Eddie Murphy is, above all else, an entertainer. The dude lives to make people feel shit. From his start on Saturday Night Live in the early 80s, to a standup comedy career that produced Raw (to this day one of the most legendary standup films ever released), to a movie career that was one of the strongest draws in Hollywood during the 80s and early 90s, you get the feeling from looking at his comprehensive material that through Murphy’s career, he’s been a Renaissance man of another sort altogether, even if the past decade or so has, more often than not, found him in shitty movies and family films, altering his legacy from the sort of funny dude who is a stark representative of 80s humor to that of someone who's more famous for their light, children-family comedy in films like Shrek.
For proof of this, look no further than his foray into music. In 1985—in the middle of the peak of his career—Murphy recorded his first studio album, How Could It Be, which featured his biggest hit, “Party All The Time,” produced by Rick James. Murphy’s music was characterised by high-pitched vocals, booming 80s synth, and the unintentional comedy of listening to Eddie fucking Murphy sing about love and shit.
After his follow-ups, 1989’s So Happy and 1993’s Love’s Alright, Murphy’s music career just kind of ended. And then, in 2013, he released three songs from a yet-to-be-released full length called 9, which saw him shift into several new bizarre directions; a neo-soul track called “Promise (You Won’t Break My Heart),” a gospel-influenced song, “Temporary,” and the crown jewel, a reggae song with the artist formerly known as Snoop Lion.
And then, he stopped. The album never came out. But now, after a full year of no further movement on his new record, Murphy dropped another reggae single, “Oh Jah Jah,” this month. So, in order to meet the dire needs of a demographic chomping at the bit for a Eddie Murphy retrospective, I listened to his entire musical output in a couple of hours. Here’s what I found.
Eddie Murphy (1982)
Eddie Murphy’s definitely-dated (and, in 2015, pretty cringeworthy) debut comedy album featured two parody songs on the second half of the record: “Boogie In Your Butt,” which features the hook “Boogie in your butt,” interspersed with Murphy alternating rants like “I ain’t putting boogie in nobody butt, man, that’s nasty” with 80s hip-hop rhymes like “Put a tin can, in your butt / put a little tiny man, in your butt.” The closing track to the record, “Enough Is Enough” is just early 80s Eddie Murphy imitating what he thinks a gay man sounds like for four and a half minutes. This is the same record that opens with a bit called “Faggots,” so, yeah.
How Could It Be (1985)
Eddie Murphy’s debut music album saw him enlist some heavyweights to help him flesh out his sound. The record is bookended by two Steve Wonder tracks, “Do I” (all things considered, the best song on the record) and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” There are also two Rick James songs—the title track and the aforementioned hit, "Party All The Time.” To this day, “Party All The Time” is one of the biggest songs ever by a celebrity who forayed into music, accentuated by a glorious video of the studio featuring Rick James coming to the slow realisation that this song is the greatest jam since music was invented, and a million other people losing their respective shit.
On the three tracks where Murphy has the sole writing credit, he gets pretty experimental, as much as you’d expect him to. “Con Confused” is a poppy disco track, “I, Me, Us, We” is pure Parliament worship, and “My God Is Color Blind” sounds like Eddie Murphy trying to write a Stevie Wonder anti-racism song. All in all, a strong debut.
So Happy (1989)
Where How Could It Be saw Murphy throwing the kitchen sink at a potential sound, So Happy is focused on condensing an entire decade in 12 songs. It has all the hallmarks of the 80s: blaring horns, fat bass, the reverb-y snare. The standouts on this record are “I Got It,” where Murphy shows remarkable range in a song that fits in nicely with bouncy R&B in the late 80s/early 90s and the penultimate track, “Let’s Get With It,” a booming track co-written by Larry Blackmon, the lead singer of Cameo and the dude who wrote “Word Up.”
The one track on this record that doesn’t seem to fit happens to be the title track. It almost has a Depeche Mode new wave feel to it. It breaks up the flow of the album a bit, but it’s worth listening to just so you can say, “Hey, this Eddie Murphy song sounds like Depeche Mode.”
Love’s Alright (1993)
The third record, and to date most recent, came out in 1993, and sounds a lot like an album that came out in 1983. It takes all of the drive of So Happy and experimentation of How Could It Be, cuts both out, and waters down everything else. The real highlight of this record is a duet with Michael Jackson called “Whatzupwitu,” which has a truly hilarious music video that looks like Eric Andre's wet dream and is arguably the progenitors of Budweiser's "Whazzaap" ad campaign. Everything else kinda stinks. This is Eddie Murphy’s worst record.
In the 20 years between Love’s Alright and these three songs from the unreleased 9, Murphy learned how to play guitar. I know, because the fact that he plays guitar is featured prominently on all of the videos.
The reggae song, “Red Light,” is pretty standard reggae. I don’t listen to reggae, but I once saw a reggae band fronted by a white guy with dreads who was the highest person I’ve ever seen in my life, and this is way better than that.
The next single, “Temporary,” has a truly atrocious guitar tone and some pretty corny lyrics, but Murphy’s vocal range and the fullness of the choir behind hi90m make it better than at least half of his discography.
“Promise (You Won’t Break My Heart)” is a real 90s throwback, super reminiscent of Brian McKnight and early D’Angelo. There’s an over-the-top jazz guitar solo, but this is a song that is pretty hard to dislike.
Finally, the most recent track, released this year, throws away the last two singles and moves back towards “Red Light.” This song has a lot of protest sentiment behind it, with lines like “I saw the preacher taking nickels from the welfare babies” and “Police in the street shooting down black babies,” and is littered with references to Babylon. And while Murphy’s voice is always front and center, this track seems to show that his knowledge of melody is improving, and the vocals are pretty catchy.
All in all, Eddie Murphy has about four truly good songs over the course of three records and an EP worth of material. That’s better than most bands and artists manage over the course of a career, and you have to respect Murphy’s commitment to continuing his career 20 years after it seemingly ended. But beyond all that, taken out of context and putting aside the irony of listening to one of the biggest comedians of all time belt out a Michael Jackson impression over songs that sound like late-era James Brown—the dude has a hell of a voice, one that carries even his stinkers to mediocrity. And that alone is worth a few listens.