Ranking Every Earth Wind and Fire Studio Album
Few bands can compete with Earth, Wind & Fire’s longevity. Fewer still can compete with their success. Since releasing their self-titled debut in 1971, they’ve released 21 studio albums, almost all of which have been critically acclaimed, and sold over 90 million records to become of the best-selling bands in the world. Widely regarded as one of the most innovative and influential bands of all time, they’ve dabbled in (and mastered) everything from R&B and disco to funk and jazz. Here, we take a deep dive into their impressive discography as we rank all 21 Earth, Wind & Fire albums from worst to best.
21. Touch the World
Touch the World isn’t a great album, and in comparison to the group’s earlier output, it’s a disappointment. But even the worst Earth, Wind & Fire albums are still good, and while Touch the World lacks sparkle, it’s still worth a listen by devoted EWF fans. Released in November 1987, It reached No. 22 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart and No. 3 on the Billboard Top R&B albums chart.
After a series of impressive albums, Earth, Wind & Fire hit a rare bum note in 1981 with Raise! While it’s not the catastrophe some critics suggested at the time, there’s little question it’s one of the weakest albums in their catalog. The group sound on autopilot, while the songs sound like recycled, poorer versions of past hits. Even so, it still performed well in the charts, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and spending 11 weeks at the top of the Billboard Top R&B albums chart.
19. Electric Universe
Thirteen albums into their career and Earth, Wind & Fire were starting to sound like they were running out of steam. Despite reaching a respectable No. 8 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart and No. 40 on the Billboard 200, Electric Universe was something of a letdown. Most other bands would be thrilled to have an album of this caliber in their catalog, but compared to Earth, Wind & Fir’s usual standards, the overly slick production and formulaic synth-funk sounds oddly sterile. Not a travesty, but a disappointment nonetheless.
Earth, Wind & Fire’s first holiday album doesn’t stray too far from their signature sound. There are blasts of brass, deep grooves, and oodles of funk. If you’re looking for an upbeat alternative to more traditional Christmas fare, this is it. “We never thought about doing a holiday album before, but Legacy/Sony asked and so have our fans, so we hope the audience likes it,” long-time band member Verdine White said at the time. They did – released on 21 October 2014, the album was a hit, reaching No. 26 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums and No. 8 on the Billboard Holiday Albums charts.
After the disappointment of Raise!, Earth, Wind & Fire rebounded with Powerlight. It didn’t break new territory, but the flowing rhythms, impeccable arrangements, and gorgeous vocals were too perfect for anyone to really care. Not all of the songs are memorable, but even the more banal numbers are slick and polished enough to be pleasurable. Released in February 1983, it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart and No. 12 on the Billboard 200.
After dominating the charts in the 1970s, Earth, Wind & Fire kicked off the new decade with Faces. Although it didn’t reach the same level of commercial success as previous albums, it still managed to climb to a very respectable No. 10 on the Billboard Top LPs chart, No. 2 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart, and No. 10 on the UK Albums Chart. Although it lacks the innovation of their earlier offerings, it’s still an immensely rewarding and highly danceable achievement.
15. Now, Then & Forever
In September 2013, Earth, Wind & Fire released their twentieth studio album, Now, Then & Forever. It doesn’t tread new ground, but if it’s predictable, it’s also predictably good, with EWF’s trademark sophisticated R&B and soulful harmonies delivered with as much conviction and vitality as ever. A commercial hit, it peaked at No. 11 on the US Billboard 200 and No. 6 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
On Millennium, Earth, Wind & Fire once again demonstrated their talent for combing mellifluous harmonies with funky beats and Afro-Cuban rhythms. With 16 tracks to its name, it’s too long, but considering at least 6 of those tracks are stone-cold classics, it’s still essential listening for longtime fans. Released in September 1993, it rose to No. 8 on the US Billboard Top R&B Albums chart and No. 39 on the US Billboard 200.
After a couple of disappointing albums, Earth, Wind & Fire made a return to form with their 15th studio album, Heritage. Although it’s not in the same class as some of their earlier albums, there’s a lot to like here, from the soaring vocals and wild horns to the juiced-up arrangements and funky beats. Described by People as a “full dose of energy and creativity,” the album reached No. 9 on the US Billboard Top R&B Albums chart and No.18 on the UK Blues & Soul Top British Soul Albums chart.
12. The Promise
Over 30 years after their debut, Earth, Wind & Fire proved they could still leave bands half their age for dust with the excellent The Promise. Described by Blender as a “classy collection of mid-tempo numbers and sweeping ballads,” the album delivers superbly crafted, wonderfully soothing R&B that may lack the edge of the band’s earlier output, but that’s still as deliciously infectious as always.
11. In the Name of Love
After five years away from the studio, Earth, Wind & Fire returned with a bang in July 1997 with their seventeenth studio album, In the Name of Love. While it’s not as vital as their earlier albums, it’s still remarkable. The sound is familiar but still fresh, and the songs, retro though they are, are superbly skillful. The album reached No. 19 on the UK R&B Albums chart and No. 50 on the US Billboard R&B Albums.
