"He's so multitalented that it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes him one of the greatest ever. But first, there's that voice. Along with Ray Charles, he's the greatest R&B singer who ever lived" - Elton John
The first thing that hits you about this upbeat, enjoyable mid-sixties album is the excellent quality stereo sound. It was strange how Motown singles at the time were released in mono, yet albums like this were given a superb stereo mix. The sound is a joy. This was Stevie Wonder's first real "adult" album. His voice had changed and sounded older now. He was sixteen, still incredibly young, it has to be said. Taking that into account, it is a remarkable album, really.
Obviously, this is not an album in the creative mode that Wonder's seventies albums were, but as a credible mid-sixties Motown album, it is a good one. It is not full of "easy listening" covers. It still has oomph, soul and vitality. Listening to it is a pleasant half hour's breath of fresh air. A nice morning album.
Another year older, another album from the now seventeen year-old Stevie Wonder. Another one with excellent stereo sound too.
Baby Don't You Do It is one of the best tracks on the album - a muscular, thumping, bassy and soulful grinder. It has an intoxicating drum and bass interplay solo part near the end, which is a great bit. A Fool For You is a delicious slice of piano-driven gospelly soul. These two have been excellent songs. Marvin Gaye's Can I Get A Witness is a convincing cover, slightly slowed-down from Gaye's frantic original. I Pity The Fool is a quality bluesy number. The horn-driven blues continues on Please Please Please. The Four Tops-esque Every Time I See You I Go Wild was another excellent cut, covered by Northern Soul artist J. J. Barnes as well. Wonder's version is the superior one, though, largely due to the backing. Sublime rumbling bass and buzzsaw guitar on it. Fantastic sound reproduction too.
This is actually a thoroughly credible album, which was not always the case with sixties Motown albums. Stevie Wonder was starting to set out his stall as a serious artist who released quality albums as well as hit singles.
By 1968, Stevie Wonder was rapidly becoming a highly respected, credible Motown artist. At the tender age of eighteen, he already had many hit singles under his belt and also two good, "proper" albums.
I Don't Know Why was a bluesy slow-paced song that was covered by The Rolling Stones, eventually seeing the light of day on their retrospective rarities Metamorphosis compilation. Sunny is beautifully bassy with a sumptuous brass backing. I have to say that the stereo sound on all these Stevie Wonder albums is truly outstanding. Funnily enough, the sound quality drops a little on the verse parts of I'd Be A Fool Right Now. It sounds a bit muffled, hissy and tinny for some reason. Thankfully, Ain't No Lovin' sees a return to normal with a classic Wonder lively romantic number. God Bless The Child is a bassy, bluesy and jazzy number that shows Wonder's vocal versatility. The trademark harmonica appears for the first time on this album on this one. Do I Love Her is a soulful, laid-back groove with some nice bass and percussion. The pulsating, punchy The House On The Hill ends what is a short, but powerfully melodic and appealing album of end of the sixties Motown. Great stuff.
After proving to be an artist to be reckoned with, Stevie Wonder trod water just a little with this album. His previous three had showed him to be a rapidly-developing artist in his own right i.e. not just a singer of other writers’ hit singles. He was putting out relatively credible Motown albums in the mid-late sixties, something that was comparatively unusual for many artists on the label, whose albums often contained a lot of “filler” covers of contemporary easy-listening standards in a bad to sell to more than just the teen market. Stevie Wonder did not need to do this, although he does it a little on this album. Considering it was recorded in 1969, there is, for me, a bit of a mid-sixties air to the album. Even the cover looks a bit dated, to be honest.
You And Me is a catchy, bassy shuffler. For some reason, though, the sound on the album doesn’t seem quite as good as on its predecessors, although it is in stereo and the bass is solidly warm. Talking of bass, Pearl has an infectious bass line underpinning it. The punchy Somebody Knows, Somebody Cares has a feel of mid-sixties Motown about it, rather than late sixties, as indeed does much of the album. For that reason tend to I think of it as a bit of a pointer towards a change in direction for Stevie.
The album’s other huge hit single Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday is a big slice of bassy, soulful beauty. Angie Girl is another song that sounds as if it from a few years earlier. Give Your Love is a comparatively lengthy soulful number with an ambience straight out of a movie soundtrack or musical, full of orchestration. It seems slightly incomplete, however, with an awkward spoken bit in the middle. I've Got You is pleasant enough, but certainly nothing special. Putting out albums every years, as was the case at this time meant than some would be slightly less captivating than others, for me, this is one of those.
