Aaron Neville was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 24, 1941. He was born into a musical family. His mother wanted him to study an instrument, and his uncle, George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry was a singer with the Mardi Gras Indian tribe, the Wild Tchoupitoulas. Aaron’s brother Art formed the group Hawkettes and asked his brother to join the band. However, Aaron’s musical career was on hiatus for six months while he was in jail, convicted of a 1958 car theft. Once over, he went back to New Orleans and recorded several singles on the Minit label. His most famous at the time was produced by Allen Toussaint and peaked at number twenty-one. Although another of his singles should have catapulted him into stardom, several things prevented that from happening. His record label underpaid him. Additionally, Aaron began experiencing issues with drugs. Finally, in 1978 he started working with his brothers again.
His uncle’s band, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, landed a record deal, and Aaron, alongside his three brothers, was asked to provide backup instrumentation. Afterward, the Neville Brothers recorded several more albums that featured a unique sound and garnered acclaim from critics and a fan following. In 1986, Aaron recorded his first solo EP, Orchid in the Storm, five classic 50s songs. Until the end of the 80s, Aaron continued performing with his brothers. However, as the 90s approached, he began pursuing a solo career and playing with his brothers. In 1993, Aaron released the solo album The Grand Tour as well as the Christmas album. He also lent his voice to Rhythm, Country, and Blues, a collaboration album featuring cross-genre duets with country singers.
On the album, Aaron sang Patsy Cline’s song I Fall To Pieces with Trisha Yearwood. Additionally, Aaron recorded Even If My Heart Would Break for The Bodyguard soundtrack. By 1996, Aaron’s work with his brothers slowed down, but his solo career was in full flight. He released The Tattooed Heart in 1995. Then, in 1997 he released his last solo album on A&M, …To Make Me Who I Am. Three years later, he began recording on his own label. Aaron took several years off after The Neville Brothers disbanded in 2006. After the hiatus, Aaron released a collection of gospel songs on the 2010 album I Know I’ve Been Changed.
Three years later, he recorded My True Story on the Blue Note label, a project much like his first album Orchid In The Storm, a collection of reimagined do-wop and classic 50s standards reimagined. Rolling Stones musician Keith Richards was one of the producers. On Aaron’s 2016 album, Apache, he wrote almost every track. He was 75 when it was released. The concert promoting the album featured Dr. John, Ivan Neville, and George Porter Jr. Additionally, New Orleans funk band Dumpstaphunk made an appearance. Aaron Neville’s 75 Birthday Celebration Live at the Brooklyn Bowl was released on audio and video in 2019. With so many songs to choose from, it’s hard to narrow down the best. However, these are the ten best Aaron Neville songs of all time.
10. You Never Can Tell
This song is quintessential 50s. The lyrics are a throwback to a soda shop or a sock hop. Neville’s voice is smooth over piano and drum fill. The addition of saxophone rounds out the song.
9. Don’t Take Away My Heaven
This song starts out with an ethereal choir interlude, with Neville’s voice lilting across it. The lyrics in the song are classic love songs. As the music progresses, it stays steady throughout with breath interludes of bells.
The song opens with a reggae interlude that fades into more classical instrumentation. You can hear much of Neville’s childhood in New Orleans throughout the lyrics, even though the song was originally written by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.
7. Over You
According to WBSS Media, Over You was Neville’s first single received airplay outside New Orleans. The song has a beautiful jazz groove. One of the noticeably absent things is Neville’s smoother vocals. The song has great hooks and a catchy beat. Neville’s first track is heavily influenced by New Orleans funk and soul.
6. Earth Angel
Neville does an almost note-for-note cover on this song. However, the additional depth in his voice creates an extra roundness not found in the original. Additionally, portions of the instrumentation are more synthesized, which also adds a freshness to this track.
5. Ain’t No Sunshine
It’s hard to add something to a classic like this song. However, Aaron Neville adds enough of his style to create a fresh twist on this song. The drum fills seem more haunting. Additionally, Neville adds some piano chords that were absent in the original.
4. Louisiana 1927
Randy Newman’s voice and Aaron Neville’s have comparable characteristics. However, Neville’s voice adds additional wistfulness to this song. Everything about the lyrics and instrumentation transports you deep into the bayou.
3. Everbody Plays The Fool
The song starts with an intricate interlude of drums and percussion and a thin sampling of slide guitars. The drum fills are lighter and airier throughout the song, allowing Neville’s voice to shine in the forefront.
Hercules opens with intense funk-driven instrumentation. Additionally, there are reggae vibes. Neville’s voice has an edge and smokiness absent on many of his other songs. There are many elements in this song that work well together bring everything together for a catchy tune.
1. Tell It Like It Is
Neville’s first significant hit was released by the New Orleans label Par-Lo, co-owned by George Davis. It topped the Billboard R&B charts and reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967.