Whether you like classic R&B or contemporary soul, there’s no denying the power of a great R&B song. These songs have stood the test of time, from sultry ballads to upbeat jams. Here are 33 of the best R&B songs of all time:
1. “We Belong Together” – Mariah Carey
Popular singer Mariah Carey released her song “We Belong Together” in 2005, and it quickly became one of the biggest hits of her career. The song spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was eventually certified triple platinum. Carey’s powerhouse vocals and emotional lyrics make for a perfect combination, and the song is still just as popular today as it was when it first came out.
2. “I Choose You (The Mack/Soundtrack Version)” – Willie Hutch
Released in 1969, “I Choose You” by Willie Hutch is one of the most iconic and timeless love songs in R&B history. The song has been featured in various movies and TV shows over the years, and its raw and passionate lyrics are just as powerful today as they were five decades ago. If you’re looking for a soulful ballad to express your love for someone, you could consider “I Choose You.”
3. “What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye
R&B singer Marvin Gaye released the song “What’s Going On” in 1971. The song became an instant hit and is still popular today. “What’s Going On” deals with social issues such as war, discrimination, and economic instability. The song was a powerful statement about the state of the world when it was released. It may be a must-listen for anyone interested in R&B music focusing on social issues.
4. “Superfly” – Curtis Mayfield
“Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield is an iconic song in the R&B genre. Released in 1972, the song has been sampled and covered many times and is considered a classic. The soulful vocals and funky groove make it a favorite for dancers and music lovers. Whether you’re listening to the original or one of the covers, “Superfly” will be sure to get your feet moving.
5. “Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green
One of the most timeless love songs of all time, “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green is a masterpiece in the R&B genre. Many different artists have covered the song over the years, but there’s no match for the original. If you’re looking for some classic soul to get you in the mood for your special someone, look no further than this song. It may be sure to have you feel loved in no time.
6. “If I Ain’t Got You” – Alicia Keys
Released in 2003, the song was a massive hit and won several awards. The soulful ballad deals with the ups and downs of love, and it’s easy to see why it resonated so strongly with listeners. Keys’ vocals are incredible, and the lyrics are incredibly moving. If you’re looking for a great R&B song to add to your playlist, “If I Ain’t Got You” may be worth listening to.
Next: Top 2000s R&B songs
7. “Respect” – Aretha Franklin
Respect is one of the most important values we can have in our lives, and it is certainly evident in the lyrics of this soulful song by Aretha Franklin. “Respect” was released in 1967 and quickly became a chart-topper. The song speaks to respect in all relationships, whether they are personal or professional. Listening to this track will remind you why respect is such an essential virtue. If you’re looking for some soulful R&B songs to add to your playlist, you could consider “Respect.”
8. “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” – The Temptations
The Temptations are one of the most influential groups in R&B history. “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” is one of their most well-known and acclaimed songs. The song was released as a single in 1972, and it quickly became a fan favorite. The lyrics are about a father who is constantly on the move, never around to provide stability for his family. Many artists have covered the song over the years, and it remains popular to this day. Whether you’re a fan of classic R&B, this song may be worth a listen.
9. “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” – Four Tops
The Four Tops were Motown legends and one of the most popular R&B groups in history. Their song, “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” was a Number 1 hit and is still one of the most popular soul songs. This song is about longing for love and connection, and it has become an anthem for anyone who feels lonely or lost. If you need a reminder that someone cares or just wants to feel the power of soulful music, please take a moment to listen to this beautiful song.
10. “End of the Road” – Boyz II Men
In 1991, the R&B group Boyz II Men released the song “End of the Road.” This ballad quickly became a number one hit and has remained popular ever since. The song is about a man breaking up with his girlfriend and reflecting on all of the good times they shared. “End of the Road” is a classic R&B song that might be sure to get your toes tapping.
11. “Return of the Mack” – Mark Morrison
As far as the genre goes, “Return of the Mack” is one of the best R&B songs. It was released by Mark Morrison in 1996 and quickly reached number one on the UK Singles Chart. The song has been cited as an influence by many artists and continues to be popular today. If you’re looking for a good example of classic R&B, it might be this track.
