Thursday, February 08, 2018

Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)

Songs In The Key Of Life is easily Stevie Wonder's peak and one of the greatest albums of all time. It's also huge, clocking in at over an hour and forty-four minutes and twenty-one songs. Not only was Wonder's record a double it was accompanied by a four song EP. Similar to The Beatles' White Album in size, scope, and diversity it's more consistently great than the Fabs' 1968 epic. It's one of the few records of its size that does not wear out its welcome while listening to it from beginning to end. There is no filler.

Motown's resident genius offered us ballads, funk, African rhythms, jazz, R&B, pure pop, vocals and instrumentals. There are love songs, songs about peace and spirituality, politics, the plight of Black people, and no "Revolution #9."

The album also had four singles: "I Wish," "As," "Another Star," and "Sir Duke," the last one written as a tribute to the late bandleader Edward Kennedy Ellington who had passed away not too long before this record was made. "Isn't She Lovely" never charted in America because it was wasn't released as a single but it may have been more popular than the songs that were.

Many of the deep tracks are outstanding. As proof, take the full length version of "As." It's 7:08 of sheer perfection. It begins as the upbeat, quite melodic, mainstream piece we all heard on the radio and then suddenly, while still sticking with the same melody and musical themes, Wonder changes course with some of the roughest singing he ever put on tape. The contrast is striking.

The album opens with Wonder's best ballad not possessing a romantic theme. "Love's In Need Of Love Today" is a beautiful song with a strong message. In the hands of someone with lesser skills the track could have become overly sentimental, but instead it's one of his greatest triumphs.

The free form, noisy, jazz-funk instrumental, "Contusion" is as as different as can be from the softness of "If It's Magic" but both connect with the listener.

There is just too much on the album to discuss it all so if you haven't already heard this magnum opus grab a copy and take it all in immediately.

The version of "Love's In Need Of Love Today" below was televised on September 21, 2001 just ten days after the World Trade Center disaster.