I tried to limit these posts to three songs apiece but I could not do it. I could not decide which ones to cut, especially since I’d already culled it down. So, if you do get a chance to listen, try to give each song a couple of minutes anyway.
Stevie Wonder burst onto the scene as part of the Motown staple in 1963 with a live cut called “Fingertips (Part 2).” (Part 1 was the ‘A’ side of the single but records then had to be within the 2:30 – 3 minute window.) As a live tune, it was remarkable in that it displayed his confidence and ability in front of an audience. At 13 years old! (It was recorded at the Regal Theater in Chicago, a popular theater on the ‘black circuit.’)
The song comes to an end and Stevie decides to emulate James Brown and come back out again. The band had already started turning their sheet music pages over to the next performer so at 2:26 you can very clearly hear a band member yell out “What key? What key?” Same key as it was two seconds ago, pal. Marvin Gaye plays drums on this!
Stevie’s legal name is Stevland Hardaway Morris. Someone at Motown, impressed by his skill at when he was signed to the label at 11 years old, gave him the title Little Stevie Wonder. This was back when Motown had a roster of genuine heavy-hitters (Supremes, Temptations, Gaye), etc. and was an alternative to what would become the British Invasion. (I would argue the rock scene’s audience was largely white while Motown’s was mixed).
Stevie had several hits during the ’60’s. But if I had to name one that I still love to listen to, it is “For Once In My Life.” Stevie did not write it but he was influential in taking this slow ballad and turning it into a nice upbeat love song. Check out the funky rhythm guitar, strings, backup singers and legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson:
While Stevie was a great performer and musician, it wasn’t until the early ’70’s that he came into his full fruition as a songwriter. And what a catalog of songs! As mentioned, I had an impossible time narrowing the list down for inclusion. I wasn’t even going to use “Fingertips” but once I started I realized I couldn’t overlook it.
Starting with the 1971 album, Where I’m Coming From, Stevie produced a remarkable string of albums culminating with 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life. Talking Book, from 1972, was a major breakthrough for Stevie. This is the album that had “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” and “Superstition” among others. But I am here going to post the super-funky “Maybe Your Baby:” Guitar by Ray Parker Jr., of “Ghostbusters” fame:
I personally think that Stevie has written some of the best love songs of all time. He co-wrote , “I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever)” with his then-wife, Syreeta. (This song makes a quick but incredibly pertinent appearance in the great John Cusack/Jack Black flick High Fidelity. If you are a music lover and have never seen it, check it out.)
Next – America in turmoil, Stevie gets socially conscious. And just keeps getting better and better.