Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Bucket List: Stevie Wonder - Songs In the Key of Life (1976)

Let's get right to the point. Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life is one of the greatest albums of all time. It's also his magnum opus, filling two whole LPs and a four song EP with twenty-one songs in all.

Although Wonder finished off his outstanding decade with the very good Hotter than July in 1980 he came close to emptying his aresnal with Songs. Just like other artists who issued huge multi-album sets Motown's resident genius threw every single one of his musical ideas and influences into the stew. The result was one of the very few releases of its kind that doesn't waste any space. Not even The Beatles double album of 1968, as diverse and wonderful as it was, could make that claim.

No matter what subject or genre Songs tackled it overflowed with excellence. Wonder's topics ranged from love and social commentary to God and spirituality. They included the pure pop of "Isn't She Lovely" (a love song to his new baby daughter), to the hybrid, jazz-rock of "Sir Duke" (a tribute to one of Wonder's idols, Duke Ellington), and a nostalgic tale of the star's childhood ("I Wish"). There's more: the earthy and unique "As" as well as moving ballads such as "Love's in Need of Love Today" and "If it's Magic." He also touched on racial issues with "Black Man" and "Village Ghetto Land." "Contusion" is a jazz-fusion instrumental.

One of the reasons Songs in the Key of Life is an uncommonly excellent record, especially when compared to Wonder's subsequent releases, is because he still employed a band in the studio to flesh out his ideas. It wouldn't be long until he took the easy way out by becoming too attached to the synthesizer. Unfortunately that allowed him too many opportunities to produce almost everything himself without input from a supporting team.

Wonder’s talents are so immense that he has always transcended the R& B world. He has been embraced by folkies, jazz musicians, and pop fans alike. He's always been one of the few black artists to receive routine airplay on album oriented rock radio stations. Songs in the Key of Life is one of the reasons why.

1 comment :

  1. I'm afraid it was all down hill after this and the reason why I struggle to watch him perform today. The first ten years were the best!

    The only other double LP I still listen to all the way through is Elton's 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road', an album also put together by a band.

    ReplyDelete