12. “Outstanding” – The Gap Band
The Gap Band is one of the most iconic R&B groups in history. Formed in the 1970s, their soulful and funky hits have been enjoyed by fans for generations. “Outstanding” is just one of many classics from The Gap Band, and it’s easy to see why this song has become a fan favorite. With its catchy beat and feel-good lyrics, “Outstanding” is sure to get you moving.
13. “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” – The Delfonics
The Delfonics are one of the most well-known and successful R&B groups in history. Their career spans decades and their songs remain iconic to this day. “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” is one of their most popular tracks, and it’s easy to see why. The song is incredibly catchy and has a funky beat that will get your toes tapping. Whether you’re a fan of classic R&B or just looking for a good tune to get your groove on, try listening to this song.
14. “Say My Name” – Destiny’s Child
One of Destiny’s Child’s most popular songs was “Say My Name,” which spent ten weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won two Grammy Awards. The sultry song is widely considered one of the best R&B songs of all time. Released in 2000, the song helped solidify Destiny’s Child as one of the most prominent groups in music history. With its catchy beat and powerful lyrics, the song will get your feet moving and your heart racing. Don’t miss out on this classic track from one of the most influential girl groups.
15. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” – Nina Simone
R&B songs are often characterized as emotional and soulful. Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is an excellent example. The song’s lyrics describe the feelings of being misunderstood and misrepresented by others. Simone delivers these lyrics with raw emotion and power, making this song one of the best R&B ballads ever written. This heart-wrenching song may resonate with anyone who has ever felt misunderstood or unsupported.
16. “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” – Bill Withers
If you’re looking for a soulful and heartfelt ballad, look no further than Bill Withers’ “I Can’t Write Left-Handed.” The song is about overcoming adversity, and it will leave you feeling inspired. Withers’ voice is gentle and emotive, and the lyrics are genuinely moving. This track was released in 1981 as the lead single from his album Just as I Am, and it became an instant classic. If you’re looking for a timeless R&B song to add to your collection, consider checking “I Can’t Write Left-Handed.”
17. “How Will I Know” – Whitney Houston
One of the most iconic and beloved songs in R&B history is “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. In 1985, the song spent two weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Several artists have covered the track over the years, including Christina Aguilera, who performed it as a tribute to Houston at the 2012 American Music Awards. Despite being released more than 30 years ago, “How Will I Know” remains a beloved classic frequently played on radio stations across the world.
18. “I’ll Take You There” – The Staple Singers
The Staple Singers are one of the most influential soul and gospel groups in history. “I’ll Take You There” is one of their most famous songs, and it’s easy to see why. The song has a great groove and an uplifting message that resonated upon its release in 1972. The song reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart and has been covered by many artists. It may be sure to get your feet moving and a smile on your face.
19. “Emotions” – Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey’s song “Emotions” was released in 1991 and became an instant hit. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. “Emotions” is a soulful ballad about love and heartbreak, and its lyrics are moving and relatable. Carey’s powerful vocals and emotional delivery make this one of the best R&B songs.
20. “The Boy Is Mine” – Brandy & Monica
In 1998, two of the biggest names in R&B released a collaborative track that would take over radio stations across the country. “The Boy Is Mine” was an instant hit and has become a classic R&B song. The powerful vocals and emotional lyrics make this song a must-listen for any fan of R&B music. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this legendary duet.
21. “All Night” – Beyoncé
If you’re a fan of R&B music, you can’t help but love Beyoncé’s song “All Night.” The lyrics are soulful and touching, and the beat is catchy and dance-worthy. Whether you’re looking to get your groove on or relax and enjoy some good tunes, this song may be sure to hit the spot. So put your feet up, press play, and let Beyoncé take you away.
22. “Any Time, Any Place” – Janet Jackson
Released in 1993 from Jackson’s album entitled “Janet,” the ballad quickly became a fan favorite due to its soulful sound and heartfelt lyrics. The song was nominated for several awards, including two Grammy Awards, and has been featured in several films and television shows. The song is about a relationship that is unrestricted by time or place. If you’re looking for a great R&B song to add to your playlist, check out “Any Time, Any Place.”
