In 1995, Batman took on Harvey Dent and The Riddler to the soothing sound of Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.”
It didn’t quite happen like that; the track was actually used in a love scene between Nicole Kidman and Val Kilmer. But the song itself, which topped US charts on this day in 1995 (and in 1996 won three Grammys) remains a powerhouse.
But it’s an easily abused powerhouse, as drunk frat bros have practically turned the song into a parody thanks to their late-night karaoke renditions. Written in 1987, several years before Seal’s self-titled debut in 1991, Seal “threw the tape in the corner” after hearing the track. He felt it was corny and was embarrassed by it.
“To be honest, I was never really that proud of it,” Seal later said of the track. It’s true that referring to someone as “my power, my pleasure, my pain” is super cringe in 2020, but Seal did it with such sincerity that it inevitably resonated with millions of people. His voice was haunting and vulnerable, uplifting and forceful, and his cryptic mentions of a “greying tower” have led to years of speculation. “I thought it was crap,” he told The Guardian.
Regardless of “Kiss From a Rose’s” fame, Seal’s voice is closely associated with some of pop’s biggest songs. Not to mention he’s frequently dabbled in techno and dance music, and some of his dopest tracks are ones crafted alongside European DJs. The point is: He’s had a long and fruitful journey while maintaining relative anonymity, and here are just a few tracks that solidify Seal as one of the greatest pop stars ever.
Seal’s sound, while inherently pop, always teetered toward European dance music, and that makes sense considering his first breakthrough moment came in 1990 when he collaborated with acid-house DJ Adamski. Soaked in pulsing thumps and gargled synths, “Killer” was a real banger in Europe’s club scene and was described by Adamski to be “like the soundtrack to a movie murder scene.”
The track’s popularity would, unfortunately, sour the relationship between its two artists. The duo’s record company wanted to promote the song as solely an Adamski record, even though Seal had sung and written the track. The two had a falling out shortly after.
In 1991, Seal released “Crazy” as his official debut solo single. Inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the song is a stirring combo of techno-pop with funk and soul that was rarely seen in 1990s American music. “I felt the cycle had reached its apex,” Seal said of the two tragedies that birthed his hit song. “I felt the world changing, and I felt profound things happening.” While not as successful as “Kiss From a Rose,” “Crazy” still gave Seal a top 10 hit in both the UK and US.
Not to mention—Seal’s drip in the song’s music video was on point. The silver pendant draped around his neck? The black leather leotard + pants combo? The silky white hooded cape? The silver bits in his dreads? Seal established himself as a tastemaker both in fashion and pop music early on.
Chances are you can hum at least a portion of “Love’s Divine” without even knowing its origin. Off of Seal’s nearly-perfect Seal IV, the song was a hefty love ballad with an equally cheesy music video, but it encompassed the suppressed romanticism of the early aughts so perfectly: when a man could chase down his fleeing ex in a cab and have it be seen as a romantic gesture rather than misogynistic harassment.
But as corny as the track is, “Love’s Divine” exemplifies the amazing control Seal has over his voice. He flutters through the track’s complex chorus in one easy breath, all while the piano and strings just lightly push him along but never overpower him. As corny as the track is, Seal made its sentiment sound nothing but sincere. Not to mention the song’s video was the acting debut for future Bond girl Olga Kurylenko.
In 2002 Seal once again teamed up with a budding house producer named Jakkata to curate another pulsating club hit. Titled “My Vision,” the early-aughts house track builds on a piano sample from Shawshank Redemption, while Seal passionately croons about having a hot summer with his hot lover. The track was another top 10 hit for Seal in the UK and reached as high as number six.
Featuring an overly sultry voice-over and a splash of ’80s flair, Jakatta’s track is like its own time capsule, encapsulating the drama of the early-aughts with the brooding ’90s energy of Seal. The end result is a track that still very much slaps on the dancefloor.
Fly Like An Eagle
While originally recorded by the Steve Miller Band 1976, Seal added his own twist to the pop hit two decades later for the Space Jam soundtrack with magnetic results. The funky remix was a hit and garnered the approval from Miller himself, who called the track “the best cover of the song he had heard.”
As funkadelic as the song was and is, Seal was apparently furious when he later saw Bugs Bunny make an appearance in the single’s music video. “He was furious,” said Space Jam director Joe Pytka. “I said, ‘What did you think? It’s promotion for the movie.'”
Apparently, Seal never forgave the transgression. “He never forgave me, he actually never forgave me,” said Pytka. “I ran into him once or twice after that, but he was kind of perturbed…” Regardless, the track is one of Seal’s funkiest and resonates nostalgically for millennials everywhere.