Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Stevie Wonder Retrospective

First posted 6/20/2008; updated 11/6/2020.

A Retrospective: 1962-2005

Stevie Wonder

A Brief History: R&B singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer born Stevland Hardaway Morris nĂ© Judkins on 5/13/1950 in Saginaw, Michigan. He was a child prodigy who was blind since shortly after his birth. He signed with Motown at age 11; initially doing backup work. He started recording in 1962 as “Little Stevie Wonder” and became the youngest artist (age 13) to top the Billboard Hot 100 with “Fingertips.” Married to Syreeta Wright from 1970-72. When he turned 21, he reworked his Motown contract for more artistic freedom. Near-fatal auto accident on 8/16/73. He has won 25 Grammys, the most ever by a solo artist.

His albums from 1972 to 1976, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life, are considered one of the best four-album runs in history. All four rank in the DMDB’s top 1000 albums of all time and the latter three won Grammys for album of the year.

Compilations:

These compilations are featured on this page:

The snapshots of the studio albums shown below indicate all songs featured on any of these compilations, noted with the codes above. Appearing after song titles are the songwriters in italicized parentheses, running times in brackets, and when relevant, the date the song was released as a single and its peaks on various charts. Click for codes to singles charts.


The Studio Albums:

Scroll over the album cover for its title and year of release. Click on cover to see more details about the album.

The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie (1962):

Wonder’s first single, “I Call It Pretty Music But the Old People Call It the Blues” was released in August 1962 and failed to chart. It featured the legendary Marvin Gaye on drums. In contrast with the single, producer Clarence Paul decided to showcase Wonder’s instrumental abilities with an almost entirely instrumental big band jazz album. Wonder’s harmonica playing is already distinctive (“Some Other Time”), and his drumming is pretty good (“Manhattan at Six”), but the tunes are nothing remarkable, including two co-written by Little Stevie himself (“Wondering,” “Session Number 112”). The arrangements fall far short of brilliance although they’re noteworthy for featuring much more prominent flute than was customary during this period (“Fingertips”).

The album failed to chart and no songs were included on any of the compilations featured on this page.


A Tribute to Uncle Ray (1962):

“Little Stevie Wonder, Tamla’s 11 year old musical genius, is blind, a similarity he shares with a famed musician and vocalist of today,” shamelessly announce the liner notes of this album. Unfortunately, at 11 Wonder certainly didn’t have the voice to do justice to Ray Charles, even when singing Charles’ songs (others are “originals in the style of his idol”) and, since he doesn’t play on the record, there’s no similarity there either. Today, listening to a child emote his way through songs like “Drown in My Own Tears” is a curiosity at best, and the album is only for hard-core Wonder fanatics.

For the second time, the album failed to chart and no songs were included on any of the compilations featured on this page.


The 12 Year Old Genius Recorded Live (1963):

Gordy apparently had a lot of faith in the young prodigy, following up several flop singles with two equally unsuccessful albums. Third time was the charm, though, as Little Stevie gave Motown its first #1 album. Fingertips was a #1 pop and R&B hit. The song showcased Wonder's lively stage personality and sense of humor, if barely hinting at any of his other talents. Side two of the album is live versions of several numbers from Uncle Ray, and side one includes a version of Jazz Soul’s “Soul Bongo.”

  • Fingertips (Part 2) (Paul, Cosby) [3:10] (5/21/63, 1 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 1 RB) G1, LB, DC-UK, DC-US, NO, “Fingertips (Parts 1 & 2)” AC, DC


With a Song in My Heart (1963):

Motown now gave us Steve Wonder, Lounge Lizard. At least, that's what you’d think listening to this string-filled crooning session, in which the 13-year-old earnestly makes his way through show tunes the likes of Johnny Mercer’s “Dream,” “Get Happy,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and other supperclub standards. Berry Gordy’s wish for all his artists may have been to play the Copacabana, but this one was far below the legal drinking age, and, although Wonder brought his usual willingness to the project, it was years beyond his abilities.


At the Beach (1964):

The first record after dropping the “Little,” but the tracks are the same combination of Broadway kitsch and harmonica solos of his earlier records. Stevie Wonder once described this period in his musical development as embarrassing. He particularly spoke of the single Hey Harmonica Man; it featured a barking male backing chorus, a zippy beat, and some spirited harmonica playing and vocalizing by Stevie. The slower Castles in the Sand also failed to scale the charts, as it’s a rather dull attempt to appeal to surfers and beach hangers; the instrumental version (included) is more appealing then the vocal, since the lyrics were just too wimpy. Not one of Stevie’s most sterling efforts, but it’s not the embarrassment he claims either. Well...maybe for him.

  • Castles in the Sand (Wilson, Davis, Gordon, O’Brien) [2:14] (2/29/64, 52 US, 52 US, 52 RB) G1, LB
  • Hey Harmonica Man (Josie, Cooper) [2:36] (5/21/64, 29 US, 32 CB, 29 RB) G1, LB


Up-Tight, Everything’s Alright (1966):

Stevie’s career took a sharp swing upwards when he scored a major hit with his own composition Uptight in 1965. Wonder was moving beyond simply paying homage to Ray Charles and establishing his own musical identity. Although still just a teenager, Wonder was already anxious to do more than simply grind out love tunes. He began demonstrating his production skills and compositional acumen. Motown rushed out this LP, which includes his moving cover of Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind plus filler extraordinaire (Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby, an “Uptight” rerun complete with the signature “hah hah yeah”) and the three year old single Contract on Love.