10. I Am
After a series of successes, Earth, Wind & Fire continued their reign at the top with their ninth studio album, I Am. Commercially, it was huge, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums. Critically, it was a mixed bag, with some music journalists praising its production and musicianship, and others criticizing the lyrical content. But even if the words did leave something to be desired, the vibrancy of the songs made it almost irrelevant. As All Music says, while it might not be in the same league as That’s the Way of the World, Spirit, or All ‘n All, it’s still a rewarding album that has a lot going for it.
9. Head to the Sky
In May 1973, Earth, Wind & Fire achieved their biggest chart success up until that point with their fourth studio album, Head to the Sky. A major crossover hit, it climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart and No. 27 on the Billboard 200 chart, eventually certifying platinum. It’s not a faultless album, with Robert Christgau of the Village Voice summing up the consensus by praising the first half but lambasting the mood jazz excursion on the second half as fatuous. Still, the sweet harmonies and snakey beat that wind through the album are enough to keep it afloat.
8. Open Our Eyes
In March 1974, Earth, Wind & Fire scored their first No. 1 with their fifth studio album, Open Our Eye, which topped the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart and rose to No. 15 on the Top Pop Albums chart. Described by Rolling Stone as “a pleasant miscellany of Africana, Latin rhythms, well-mannered funk, smooth jazz, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder and the Fifth Dimension,” it’s an album that lacks a clear direction, but that makes up for its lack of focus with raw energy.
With 18 albums already under their belt, Earth, Wind & Fire could have been forgiven for taking it easy for their 19th studio LP. Instead, they delivered one of the best albums of the 2000s. With help from a bunch of hitmakers like Will I Am, Big Boi, and Kelly Rowland, they created an exceptional album that, as Bill Lamb of About noted, effortlessly bridged the divide between classic and contemporary R&B. Following its release in September 2005, it rose to No. 8 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 32 on the Billboard 200 chart.
6. Last Days and Time
A little under a year after the release of their second album, Earth, Wind & Fire were back in the charts with their third studio album, Last Days and Time. At the time, armies of bands were combining jazz and rock- some successfully, others less so. But despite the ubiquity of the style, Earth, Wind & Fire managed to breathe fresh life into it. The production isn’t a lush as it would be on their later albums, and Maurice White was still to achieve the peak of his vocal prowess, but it’s still an immensely rewarding listen. After its release in October 1972, it peaked at No. 15 on the US Billboard Top Soul Albums chart.
5. The Need of Love
Within less than 10 months of dropping their debut, Earth, Wind & Fire were back with the second studio album, the Need of Love. It received a more muted reception than its predecessor, with All Music saying it lacked “a sense of exuberance as well as a passel of solid songs and performances.” Even so, it’s still an outstanding album, with a wonderful blend of jazzy instruments and harmonies together with plenty of big solo beats and funky rhythms. Released in November 1971, it reached No. 35 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart.
4. Earth, Wind & Fire
In 1971, Earth, Wind & Fire dropped their self-titled debut. Heavily influenced by Sly and the Famly Stone and the harmonies of The Fifth Dimension, it was a beautiful introduction to the band, with strong songwriting, focused musicianship, and a glorious undercurrent of positivity. It packed the dance floors in the early 70s, and is still fresh and funky enough to do the same today. Buoyed by a warm reception from the music press, it climbed to No. 24 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart.
3. All ‘n All
Eight albums into the career and Earth, Wind & Fire were still firing on all cylinders. Released in November 1977, All ‘n All is a hugely ambitious blend of passion, poetry, and sinuous beats. Earthy and progressive, it was light years ahead of what most other bands were doing at the time. Even if the poetic allusions left some fans cold, the deep-seated grooves were impossible to resist. As usual, it charted highly, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. It’s since been certified triple platinum by the RIAA.
Described by Vibe as one of “one of the group’s defining moments,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s seventh studio album, Spirit, received unanimous praise on its release in September 1978. And rightly so – from the sweet harmonies to the juicy arrangements, the punchy instrumentals to the inspired songwriting, everything is impeccable. Positive, uplifting, and utterly life-affirming, it’s an outstanding accomplishment. Clearly, the band’s fans agreed, lapping up enough copies to send the album to No. 2 on both the Billboard 200 and the Top Soul Albums.
1. That’s the Way of the World
By the time Earth, Wind & Fire got around to recording their sixth studio album, the band knew exactly what it took to make a hit record and weren’t shy of delivering the goods. Released in March 1975 as the soundtrack for the movie of the same name, That’s the Way of the World topped both the Billboard 200 and Top Soul Albums charts, eventually certifying triple platinum. Critically, it was a slam dunk, earning praise for its effortless blend of genres and winning nominations and awards left, right, and center. In 2012, Rolling Stone named it to their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, describing it as “make-out music of the gods”… a fitting description for an outstanding album.