 25 of the R&B charts but dominating urban radio. This was a funky and soulful record that continued the Maxwell single success, but if I'm honest, the Mellowsmoothe version of the song is ten times better than the original, which is why this JUST misses the top 5.

5. Til The Cops Come Knockin (1996)

-While this wasn't the biggest single on the album, it was certainly his best work in terms of bedroom ballads on the album (besides maybe "Suitelady"). However, this single is a rare gem, and while it didn't take over the charts (only hit no. 79 on the R&B charts), it did have a music video and would gain a lot of radio play. Maxwell was at his best here, with one of the smoothest hooks and production in his entire catalog. The single made little noise on the charts, but it is probably one of his most memorable songs ever, so for that, it cracks the top 5 on quality and importance alone. 

4. Bad Habits (2009)

-I love this song. More so than a track I have above it, Pretty Wings. Success of a single can sometimes override quality in a catalog, but this is one song you can't deny. His return album BLACKSummersnight was a huge success and hit, and it starts off with this classic. The production is smooth with resounding horns, beautiful drum pattern and and excellent vocals to accompany it, and this song would end being a huge success for Maxwell, cracking the top 5 of the R&B charts and making it to no. 1 on many radio stations. Of all the songs on his return album, this is my favorite hands down.

3. Fortunate (1999)

-This was a single for the Life soundtrack and it was a gem. Produced by R. Kelly, this was a track that felt like it was in Maxwell's element, but still slightly out of it at the same time. In many ways, this single revitalized Maxwell after Embrya seemed to alienate a small section of the fans from Urban Hang Suite (Embrya is a great album however), and it would become a top 5 hit and take over radio as well. This is a huge single in Maxwell's career, sparking his first no. 1 R&B hit and his biggest hit on the Billboard charts, making it to no. 4. This is easily top 3 in terms of singles in his catalog.

2. Pretty Wings (2009)

-It was a tough decision between my top two. This was a huge single, perhaps his biggest overall, but it wasn't his best. I've grown tired of the song, so perhaps it is mostly just me and exhaustion in terms of listening and enjoying, but no one can deny that this song was special and meant the most to his career, because it signaled a comeback of epic proportions. A ballad about letting love go, this song has been mistaken for a true love song, used in weddings, and more. To me, this song is probably the most or second most important single in his catalog, but not the best or the greatest. It would also be his second no. 1 single after "Fortunate".

1. Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder) (1996)

-The debut single from Maxwell is still his greatest. Sure, "Pretty Wings" was bigger in terms of the charts in some ways and signaled a comeback, but if I'm honest, "Ascension" was the song that put the world on notice that he was here. Sure, it didn't reach the top of the chart and make no. 1 like the two songs below it, but it was the making of a new star. It would be successful on the Billboard charts, crack the top 5 on multiple R&B charts, but most of all, this song had worldwide appeal, as it would reach top 30 on the UK charts, a feat only a few of Maxwell's singles have done. While there may be singles that are better, there is no single that means more to his career and his (pun intended) ascension to platinum status and becoming a star.


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