  • Contract on Love (Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Janie Bradford) [2:06] (1962 single, --) G1, LB
  • Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder) [2:52] (11/22/65, 3 US, 3 CB, 1 RB, 14 UK, airplay: 2 million) G1, LB, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, William Stevenson) [2:41] (4/16/66, 20 US, 20 CB, 4 RB) G1, LB, AC
  • Blowin’ in the Wind (Bob Dylan) [3:02] (6/25/66, 9 US, 11 CB, 1 RB, 36 UK, 12 CN) G1, LB, AC, DC-UK, NO
  • Ain’t That Asking for Trouble (Sylvia Moy, Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder) [2:47] LB


Down to Earth (1966):

This album signaled more artistic growth, but…there were moments of uncertainty and awkwardness (Place in the Sun is 30’s kitsch, Hey Love is so insubstantial it’s barely a song at all). Still, Wonder’s voice was losing its cuteness and beginning to gain the richness and edge that punctuated many of his future albums.

  • A Place in the Sun (Wells, Miller) [2:50] (11/12/66, 9 US, 10 CB, 29 AC, 3 RB, 20 UK, 6 CN) G1, LB, AC, DC-UK
  • Hey Love (Paul, Broadnax, Wonder) [2:44] (4/22/67, 90 US, 92 CB, 9 RB) G1, LB, SR, AC, DC-US
  • Thank You Love (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder) [2:50] LB
  • Sylvia (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder) [2:33] LB
  • Down to Earth (Ron Miller, Avery Vanderberg) [2:48] LB


I Was Made to Love Her (1967):

This album was rushed out to capitalize on the success of the title song, which was Wonder’s biggest pop hit since “Fingertips.” Other than the hit, he seemed to be on a mission to cover songs by all the major black male vocalists of the period: Little Richard’s “Send Me Some Lovin’,” Otis Redding’s “Respect,” the Temptations’ “My Girl,” Ray Charles’ “I Pity the Fool,” and James Brown’s “Please Please Please.” The Motown house band’s work on the covers is indistinguishable from any other Motown product of the era, but that’s a compliment. Stevie’s remarkably mature singing at the age of 17 demonstrated that Wonder was becoming both a remarkable mimic and an original talent on his own.

  • I Was Made to Love Her (Cosby, Hardaway, Wonder, Moy) [2:43] (6/3/67, 2 US, 2 CB, 1 RB, 5 UK, 5 CN, airplay: 1 million) G1, LB, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • I’d Cry (Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy) [2:22] LB


Someday at Christmas (1967):

If you have to have a Christmas album, you might as well have one by Stevie, right? Not necessarily. There are a few renditions of Christmas standards (“The Little Drummer Boy,” “Silver Bells”), but most of the songs are Motown originals with hackneyed subject matter and stale orchestral arrangements. Nothing was written by Wonder (though he did come up with a couple of Christmas numbers for the Miracles a few years later) and the tunes lack cozy-up-by-the-fire familiarity.

Greatest Hits

Stevie Wonder


Rating:

4.067 out of 5.00
(average of 7 ratings)


Recorded: 1963-1967


Charted: April 27, 1968


Peak: 37 US, 6 RB, 25 UK


Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, 2.0 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B


Tracks: (1) Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (2) I’m Wondering (3) I Was Made to Love Her (4) Hey Love (5) Blowin’ in the Wind (6) A Place in the Sun (7) Contract on Love (8) Workout, Stevie, Workout (9) Fingertips (Part 2) (10) Castles in the Sand (11) Hey Harmonica Man (12) Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby


Total Running Time: ?

About Greatest Hits:

This collection offered a good sampling of the first five years of Wonder’s career, especially since none of the albums it covers were really essential. Of course, this set was rendered moot with 1977’s Looking Back, which covered every song on this and the next greatest hits collection.

  • Workout, Stevie, Workout (Paul, Cosby) [2;41] (10/5/63, 33 US, 35 CB, 33 RB) G1, LB
  • I’m Wondering (Cosby, Wonder, Moy) [3:00] (9/30/67, 12 US, 10 CB, 4 RB, 22 UK) G1, LB, AC, DC-UK


Eivets Rednow (1968):

By 1968, Motown had Wonder pegged as a soul-pop shouter, so his harmonica instrumental of Alfie, and the movie theme that had been a Top 15 hit for Dionne Warwick in 1967, was released under another name — his own spelled backwards — and on a different record label. This album consists of more harmonica instrumentals, everything from “A House Is Not A Home” to “Grazing in the Grass,” and is enough to convince you that Wonder, who, after all, broke through playing harmonica, is a tuneful player of the instrument, more a Larry Adler than a Bob Dylan. Nevertheless, this is a minor item in the Wonder catalog.