This was Stevie Wonder's first album of the seventies, and, like fellow Motown artists Marvin Gaye and The Temptations, he was starting to rebel, (if that is the right word to use - probably not), against the Motown "hit factory" conveyor belt of poppy, chart-aimed material. He wanted to express more social concerns in his music, and introduce more experimental sounds - electronic keyboards, funkier rhythms. This was very much an album that showed the first telling signs of that change, however it still has some strong echoes of the previous decade hanging around, particularly at the beginning. For me, it is the last of the sixties albums, as opposed to the first one of a new era. There is definitely change in the air, nevertheless, so maybe on reflection it is the start of "seventies Stevie". My Cherie Amour was the one that saw the sixties out.
Whereas Signed, Sealed, Delivered from the previous year had signposted Stevie Wonder's desire to break out from the shackles of the Motown hit factory conveyor belt and release "proper albums" of adult music covering adult themes, this was the album that really saw the true change
After the previous year's Where I'm Coming From had seen Stevie Wonder starting to broaden his horizons and experiment with different sounds and types of songs, he went the whole hog here and released this entirely self-played album. Wonder took on all the instruments and this was the first of several albums on which he would do the same thing (with just the occasional bits of help). This is still not quite the finished article, though, and, despite its brave intentions, is not as good as the next four albums would be. I have always found it to be a somewhat patchy album, which maybe a tad unfair, considering the dexterity of its implementation.
I Love Every Little Thing About You is a poppy, catchy number that you would imagine would have been a single, but wasn't. Stevie's percussion is intoxicating on this one. The track Sweet Little Girl seems to have attracted a fair amount of criticism over the years but I have always found it quite rousing in its funky beginning, but I have to admit when it goes into the spoken bits it loses something. It does have a reassuring thump to it though. My favourite has always been the melodic Happier Than The Morning Sun with its infectious clavinet backing and gentle vocal. Girl Blue is a shuffling, rhythmic number and Seems So Long is a delicious slice of Wonder sweet, syrupy soul sung over some equally appealing percussion. Keep On Running brings back the funk, big time, with probably the album's funkiest cut, with backing vocalist helping Stevie out. Evil is a slow tempo, low key closer to this adventurous, and, to a certain extent, ground-breaking album. Despite is grand intentions, however, there was much better to come from Stevie Wonder in the next five years.
After the somewhat rambling, inconsistent Music Of My Mind, this was the first of a classic series of seventies albums that saw Stevie Wonder really getting his whatever together. For me, it is not as great an album as Innervisions, though, neither did it have so much socially aware material on it. It is a good album, however, mainly concerning love, romantic bliss and occasional heartbreak.
As he did on nearly all of his seventies albums, Wonder played lots of the instruments himself, save the brass (trumpet and saxophone). Keyboards, bass and drums were Stevie's territory. The album was notable for its use of the clavinet, an electronic keyboard that produced that trademark funky sound particularly utilised on the iconic Superstition. There is a relaxed feel to many of the songs, led by the opener, the beautiful You Are the Sunshine Of My Life, the lovely, soulful You've Got it Bad, Girl, the laid-back smoothness of Lookin' For Another True Love and the closer, I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever).
You And I is a delightful slow number too. There is funk, led by the clavinet on Big Brother, the shuffling, Sly Stone-ish Maybe Your Baby and, of course, Superstition where that instantly identifiable drum intro leads into the copper-bottomed funk of the melody. One of Wonder's finest songs of all time. Tuesday Heartbreak combines both the funky clavinet sound and wah-wah guitar with the smooth soul that is all over the album. Blame It On The Sun is a lovely, soulful song with some great percussion from Stevie and some sumptuous backing vocals. Wonder's voice is finding that soulful, slightly nasal voice that characterised his seventies material, it was a different tone to that of his sixties hits - gruffer, deeper and funkier. This, and the three albums that followed it proved to be the high points of his career. All perfectly realised pieces of work. This was the first of those four classics.
This is probably the highlight of Stevie Wonder's remarkable career. As on many of his seventies albums, the multi-instrumentalist played many of the instruments on the tracks. Various percussionists and the experienced bassists Willie Weeks were used, but it is largely Wonder's work, and a remarkable achievement it is too. Almost a totally solo album. In common with many of the Motown/other black artists of the time, black consciousness and various social issues are dealt with - drugs, racism, inequality, and a corrupt presidency as well as some sensitive love songs.
