Thursday, April 29, 2010

Forgotten Music Thursday: Stevie Wonder - Where I'm Coming From (1971)

Where I'm Coming From is the big turning point in Stevie Wonder's career. Released in 1971, shortly before his twenty-first birthday and around the time his original Motown contract expired, it was the first album under Wonder's new deal in which Berry Gordy reluctantly gave the R&B superstar total artistic control of his work. When the record stiffed Gordy, who did not like it, began to have second thoughts about allowing Wonder to go off totally on his own. However, beginning with 1972's Music of My Mind through 1980's Hotter Than July this magnificent musician proved Gordy wrong by becoming one of the most creative, relevant, and popular artists of the 70s.

The nine song album is as diverse as anything Wonder ever recorded even if doesn't quite reach the heights of Innervisions, Talking Book, and one of the greatest albums in the history of pop music, his gigantic, twenty-one song work, Songs In The Key Of Life.

Where I'm Coming From's dark opening track, "Look Around," instantly shows that Wonder no longer intends to be part of the Detroit hit factory. He proves this with lines like "Look around and you'll see ruins of the human history. Look around and you'll see time is only floating in your mind." Obviously, this wasn't your big brother's Motown.

Complete with clavinet "Do Yourself A Favor" is one of Wonder's typical funky tracks that carry a social message. It's not quite as effective as some of the similar and high powered classics he would record later, but it's a good beginning. "Something Out Of The Blue" and "Think Of Me As Your Soldier" are typical Wonder ballads that prove he has always been one of the best writers of love songs of any era and any genre. "If You Really Love Me" went into the top ten on the singles charts.

Side two opens with "I Wanna Talk To You, a conversation between an old white man and a young black man who he sees walking down the street. Never one to be depressed despite his justified social concerns, Wonder tells us to "Take Up A Course In Happiness" with an upbeat arrangement that fits the message. Next is one of Wonder's stunners, the emotional breakup song "Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer" later covered by Joan Baez and Three Dog Night. The album closes with a look into the future where the keyboard player envisions a better life for America's children. He sings that he can't wait to see the "Sunshine In Their Eyes."

All of the songs were composed with Syreeta Wright, Wonder's wife at the time.

The young genius had almost a decade of recording under his belt when he released this album and, while a decent greatest hits package is all that is needed prior to this record, it's the first of his essential works.

The album cover featured a mobile you could make out of Wonder's last name. All you had to do was punch out the letters and hang them on a string, something I never did, so my LP is still in pristine condition.

The CD of Where I'm Coming From has long been out of print. New copies are only available at collector's prices through stores such as Amazon where you can also easily purchase a less expensive, used copy. You can also buy it as a download.

Wonder played "Never Dreamed In Summer" at Michael Jackson's memorial last summer. You can listen to the original version here.

7 comments:

  1. The first time I heard FINGERTIPS, Part 2, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. When I heard he was just my age, it was even more amazing.

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Charlie. The thing that jumped out at me right away was the album cover-- is it just me or is the font being used the same as what was used on the cover of The Beach Boys Pet Sounds?

    Honestly, I only have limited familiarity with Wonder's work. I know his hits-- both his good hits from the 70s and his saccharine 80s hits that pale in comparison to his earlier work. Would you recommend this as a place to start with Stevie's back catalog or should I start with the more well known Songs in the Key of Life?

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  3. Stevie Wonder remains one of those mysteries in musicdom. Peripherally, I know some of his music, the biggest of the big hits. It's when I hear tracks like the ones off this album that makes me want to learn more. Listening to "Do Yourself a Favor"--few artists can funk as well as SW. Yeah!

    I'm with Perplexio: the font instantly makes me think of Pet Sounds, even before I read his comment.

    For a Chicago-related connection that Perplexio probably knows about, the West Coast All-Stars did an acapella version of "Superstition" complete with all the brass licks. Tres cool!

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  4. Actually I haven't heard the WCAS version of Superstitious although I have heard their version of Sir Duke which I found to be tres cool.

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  5. Then perhaps I am misremembering...

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  6. Darrin, you should definitely start with Songs In The Key Of Life but if you can't the other 2 albums I mentioned are also great starting points.

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  7. Splendid piece of writing. Amazing to think that someone so young could produce such greatness.

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