  • Alfie (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) [2:58] (9/14/68, 66 US, 73 CB, 11 AC, 86 CN) LB
  • More Than a Dream (Henry Cosby, Stevie Wonder) [3:20] LB


For Once in My Life (1968):

Rather than rushing out an album when Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day hit, Motown released You Met Your Match and For Once in My Life before putting out an album. As a result, this album contained all three hits, making it one of Wonder’s more consistent albums of the ‘60s. Wonder wrote more than half the material and has his first co-production credits. The real find, however, is the tortured soul classic I Don’t Know Why.

  • Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder) [2:45] (4/6/68, 9 US, 7 CB, 1 RB, 40 UK) G2, LB, AC
  • You Met Your Match (Lula Mae Hardaway, Don Hunter, Stevie Wonder) [2:37] (7/13/68, 35 US, 28 CB, 2 RB, 28 CN) G2, LB, AC
  • For Once in My Life (Ron Miller, Orlando Murden) [2:48] (11/2/68, 2 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 2 RB, 3 UK, 5 CN, airplay: 3 million) G2, LB, AC, DC-UK, DC-US
  • I Don’t Know Why I Love You (Lula Mae Hardaway, Don Hunter, Paul Riser, Stevie Wonder) [2:43] (2/15/69, 39 US, 41 CB, 16 RB, 14 UK, 41 CN) LB, AC, DC-UK
  • I’d Be a Fool Right Now (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder) [2:53] LB


My Cherie Amour (1969):

Motown’s quality control department held up the title track from this album for three years before it became a top ten single. Aside from that song and the follow-up single, Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday, this album contained contemporary filler. Among the stranger materials were covers the show tune “Hello Young Lovers” from The King and I and the Doors’ “Light My Fire” (with Wonder sounding like Jose Feliciano).

  • My Cherie Amour (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder) [2:54] (5/31/69, 4 US, 3 CB, 3 AC, 4 RB, 4 UK, 14 CN, airplay: 4 million) G2, LB, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US
  • Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (Ron Miller, Bryan Wells) [3:06] (10/18/69, 7 US, 9 CB, 10 AC, 5 RB, 2 UK, 10 CN) G2, LB, AC, DC-UK
  • Angie Girl (Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder) [2:56] LB


Signed, Sealed & Delivered (1970):

By the end of the ‘60s, Wonder was also beginning to rebel against the Motown hit factory mentality. He was anxious to address social concerns, experiment with electronics and not be restricted by radio and marketplace considerations. He was virtually self-sufficient in the studio, serving as his own producer and arranger, playing most of the instruments himself, and writing material with his wife, Syreeta Wright. Still, he gave the label another definitive smash with the title track, while sneaking in a cover of the Beatles’ We Can Work It Out and penning more intriguing tunes like “I Can’t Let My Heaven Walk Away” and Never Had a Dream Come True.

  • Never Had a Dream Come True (Stevie Wonder, Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy) [3:13] (1/31/70, 26 US, 22 CB, 31 AC, 11 RB, 6 UK, 22 CN) G2, LB, AC, DC-UK
  • Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours (Lee Garrett, Lula Mae Hardaway, Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright) [2:41] (6/20/70, 3 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 1 RB, 15 UK, 19 CN, airplay: 2 million) G2, LB, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Heaven Help Us All (Ron Miller) [3:13] (10/17/70, 9 US, 9 CB, 2 RB, 29 UK, 14 CN) G2, LB, AC, DC-UK
  • We Can Work It Out (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) [3:19] (3/13/71, 13 US, 9 CB, 3 RB, 27 UK, 49 CN, airplay: 2 million) G2, AC, DC-UK
  • I Gotta Have a Song (Don Hunter, Lula Mae Hardaway, Paul Riser, Stevie Wonder) [2:32] LB


Where I’m Coming From (1971):

Released one month before his 21st birthday, this is really Stevie’s first adult album. It was his first solely self-produced album and every song was co-written with his then wife Syreeta Wright (most notably on the hit If You Really Love Me). The lovely Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer, as the B-side to a cover of The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” has become a Wonder standard. Wonder also introduced the funky keyboard style that would take him through the next few years, as well as the social concerns that would absorb him later on. This album was a shot across the bow, fair warning that a major, nearly mature talent had arrived.

  • Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer (Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright) [2:53] (6/19/71, 78 US) G2, LB, AC
  • If You Really Love Me (Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright) [3:00] (8/14/71, 8 US, 9 CB, 10 AC, 4 RB, 20 UK, 60 CN) G2, LB, AC, DC-UK
  • Something Out of the Blue (Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright) [2:58] LB
  • Do Yourself a Favor (Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright) [5:58] LB
  • I Love Every Little Thing About You (Stevie Wonder) [3:55] AC

Greatest Hits Volume 2

Stevie Wonder


Rating:

4.075 out of 5.00
(average of 8 ratings)


Recorded: 1967-1971


Charted: November 20, 1971


Peak: 69 US, 10 RB, 30 UK


Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, 1.5 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B


Tracks: (1) Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day (2) Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) (3) If You Really Love Me (4) For Once in My Life (5) We Can Work It Out (6) You Met Your Match (7) Never Had a Dream Come True (8) Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (9) My Cherie Amour (10) Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer (11) Travelin’ Man (12) Heaven Help Us All


Total Running Time: ?