Just as Living For The City fades out in a chorus of "no, no - no, no" the soft, soulful Stevie is back in the house, lifting our spirits again with the lovely tones of Golden Lady, with its razor sharp percussion, melodic synths and dreamy typical laid-back Wonder vocal. Higher Ground is a magnificent slice of genuine funk - all clavinet licks, great drum sound and a catchy down and dirty vocal and a big hit too. What an intro it has too. Jesus Children Of America sounds like a typical evangelistic song but it betrays a cynicism directed at the "holy roller" preacher who is simply concerned with his own showy performance as opposed to any genuine holiness. It has a mesmeric, funky backing too. Wah-wah guitar and funky backing vocals. All In Love Is Fair is a gentle, charming love song, of the kind Stevie does so well, almost in his sleep. Relaxing and peaceful.
Another of Stevie Wonder's excellent seventies albums, this was slightly more laid-back and a little darker in places than the smooth, romantic feel of parts of Talking Book and some of the social comment of Innervisions. It is certain not a morose album, though, not in any way, just a relaxing one. Coming between the two titans of Innervisions and Songs In The Key Of Life the album has often been overlooked, which is a shame, as it has hidden depths. An appealing facet of this album is the way the tracks gently flow into each other at times.
A highlight for me has always been the delicious clavinet-driven, upbeat funk of the hit single Boogie On Reggae Woman, one of Wonder's finest songs. Pure funky brilliance. That trademark harmonica makes an appearance too. Creepin' is a truly lovely piece of slow and easy soul with some infectious, tuneful backing vocals. After such a peaceful song, he showed he still had an appetite for a bit of social comment on the biting, funky You Haven't Done Nothin', a lambasting of Richard Nixon's US presidency at the time. The Jackson 5 feature on backing vocals, name-checked by Wonder before they sing. The comparatively indistinct It Ain't No Use leads into the bleak piano and vocal of They Won't Go When I Go. The rhythmic, samba-influenced Bird Of Beauty comes complete with some Portuguese lyrics. Please Don't Go is a jazzy, soulful closer to this comparatively underrated album. Every time I listen to it, it always brings enjoyment.
Much-beloved of all the girls I was at sixth-form college with, 1976’s double album from Stevie Wonder, was, despite accusations of bloatedness (that, to be honest, haunt every double album) his crowning achievement. All the sounds and melodies of the previous ten years-plus came together here on a veritable feast of funky Stevie soul. Firstly, I have to say that the sound on this remaster is SUPERB - clear, sharp and bassy at the same time. Beautiful. Just what this great album deserves.
More highlights arrive in the cookin' funky second half of Ordinary Pain, then Joy Inside My Tears and the forthright cultural awareness of Black Man and Ngiculela-Es Una Historia-I Am Singing They are all excellent. All of them. Even the harmonica solo that ends the otherwise schmaltzy Isn't She Lovely is superb. Knocks Me Off My Feet is chunky, vibrant and robust too.
The “single album would have been better" - White Album, Sandinista! - argument always prevails with double albums, however. Always has. Personally I am happy to listen to the whole lot. Although my favourite Stevie Wonder album is Innervisions, you simply can’t deny what an achievement this was. It never got any better than this for him, critically, even non-soul fans seem to love it. He was still only twenty-six, though, and I often wonder why he didn't go on to equal this or even get remotely near to it. It's a funny thing, genius and its apex.
Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants (1979)
The eagerly-awaited follow-up to the widely-acclaimed high point of 1976's Songs In The Key Of Life was this, the low point of Stevie Wonder's career. It is a sprawling double album made up of ambient synthesiser-dominated instrumentals intended for use in a little-known nature documentary and, in between, there are a few "proper" songs. Overall, however, on the surface, it is not much of a listen. I'm not big on ambient, soundtrack music to be honest and, although I want to give credit to the album as a brave creation, it is, to an extent, simply too long, too sprawling and too uneventful to gain any real continued attention from me - or so it initially seemed. Indeed, after a few listens, as with many things, I found myself warming to it. Yes, it is not its illustrious predecessor, but dig deep and there are some subtle treats to be found. Indeed, I've just listened to it again and really enjoyed it. Funny how music can have that delayed effect, isn't it?
Back to the album itself, of the instrumentals, Voyage To India is a George Harrison-esque, chilled-out number, but most of them can be overlooked, unfortunately. They do not have the appeal of, say, Contusion from the previous album, although Ecclesiastes has a sonorous, churchy appeal and Kesse Ye Lolo De Ye has some nice African rhythms. Check out the great bass solo in Finale too. Same Old Story is a typical, walking pace Wonder ballad while Power Flower is an appealing enough, melodic slow number too, although it sounds a little under-produced. Race Babbling is a welcome piece of vibrant spacey and bassy funk featuring some muffled vocals. It is one of my favourites on the album and has a quirky appeal.
