Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
When Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin first arrived on Atlantic Records’ doorsteps, they reinvented their entire game plans; initiating a sea change in soul music. Donny Hathaway furthered the gesture at the dawn of the ‘70s with his debut album, Everything is Everything, summoning every influence he could muster and then some. Regardless of when or how people latched onto his timeless music, no one could ever make the claim that Hathaway’s gift wasn’t otherworldly potent.
Before releasing his debut album in the summer of 1970, he was known for his session work on records from the likes of June Conquest, Curtis Mayfield, and Phil Upchurch. He was also a contributing arranger and songwriter for several artists, most notably for his friend and future duet partner, Roberta Flack.
While nurturing his talents on Curtis Mayfield’s label, Curtom Records in Chicago, Hathaway was spotted for Atco Records, a former subsidiary for Atlantic Records, by producer and saxophonist King Curtis. He eventually signed to the label in 1969 and released his first notable single, “The Ghetto Pt. 1,” which was co-written with fellow Howard University roommate and aspiring musician, Leroy Hutson. An arresting fusion of throbbing funk and down-home jazzy soul that ruminated on the philosophies and ambiances of inner-city life, “The Ghetto” was the song that Hathaway so desperately wanted the People to experience. He initially shopped the single around to other record labels before signing onto Atco. Executives ultimately gave it dismal reception, fearing that the song’s realism would incite riots across the nation and ruin Hathaway’s career. It did anything but, serving as the definitive foundation for what his debut album would entail and stamping Hathaway’s name on everyone’s lips.
Righteous and undeniably visionary, Everything is Everything was the mighty culmination of everything Chicago’s ambitious soul master sought to accomplish in his early career. His reach was astonishingly rich, excursing and improvising Black music’s roots in jazz, blues, funk, and gospel. His insight and emotion evoked pure intensity, sadness, and truth in every wail, cry, and plead he vocalized. The sweat-drenched musicality and streetwise aura that percolated through the album’s stunning nine songs placed his unique artistry in total perspective.
If ever one needed a direct confirmation of how far Hathaway’s soul power could go, the devotional “Thank You Master (For My Soul),” the deeply compassionate “Je Vous Aime (I Love You),” and his gospel-jazz fueled cover of Weldon Irvine’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” is all anyone ever needed. In fact, the entire album is a soulful paradise, and Hathaway would only ascend to greater heights from here.