About Greatest Hits, Volume 2:

Like its predecessor anthology, this was a good compromise instead of the actual studio albums. It wasn’t until after this that Wonder truly hit his stride as an album artist. Also like the first greatest hits set, though, this one was rendered unnecessary when all the tracks were included on 1977’s Looking Back.

  • Travelin’ Man (Ron Miller, Bryan Wells) [2:54] (3/4/67, 32 US, 41 CB, 31 RB) G2, LB

Looking Back

Stevie Wonder


Rating:

4.498 out of 5.00
(average of 4 ratings)


Recorded: 1962-1971


Released: November 30, 1977


Peak: 34 US, 15 RB, 31 CN


Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B


Tracks, Disc 1: (1) Thank You for Loving Me All the Way (2) Contract on Love (3) Fingertips (Part 2) (4) Workout, Stevie, Workout (5) Castles in the Sand (6) Hey Harmonica Man (7) High Heel Sneakers (8) Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (9) Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby (11) Blowin’ in the Wind (12) Ain’t That Asking for Trouble (13) I’d Cry (14) A Place in the Sun (15) Sylvia (16) Down to Earth (17) Thank You Love (18) Hey Love (19) Travelin’ Man (20) Until You Come Back to Me That’s What I’m Gonna Do (21) I Was Made to Love Her (22) I’m Wondering


Tracks, Disc 2: (1) Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day (2) You Met Your Match (3) I’d Be a Fool Right Now (4) Alfie (5) More Than a Dream (6) For Once in My Life (7) Angie Girl (8) My Cherie Amour (9) I Don’t Know Why I Love You (10) If I Ruled the World (11) Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (12) Never Had a Dream Come True (13) Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours (14) Heaven Help Us All (15) I Gotta Have a Song (16) Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer (17) If You Really Love Me (18) Something Out of the Blue (19) Do Yourself a Favor


Total Running Time: 103:57

About Looking Back:

This collection rendered the first two greatest hits sets unnecessary as it gathered all of the songs from those albums along with seventeen more cuts from the same era.

  • Thank You for Loving Me All the Way [2:30] (recorded 1962) LB
  • High Heel Sneakers [2:58] (8/29/65, 59 US, 54 CB, 30 RB) LB
  • Until You Come Back to Me That’s What I’m Gonna Do [3:06] (1967 single, --) LB, AC
  • If I Ruled the World [3:31] (1969 recording) LB


Music of My Mind (1972):

Along with Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye, Wonder ushered in a new era of soul and R&B where albums were not just collections of singles, but cohesive artistic statements where artists could extend their music beyond the confines of a three-minute hit single. Music of My Mind was Wonder’s first album after his renegotiated contract with Motown. He produced, wrote the songs, and played the majority of the instruments on songs devoted to his more exotic musical ideas (which incorporated gospel, rock & roll, jazz, and African and Latin American rhythms). He also added synthesizers; played with rare invention and funk, they became the signature of his sound.

  • Superwoman (Where Were You When I Need You) (Stevie Wonder) [7:58] (5/20/72, 33 US, 32 CB, 13 RB, 53 CN) MQ


Talking Book (1972):

Talking Book established Wonder as the self-contained singer/songwriter. His 1972 tour of the United States with the Rolling Stones introduced him to a huge white audience, which helped make #1 hits of the album’s singles. In addition, the album closer I Believe is a pure revelatory experience. Right from the way the title was written in braille on the cover of the album to the shape, placing and suggestions of individual tracks, Talking Book was Stevie Wonder’s most personal album. See a DMDB page devoted to this album here.

  • Superstition (Stevie Wonder) [4:26] (11/11/72, 1 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 38 AC, 1 RB, 4 CL, 11 UK, 6 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • You Are the Sunshine of My Life (Stevie Wonder) [2:50] (3/17/73, 1 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 1 AC, 3 RB, 8 CL, 7 UK, 5 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • I Believe When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever (Stevie Wonder) [4:34] AC
  • You and I (Stevie Wonder) [4:34] AC


Innervisions (1973):

If Talking Book is his most personal album, Innervisions is Wonder’s greatest political statement. The opening Too High, an acute condemnation of drug use, quickly establishes the record’s forceful yet vibrant tone, which alternates between utopian dreamscapes (Visions) and tough-minded realism (“Jesus Children of America”). The record’s dueling concerns converge on Living for the City, which is both a brilliant examination of the myriad social ills so endemic to the ghetto experience and a stirring celebration of African-American resilience. On Higher Ground, Wonder even points a finger at himself to detail a sinner's second chance at life — a song which took on even greater resonance in the wake of the car crash which nearly killed him just months after the album’s release. See a DMDB page devoted to this album here.

