About the Album:
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.
Talking Book established Wonder as the self-contained singer/songwriter. “When he reached the age of majority, former child prodigy Stevie Wonder renegotiated a contract with Motown Records that granted him creative independence…His first release under these terms, Music of My Mind, demonstrated that Wonder could work as a truly self-contained unit – writing and producing all the songs, and playing virtually all the instruments, entirely alone.” TL
He supported that album with a supporting slot for the Rolling Stones on the U.S. tour in 1972, which gave him a wider audience than ever before and fueled his two singles from Talking Book to the top of the charts. Wonder essentially “secured his position as the reigning genius of his era” TL and “expanded his compositional palate with 1972’s Talking Book to include societal ills as well as tender love songs, and so recorded the first smash album of his career. What had been hinted at on the intriguing project Music of My Mind was here focused into a laser beam of tight songwriting, warm electronic arrangements, and ebullient performances – altogether the most realistic vision of musical personality ever put to wax.” JB
The album kicks off with “a disarmingly simple love song,” JB the “candy-coated pop” TL of “You Are the Sunshine of My Life (but of course, it’s only the composition that’s simple).” JB It would become “one of the most covered (and ‘lounged’) songs ever,” SL-84 which could make it feel “nauseating or naively charming, or even nausteatingly charming.” SL-85
The song also showcased “a rare generosity in someone of Stevie’s star status” SL-84 in that the song’s first few vocal lines are given to singer Jim Gilstrap and backup singer Gloria Barley. The song was actually recorded during Music of My Mind, but held back because it was “deemed unsuitiable for the mood of that album.” SL-84 There was also speculation that the song was held off for awhile since Wonder had entered into a relationship with Barley although still married to Syreeta Wright. SL-85
The “theme of lost love” SL-85 echoes throughout the album, which isn’t surprising consider Wonder and Wright’s marriage dissolved after Wonder returned from the Stones’ tour. “The glorious closer I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever” JB is actually “an optimistic song” SL-86 and a pure revelatory experience. The song also proved its stamina when Mike + the Mechanics covered it for their 1995 album Beggar on a Beach of Gold and it showed up on the High Fidelity soundtrack in 2000.
That and You and I are marked by “soaring exuberance.” TL They “subtly illustrate that the conception of love can be stronger than the reality, while Tuesday Heartbreak speaks simply but powerfully: ‘I wanna be with you when the nighttime comes / I wanna be with you till the daytime comes.’” JB
“Stevie’s not always singing a tender ballad here – in fact, he flits from contentment to mistrust to promise to heartbreak within the course of the first four songs — but he never fails to render each song in the most vivid colors. In stark contrast to his early songs, which were clever but often relied on the Motown template of romantic metaphor, with Talking Book it became clear Stevie Wonder was beginning to speak his mind and use personal history for material (just as Marvin Gaye had with the social protest of 1971’s What’s Going On). The lyrics became less convoluted, while the emotional power gained in intensity.” JB
“The biggest hit from Talking Book wasn’t a love song at all; the funk landmark Superstition urges empowerment instead of hopelessness, set to a grooving beat that made it one of the biggest hits of his career.” JB In fact, it was his first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1963’s “Fingertips (Part 2).” It sported “a completely compulsive groove, a killer clav riff, and a hooky chorus line, all assembled in…an irresistible combustion.” SL-84
It’s followed by Big Brother. With its “overtly political stance” SL-85 it is “the first of his directly critical songs, excoriating politicians who posture to the underclass in order to gain the only thing they really need: votes.” JB
“With Talking Book, Stevie also found a proper balance between making an album entirely by himself and benefiting from the talents of others.” JB “Sax star David Sanborn makes an appearance, as does guitar superstar Jeff Beck, alongside Buzzy Feiten (former guitarist with Paul Butterfield’s band.” SL-85 The latter two “appeared on Lookin’ for Another Pure Love, Beck’s solo especially giving voice to the excruciating process of moving on from a broken relationship.” JB
Elsewhere, Wonder’s “wife Syreeta and her sister Yvonne Wright contributed three great lyrics, and Ray Parker, Jr. came by to record a guitar solo that brings together the lengthy jam Maybe Your Baby.” JB That song showcased heavy use of the synth on basslines. Author Steve Lodder speculates that “Prince was well aware of tracks like ‘Maybe Your Baby’ in his formative years.” SL-86
“Like no other Stevie Wonder LP before it, Talking Book is all of a piece, the first unified statement of his career. It’s certainly an exercise in indulgence but, imitating life, it veers breathtakingly from love to heartbreak and back with barely a pause.” JB “In a career full of classics, Talking Book is Stevie’s most perfect album.” TL