The best material is to be found on the album's second half. Send One Your Love was a single and is another of those archetypal Wonder slow ballads. It is sleepily enjoyable. A rare bit of energy is to be found on the livelier Outside My Window and, for a short while here, it is as if we are listening to a proper Stevie Wonder album again. This feeling is continued on the gently beautiful Black Orchid. Come Back As A Flower features ex-wife Syreeta Wright on vocals and has a pleasant, airy, Samba-esque feel to it, along with some subtly infectious percussion. A Seed's A Star is an upbeat, enjoyable song which, although it has crowd noises on it is not (I think) a live recording. The last regulation song on the album is the somnolent The Secret Life Of Plants. It would probably have been better to put the best few tracks of this on to the next album but Wonder did what he wanted to do, so fair play to him for that. It is not as bad as many have said, it is just subtle, cultured, unshowy and different.
Did I Hear You Say You Love Me is a vibrant, uptempo piece of typical Wonder keyboard-driven poppy funk. The song comes to an abrupt halt and we are launched straight into the more smooth, laid-back soul of All I Do. It is blessed with an instantly catchy chorus and features that familiar lumpy Wonder drum sound that he had used on many of his earlier albums in the seventies. The song has an easy-going funkiness to it that makes it hard to resist. It was a little-known single released by Tammi Terrell in 1966. I bet you didn't know that.
Rocket Love is far more gentle in pace and its soulful, seductive slow rhythm and it breaks out into an appealing chorus. Again, it is similar to some of Wonder's 1972-1974 material. I Ain't Gonna Stand For It is one of the album's four big hits and has a lively, brassy beat that reminds me of You Haven't Done Nothin' from 1973's Innervisions. It was covered by Eric Clapton on his 2001 Reptile album. Another slightly incongruous-sounding segue leads us straight into the bubbling Wonderfunk of As If You Read My Mind, which is the most Songs In The Key Of Life song here. We are treated to the album's first (and only) harmonica solo on this one.
Master Blaster (Jammin') begins the original "side two" with a reggae-inspired shuffling number that namechecks Bob Marley and refers to his song, Jamming. It is an irresistible song that was deservedly a big hit single and is arguably the album's stand-out track, despite its breezy, fun ambience. A solid horn-driven funker is next in Do Like You and a similar groove is found in Cash In Your Face. The album ends with its other two hits - the late-night, romantic piano and vocal ballad Lately and the ebullient, singalong Martin Luther King tribute, Happy Birthday.
In Square Circle (1985)
It was the eighties, and synth pop or sophisti-pop or whatever was the order of the day. This album delivers that in large wine bar glass fulls. Five years from his previous album, Wonder had kept things ticking over with two incredibly cheesy but huge hits in Ebony And Ivory with Paul McCartney and the soundtrack smash I Just Called To Say I Love You from the movie The Lady In Red. Here, he reverted to being more credible once more, in an albeit poppy fashion. It is a pleasantly underrated and easily digestible ten-track album.
Part Time Lover was a great single, a deserved hit - catchy, singalong and so very mid-eighties in its classy, slick, synthy sound as too is the effortless, keyboard-driven funk of I Love You Too Much. This is a song that harks back to the best of the Hotter Than July album, nobody did this sort of thing as well as Stevie, it stands as very much a trademark of his unique sound. Whereabouts is a typical Wonder slow ballad and Stranger On The Shore Of Love is a breezy, carefree and summery piece of upbeat but smooth pop funk. Never In Your Sun has some nice, intriguing groovy percussion backing on it and a general overall feel good factor. Nice harmonica too.
Spiritual Walkers is nicely and chuggily funky, although in a mid-eighties synthy way. Land Of La La is a lively number that sounds most un-Wonder-ish and more like something The Pointer Sisters were putting out at the time. A pleasingly warm funky groove continues on Go Home. These are really enjoyable tracks, emphasising what an unexpected joy this album is. After such a run of lively numbers, it is time for a ballad with the archetypally Wonder strains of Overjoyed. The tempo is back up for the closer, the catchy, rhythmic funk of It’s Wrong (Apartheid), a track enlivened by its initially understated but increasingly irresistible South African-influenced backing vocals. Overall, this was an energetic, really vibrant album.
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