  • Higher Ground (Stevie Wonder) [3:46] (8/18/73, 4 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 8 RR, 41 AC, 1 RB, 29 UK, 9 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Living for the City (Stevie Wonder) [7:26] (11/10/73, 8 US, 6 CB, 5 HR, 10 RR, 1 RB, 15 UK, 17 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing (Stevie Wonder) [4:45] (3/30/74, 16 US, 10 CB, 11 HR, 15 RR, 9 AC, 2 RB, 13 CN) AC
  • He’s Misstra Know-It-All (Stevie Wonder) [5:36] (4/13/74, 10 UK) AC, DC-UK
  • Too High (Stevie Wonder) [4:36] AC
  • Visions (Stevie Wonder) [5:23] AC
  • Golden Lady (Stevie Wonder) [4:47] AC
  • All in Love Is Fair (Stevie Wonder) [3:43] AC


Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974):

This album has one classic soul recording after another in spite of just two charted singles, though Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’ received airplay during this album’s heyday. The Caribbean-inspired Boogie on Reggae Woman is raucous with an undertone of sadness. The socially conscious You Haven’t Done Nothin’ is dipped in funk with its midtempo groove and spirited horn arrangement. The album is focused in tone; the music is thought-provoking, from the melody to the lyrics. In the wake of his serious car accident, Wonder contemplates death and afterlife on “Heaven...” and “They Won’t Go When I Go.” See a DMDB page devoted to this album here.

  • You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (Stevie Wonder) [3:29] (8/3/74, 1 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 1 RB, 30 UK, 1 CN) MQ, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Boogie on Reggae Woman (Stevie Wonder) [4:55] (11/9/74, 3 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 10 RR, 1 RB, 12 UK, 8 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US
  • Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away (Stevie Wonder) [5:02] AC
  • Too Shy to Say (Stevie Wonder) [3:29] AC
  • Creepin’ (Stevie Wonder) [4:20] AC


Songs in the Key of Life (1976):

So how do you follow two Album of the Year Grammy Awards (1973’s Innervisions and 1974’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale)? First, you take some time off. Wonder didn’t release any new material in 1975, a fact acknowledged by Paul Simon when he took home the Grammy for Album of the Year. He said, “I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder for not releasing an album this year.” Second, you come back and win Grammy’s 1976 Album of the Year. Songs in the Key of Life, a double album released after Wonder signed a $13-million contract with Motown, is often regarded by fans as Wonder’s best album. Always on the cutting edge of modern recording technology, the album is a tour de force of studio wizardry, yet it’s also a deeply personal and humane work. The album deftly blends the social commentary of his recent work with an exuberance harking back to his earliest records. It also resonates with a renewed spiritual dimension which lends the music even greater impact. Taken as a whole, the album tells his life story, spanning from childhood (I Wish) to the birth of his own daughter (Isn’t She Lovely). It takes time out to pay respects to the masters of jazz (Sir Duke), illuminate the struggles of the inner city (“Village Ghetto Land”) and confront society’s ills (Pastime Paradise, the basis of massive 1995 rap hit “Gangsta’s Paradise”). Possibly the single most influential album of the entire decade. See a DMDB page devoted to this album here.

  • I Wish (Stevie Wonder) [4:13] (11/26/76, 1 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 4 RR, 23 AC, 23 AC, 1 RB, 5 UK, 1 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Isn’t She Lovely (Stevie Wonder) [6:33] (1/8/77, 23 AC, sales: ½ million) MQ, AC, DC-UK
  • Sir Duke (Stevie Wonder) [3:51] (4/2/77, 1 US, 1 CB, 1 HR, 2 RR, 3 AC, 1 RB, 2 UK, 2 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Another Star (Stevie Wonder) [8:22] (8/27/77, 32 US, 29 AC, 18 RB, 29 UK, 34 CN) AC
  • As (Stevie Wonder) [7:09] (11/5/77, 36 US, 24 AC, 36 RB) AC, DC-UK
  • Pastime Paradise (Stevie Wonder) [3:27] AC, DC-UK
  • Knocks Me Off My Feet (Stevie Wonder) [3:36] AC
  • Ngiculela ~ Es Una Historia ~ I Am Singing (Stevie Wonder) [3:48] AC
  • If It’s Magic (Stevie Wonder) [3:12] AC


Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants (1979):

Perhaps the most curious album in Stevie Wonder’s career, this concept album about plants was ostensibly a soundtrack for a film that was never released. The record is loaded with ethereal experiments, many of them sound-effect laden instrumentals and dull intercultural experiments (“Voyage to India”), plus a few oddball vocals, but most observers didn’t know what to make of it at the time. While it didn’t catch on, it’s all so gently arranged that it might put you to sleep. The album can be seen as a precursor to New Age music. The album is now sometimes revered by critics looking for an argument (as someone once said about Dylan’s 1970 Self Portrait). Wonder was so hot that the record peaked at number four on the pop albums chart. Send One Your Love was a hit and “Outside My Window” scraped the middle regions of the pop charts.

  • Send One Your Love (Stevie Wonder) [4:00] (11/3/79, 4 US, 5 CB, 12 HR, 12 RR, 1 AC, 5 RB, 52 UK, 7 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK


Hotter Than July (1980):

Rushed out to reassure a public confused by Plants, this album is full of huge hooks and gorgeous melodies (“Did I Hear You Say You Love Me,” the ballad Lately, “As If You Read My Mind” with Syreeta). Hotter Than July returned to the street-dancing spirit of earlier periods (updated in contemporary idioms such as reggae and rap). It also became his first platinum album. The album’s biggest single was the irresistible reggae number Master Blaster. However, the standout track was Happy Birthday, the theme song for the campaign to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. In 1984, his efforts culminated in success when President Ronald Reagan announced that the third Monday of each January was to be officially known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

