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Natalie Cole: 10 Essential Songs

R&B singer and daughter of Nat King Cole passed away at 65

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

Natalie Cole had music in her blood — her father was the legendary baritone Nat King Cole. But over the course of her career, Cole, who died Thursday at age 65, proved herself to be a sterling performer who blended pop, rock, and soul influences into a refreshing mix, and her crystal-clear voice handled spunky tracks like "Sophisticated Lady (She's a Different Lady)" as deftly as it did the standards popularized by her father.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“This Will Be” (1975)

Cole's debut single is sunny and sassy, with bright horns and a joyous vocal performance that helped turn it into a rom-com staple. It won the 1976 Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance — the first time the award, which was established in 1968, didn't go to Aretha Franklin. Cole won the Best New Artist Grammy the same year.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“Sophisticated Lady (She’s a Different Lady)” (1976)

Punctuated by horn blasts and led by a self-assured performance from Cole, this lightly funky ode to a "hip slick sister known throughout the land" was the first single from Cole's second album Natalie.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“I’ve Got Love on My Mind” (1977)

A glowing piano ballad that builds to a stirring call-and-response climax that's influenced by gospel as much as it is by romantic longing, this track from Unpredictable peaked at Number Five on the Hot 100.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“Our Love” (1978)

This slow-burn ballad from Cole's 1978 album, Thankful, opens with a simple piano line and blooms into a gentle euphoria, with Cole reaching into her voice's upper register as strings swell and she sings hopefully about the possibility of love and liberation.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“Someone That I Used to Love” (1980)

A rueful torch song written by pop Midases Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser, this cut from 1980's Don't Look Back became a surprise hit on the adult-contemporary charts for Cole.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“I Live for Your Love” (1987)

In 1983, Cole entered rehab for six months, and she began her comeback with the 1985 album Dangerous. But Everlasting, which came out in 1987 and was her first release on EMI-Manhattan Records, kicked off her return to the spotlight in earnest; this gorgeous ballad, with an impassioned performance by Cole, reached Number Two on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1988.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“Pink Cadillac” (1988)

Cole's zingy cover of the Bruce Springsteen B-side helped her return to the Hot 100's top 10 for the first time in a decade.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“Miss You Like Crazy” (1989)

"Someone That I Used to Love," this aching, lonely ballad — which topped the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts — showcases Cole's ability to wring maximum pop power from the simplest feelings.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“Unforgettable” (1991)

''It's sad that my dad never really knew I had a desire to sing," Cole told The New York Times in 1988. ''By the time I was ready to sit down and talk to him about what I really wanted to do with my life, he was gone." In 1991 Cole released the standards collection Unforgettable… With Love, a collection of standards capped by this "virtual duet" with her father. The delicate, yet stirring track became a runaway hit, dominating radio and winning Song and Record of the Year honors at the 1992 Grammy Awards.

Natalie Cole

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1002 -- Pictured: Musical guest Natalie Cole performs on September 26, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Margaret C. Norton/NBC/Getty

“5 Minutes Away” (2006)

In 2006 Cole released Leavin', an album that showcased her pop breadth — covers of Fiona Apple and Kate Bush sat on the track list alongside versions of tracks popularized by Aretha Franklin and Des'ree. This gently rolling track, which Cole co-wrote with Dallas Austin, is a wise rumination on love and life accented by dry horns and capped with a rousing call-and-response.