23. “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” – D’Angelo
This song is one of the most outstanding soul and R&B music examples in the past few decades. The song’s emotion-packed lyrics and vocals make it one of the most memorable tracks in that genre. The groovy beat and seductive melody make it perfect for slow dancing or a romantic evening. If you’re looking for something to spice up your mood, give D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” a listen. You won’t regret it.
24. “Love T.K.O.” – Teddy Pendergrass
In 1978, Teddy Pendergrass released his album “Life Is a Song Worth Singing.” The album featured the song “Love T.K.O.,” which quickly became a hit on the R&B charts. The song’s lyrics are about a man who is in love with a woman who has left him. Despite being hurt by her departure, he still loves her and wants her back. The song is notable for its heartfelt lyrics and soulful vocals from Pendergrass.
25. “Midnight Train to Georgia” – Gladys Knight & The Pips
If you’re looking for an awesome soulful R&B song to listen to, look no further than “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips. Released in 1973, the track was a massive hit and has become one of the most iconic R&B songs through the years. With its beautiful lyrics and soulful vocals, this song may be sure to get your toes tapping and your heart racing. So put on your dancing shoes and take a trip down memory lane with this classic song.
26. “Never Too Much” – Luther Vandross
In 1985, Luther Vandross released his album “Never Too Much.” The title track is considered one of the best soul songs. His soulful ballads spoke to the heart, and his upbeat tracks got people moving. Many artists have covered the song, and it remains a popular choice for weddings and other special occasions. Listen to “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross and experience why this song is such a masterpiece.
27. “Waterfalls” – TLC
If you’re a fan of the classic R&B group TLC, then you know that they have some fantastic songs. “Waterfalls” is one of their most popular songs and is often ranked as one of the best R&B songs. The song was written by band members T-Boz and Chili, and it’s about a young girl’s journey through life. It’s a beautiful song with a powerful message, and it’s worth listening to. If you’ve never heard it before, check it out! You won’t be disappointed.
28. “Cranes in the Sky” – Solange
Since the early 2000s, R&B artist Solange has made music that defies genre classification. Her unique blend of funk, soul, and jazz creates a sound that is all her own – and it’s impressive. As soon as it was released, “Cranes in the Sky” quickly became a fan favorite and has been widely recognized as one of the decade’s best songs.
29. “You’re Makin’ Me High” – Toni Braxton
If you’re a fan of classic R&B, you may need to add Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High” to your playlist. Released in 1996 as the lead single from her second studio album, Secrets, the song became an immediate hit, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remaining there for four weeks. With its sultry beats and Braxton’s smooth vocals, “You’re Makin’ Me High” will get your toes tapping. So put on your dancing shoes and groove to this timeless R&B classic.
30. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” – Sampha
This song has been a constant companion for us for as long as we can remember. Whether we’re happy or sad, the piano is always there for us. Released in February 2003, The lyrics are so beautiful, and they speak to how much relationships matter. If you’re looking for a moving R&B song, then be sure to check out Sampha’s hit.
31. “The Bottle” – Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
One of the most iconic and influential songs in the history of rhythm and blues is “The Bottle” by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. Released in 1970, “The Bottle” quickly became a hit. This song is about the struggles that many people face regarding addiction. Anyone interested in learning more about the effects of this abuse should listen to this song. It is sure to leave a lasting impression on everyone who hears it.
32. “At Last” – Etta James
“At Last” by Etta James is one of the most iconic and well-known soul songs. The song was released in 1961 and became an instant hit, reaching number two on the R&B chart and crossing over to the pop chart, where it reached number 47. Since then, “At Last” has been covered by countless artists and remains a popular choice for weddings and other special occasions. Its rich melody and heartfelt lyrics make it a classic that will continue to be enjoyed for years to come.
33. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” – Fugees
Last on the list best R&B songs of all time is “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Fugees. Released in 1996, it was a huge commercial success and certified 3x platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The Fugees’ song became popularized immediately upon release and has been propped up in pop culture references ever since. It’s no wonder why this song is so iconic – the lyrics are powerful, and the delivery is passionate. If you’re looking for a great R&B song to add to your playlist, check out “Killing Me Softly With His Song”.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.