  • Master Blaster (Jammin’) (Stevie Wonder) [5:08] (9/13/80, 5 US, 1 CB, 15 HR, 1 RB, 12 CL, 2 UK, 22 CN) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It (Stevie Wonder) [4:39] (12/13/80, 11 US, 13 CB, 18 HR, 15 RR, 20 AC, 4 RB, 10 UK, 9 CN) AC, DC-UK
  • Lately (Stevie Wonder) [4:04] (3/7/81, 64 US, 88 CB, 33 AC, 29 RB, 3 UK) SR, AC, DC-UK
  • Happy Birthday (Stevie Wonder) [5:58] (7/25/81, 70 RB, 2 UK) AC, DC-UK
  • All I Do (Stevie Wonder, Paul, Broadnax) [5:16] SR, AC
  • Rocket Love (Stevie Wonder) [4:39] AC

Musiquarium

Stevie Wonder


Rating:

4.410 out of 5.00
(average of 4.5 ratings)


Recorded: 1971-1982


Charted: May 29, 1982


Peak: 4 US, 13 RB, 8 UK, 18 CN, 9 AU


Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, 0.1 UK, 4.5 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B


Tracks, Disc 1: (1) Superstition (2) You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (3) Living for the City (4) Front Line (5) Superwoman (Where Were You When I Need You) (6) Send One Your Love (7) You Are the Sunshine of My Life (8) Ribbon in the Sky


Tracks, Disc 2: (1) Higher Ground (2) Sir Duke (3) Master Blaster (Jammin’) (4) Boogie on Reggae Woman (5) That Girl (6) I Wish (7) Isn’t She Lovely (8) Do I Do


Total Running Time: 84:44

About Musiquarium:

Even those artists who have a successful enough career to make it to a third greatest-hits set don’t usually put one out that doesn’t duplicate songs previously covered by other compilations. However, this captures Wonder’s peak years, which included three Grammy winners for Album of the Year and #1 hits with “Superstion,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” “I Wish,” and “Sir Duke.” Four new songs were also included.

  • That Girl (Stevie Wonder) [5:13] (1/16/82, 4 US, 1 CB, 3 HR, 2 RR, 10 AC, 1 RB, 39 UK) MQ, SR, AC, DC-US, NO
  • Do I Do (Stevie Wonder) [10:28] (5/29/82, 13 US, 14 CB, 16 RR, 25 AC, 2 RB, 10 UK) MQ, SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US
  • Ribbon in the Sky (Stevie Wonder) [5:37] (9/11/82, 54 US, 57 CB, 21 AC, 10 RB, 45 UK) MQ, SR, AC
  • Front Line (Stevie Wonder, Gary Byrd) [5:57] MQ


The Woman in Red (soundtrack, 1984):

In 1984, Detroit gave Wonder the key to the city (he later considered a run for mayor) and he played harmonica on Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.” I Just Called to Say I Love You became one of Britain’s ten largest-selling singles of all time. In the United States, it won the Oscar for Best Song. When he dedicated the award to Nelson Mandela, he angered South African radio stations, which then banned all his music. The song’s parent album, this soundtrack to a Gene Wilder comedy, frustrated fans as well. Despite its success, “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” seemed like a formulaic TV commercial-in-the-making. The album also featured the hit Love Light In Flight and the admirably silly public service announcement “Don’t Drive Drunk.”

  • I Just Called to Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder) [4:21] (8/1/84, 1 US, 1 CB, 1 RR, 1 AC, 1 RB, 1 UK, 1 CN, 1 AU, sales: 4 ½ million) SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Love Light in Flight (Stevie Wonder) [6:54] (12/1/84, 17 US, 16 CB, 14 RR, 10 AC, 4 RB, 44 UK, 39 CN) SR, AC


In Square Circle (1985):

Part-Time Lover became the first to simultaneously top the pop, R&B, adult contemporary, and dance/disco charts. The parent album, unfortunately, relies heavily on synthesizers and the songs, while effective, are mostly missing his touch of genius. Still, some of the songs work, including the ballad Overjoyed, the funky “I Love You Too Much,” and the retro Go Home punctuated with horn riffs.

  • Part-Time Lover (Stevie Wonder) [3:43] (9/6/85, 1 US, 1 CB, 1 RR, 1 AC, 1 RB, 3 UK, 1 CN) SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Overjoyed (Stevie Wonder) [3:41] (2/22/86, 24 US, 29 CB, 27 RR, 1 AC, 7 RB, 17 UK, 55 CN) SR, AC, DC-UK, DC-US, NO
  • Go Home (Stevie Wonder) [5:19] AC


Characters (1987):

Wonder shocked fans by taking only two years to release his next album. Unfortunately, his formerly mass audience realized that Wonder was willing to settle for good pop music without challenging himself to make great pop music and the album was the first to miss the pop Top Five in 15 years. The biggest single was the “Superstition”-like dance track Skeletons. Wonder also charted with the pretty You Will Know and an uptempo duet with Michael Jackson, “Get It.”

  • Skeletons (Stevie Wonder) [5:24] (10/17/87, 19 US, 32 CB, 30 RR, 1 RB, 59 UK, 43 CN) AC
  • You Will Know (Stevie Wonder) [4:00] (1/16/88, 77 US, 87 CB, 16 AC, 1 RB) SR, AC


Jungle Fever (soundtrack, 1991):

Wonder was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Perhaps inspired by his own legendary status, he turned out his best work in a decade. Although it can’t compare to his glory days, this is very much a Stevie Wonder record: he wrote all but one of the songs and performed everything except a few bit parts. Stevie goes easy listening on “Make Sure You're Sure,” hip-hop on “Each Other’s Throat,” and techno-pop on “Chemical Love;” and (horrors!) gives away the lead vocal as on “If She Breaks Your Heart.”

  • Gotta Have You (Stevie Wonder) [6:26] (6/1/91, 92 US, 3 RB) AC
  • These Three Words (Stevie Wonder) [4:53] (11/30/91, 7 RB) SR, AC


Conversation Peace (1995):

Wonder’s gift for melody is still in place, and he incorporates understated hip-hop rhythms into his music well, yet he isn’t able to make music that fits into the rigid playlists of ‘90s urban contemporary radio. Still, he brings contemporary production touches to excellent material, either focused on social issues (“Rain Your Love Down,” “My Love Is with You”) or romance (“Edge of Eternity,” “I’m New,” For Your Love). Dragged down by some throwaway numbers (“Treat Myself,” “Sorry”) and unconvincing optimism (“Tomorrow Robins Will Sing”), but he never loses his sense of humor (or melody).

  • For Your Love (Stevie Wonder) [4:03] (2/25/95, 53 US, 30 AC, 11 RB, 23 UK, 12 CN) SR, AC, DC-UK

Song Review: A Greatest Hits Collection

Stevie Wonder


Rating:

4.183 out of 5.00
(average of 6 ratings)


Recorded: 1965-1996


Released: December 10, 1996


Peak: 100 RB, 19 UK, 4 AU


Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, -- UK, 3.5 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B


Tracks, Disc 1: (1) Part-Time Lover (2) I Just Called to Say I Love You (3) Superstition (4) Sir Duke (5) My Cherie Amour (6) I Was Made to Love Her (7) Overjoyed (8) Hey Love (9) Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours (10) You Are the Sunshine of My Life (11) Ribbon in the Sky (12) Master Blaster (Jammin’) (13) Living for the City (14) Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (15) Lately (16) Do I Do


Tracks, Disc 2: (1) Send One Your Love (2) Ebony and Ivory (with Paul McCartney) (3) All I Do (4) That Girl (5) For Your Love (6) I Wish (7) You Will Know (8) Boogie on Reggae Woman (9) Higher Ground (10) These Three Words (11) Stay Gold (12) Love Light in Flight (13) Kiss Lonely Goodbye (14) Hold on to Your Dream (15) Redemption Song


Total Running Time: ?

About Song Review:

This two-disc overview was Wonder’s most comprehensive set yet, covering his then thirty-year career. The non-chronological track listing is annoying, but this is the first Wonder album to feature “Ebony and Ivory,” his #1 duet with Paul McCartney.

  • Ebony and Ivory (with Paul McCartney) (Paul McCartney) [3:40] (from McCartney’s Tug of War, 3/29/82, 1 US, 1 CB, 40 HR, 1 RR, 1 AC, 8 RB, 34 AR, 1 UK, 1 CN, 2 AU, sales: 1 million) SR, DC-UK, NO
  • Stay Gold (Stevie Wonder, Carmine Coppola) [3:33] (1983, from the movie The Outsiders) SR
  • Hold on to Your Dream (Stevie Wonder) [4:19] (1996, from The Adventures of Pincchio soundtrack) SR
  • Kiss Lonely Goodbye (Stevie Wonder) [4:05] (1996, from The Adventures of Pincchio soundtrack) SR
  • Redemption Song (Bob Marley) [3:46] (from the Get on the Bus soundtrack) SR

At the Close of a Century

Stevie Wonder


Rating:

4.762 out of 5.00
(average of 5 ratings)


Recorded: 1962-1997


Released: November 23, 1999


Peak: 100 RB


Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, -- UK, 0.5 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B


Tracks, Disc 1: (1) Fingertips (Parts 1 & 2) (2) Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (3) Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby (4) Blowin’ in the Wind (5) A Place in the Sun (6) Hey Love (7) I Was Made to Love Her (8) Until You Come Back to Me That’s What I’m Gonna Do (9) I’m Wondering (10) Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day (11) You Met Your Match (12) For Once in My Life (13) I Don’t Know Why (14) My Cherie Amour (15) Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (16) Never Had a Dream Come True (17) Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours (18) Heaven Help Us All (19) We Can Work It Out (20) If You Really Love Me (21) Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer (22) Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You) (23) I Love Every Little Thing About You


Tracks, Disc 2: (1) Superstition (2) You Are the Sunshine of My Life (3) You and I (4) I Believe When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever (5) Too High (6) Visions (7) Living for the City (8) Golden Lady (9) Higher Ground (10) All in Love Is Fair (11) Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing (12) He’s Misstra Know-It-All (13) You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (14) Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away (15) Too Shy to Say (16) Boogie on Reggae Woman (17) Creepin’


Tracks, Disc 3: (1) Sir Duke (2) I Wish (3) Knocks Me Off My Feet (4) Pastime Paradise (5) Isn’t She Lovely (6) Ngiculela ~ Es Una Historia ~ I Am Singing (7) If It’s Magic (8) As (9) Another Star (10) Send One Your Love (11) All I Do (12) Rocket Love (13) I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It (14) Master Blaster (Jammin’) (15) Lately (16) Happy Birthday


Tracks, Disc 4: (1) That Girl (2) Ribbon in the Sky (3) Do I Do (4) Love Light in Flight (5) I Just Called to Say I Love You (6) Overjoyed (7) Part-Time Lover (8) Go Home (9) You Will Know (10) Skeletons (11) Gotta Have You (12) These Three Words (13) For Your Love (14) How Come, How Long (with Babyface)


Total Running Time: ?

About At the Close of the Century:

Stevie Wonder’s first box set covers most of the material from his previous anthologies as well as a slew of album tracks, mostly from his classic ‘70s albums. The only “new” song from the album was 1996’s duet with Babyface from the latter’s album, but it showed that Wonder still had it after three decades.

  • How Come, How Long (Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Stevie Wonder) [5:15] (with Babyface, 1996) AC

The Definitive Collection (UK version)

Stevie Wonder


Rating:

4.534 out of 5.00
(average of 4 ratings)


Recorded: 1962-1998


Released: October 29, 2002


Peak: 35 US, 28 RB, 11 UK, 66 AU


Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 4.5 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B


Tracks, Disc 1: (1) Superstition (2) Sir Duke (3) I Wish (4) Master Blaster (Jammin’) (5) Isn’t She Lovely (6) I Just Called to Say I Love You (7) Ebony and Ivory (with Paul McCartney) (8) As (9) Never Had a Dream Come True (10) I Was Made to Love Her (11) Heaven Help Us All (12) Overjoyed (13) Lately (14) For Your Love (15) If You Really Love Me (16) Higher Ground (17) Do I Do (18) Living for the City (19) Part-Time Lover


Tracks, Disc 2: (1) For Once in My Life (2) Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (3) We Can Work It Out (4) Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours (5) Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (6) I’m Wondering (7) My Cherie Amour (8) You Are the Sunshine of My Life (9) I Don’t Know Why I Love You (10) A Place in the Sun (11) Blowin’ in the Wind (12) Send One Your Love (13) Pastime Paradise (14) I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It (15) Fingertips (Parts 1 & 2) (16) Boogie on Reggae Woman (17) You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (18) He’s Misstra Know-It-All (19) Happy Birthday


Total Running Time: ?

Awards:

About The Definitive Collection:

While the double-disc UK version of this album is, pound for pound, the best Stevie Wonder collection out there, it is unfortunate that it couldn’t be compiled chronologically.

By contrast, the single-disc US version is chronological, covering from 1962 to 1984. It contains the following tracks: (1) Fingertips (Part 2) (2) Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (3) Hey Love (4) I Was Made to Love Her (5) For Once in My Life (6) My Cherie Amour (7) Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours (8) You Are the Sunshine of My Life (9) Superstition (10) Higher Ground (11) Living for the City (12) You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (13) Boogie on Reggae Woman (14) I Wish (15) Sir Duke (16) Master Blaster (Jammin’) (17) That Girl (18) Do I Do (19) I Just Called to Say I Love You (20) Overjoyed (21) Part-Time Lover. All of these songs, except “Hey Love” and “That Girl” are featured on the UK version.


A Time to Love (2005):

Wonder returns with his first studio album in ten years. While three songs were released from the album (So What the Fuss, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” and “Shelter in the Rain”), Wonder didn’t exactly storm the singles charts. However, the album was his first top ten since In Square Circle from 20 years earlier and was his sixth consecutive studio effort to be certified for at least sales of a ½ million.

  • So What the Fuss (with Prince & En Vogue) (Stevie Wonder) [5:06] (3/26/05, 96 US, 40 AC, 34 RB, 19 UK) NO

Number Ones

Stevie Wonder


Rating:

4.273 out of 5.00
(average of 4.5 ratings)


Recorded: 1962-2005


Released: August 21, 2007


Peak: 171 US, 40 RB, 23 UK, 89 AU


Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B


Tracks: (1) Fingertips (Part 2) (2) Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (3) Blowin’ in the Wind (4) I Was Made to Love Her (5) Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours (6) Superstition (7) You Are the Sunshine of My Life (8) Higher Ground (9) Living for the City (10) You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (11) I Wish (12) Sir Duke (13) Master Blaster (Jammin’) (14) That Girl (15) Ebony and Ivory (with Paul McCartney) (16) I Just Called to Say I Love You (17) That’s What Friends Are For (with Dionne Warwick, Elton John, & Gladys Knight) (18) Part-Time Lover (19) Overjoyed (20) So What the Fuss (with Prince & En Vogue)


Total Running Time: ?

About Number Ones:

This UK collection compiled 20 cuts in a single-disc chronological package. It’s the first to include “That’s What Friends Are For,” the #1 superstar duet with Dionne Warwick, Elton John, & Gladys Knight. The title is a mystery, though. Many of these were #1 songs, but others were far from it (“So What the Fuss”?).


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