Stevie Wonder

You SHOULD…Hear: Songs in the Key of Life

 

“You should hear Songs in the Key of Life, by Stevie Wonder. In 1975, Wonder had considered leaving the music industry, moving to Ghana and working with children with disabilities. At only 25 years old, he had already released 17 albums, sold millions, and won dozens of awards, including Grammys for Album of the Year (1974 and 1975).  After some prodding from friends, family, fans (and the biggest record contract for any artist in history), he returned to the studio to record. In the midst of the dominance of the carefree hedonism of disco, the double LP, was released in September 1976 to critical acclaim. Like his previous work, this LP proved to be a beautifully discursive exploration of the human condition. Wonder assembled a group of artists from different genres and filled the album with an aural style and literary brilliance that was organically balanced with social commentary and festive jaunts about mistakes of our youth. “Isn’t She Lovely” is as infectious and fun as songs get. “Sir Duke” is classic Wonder. With more hit singles than any Wonder LP ever, it’s a challenge to justify focus on one song, but Wonder’s highpoint is one of the best love songs ever, “As.”

Songs became Wonder’s best-selling album of all time. It won Grammy Album of the Year among three other Grammys. Auteurs from Prince to George Michael have praised it as the best album ever made. The list of awards and honors is too long to put here. When you hear it, know that it offers us many ways for its consumption. Focus on the sonic, and isolate the various instruments and vocals from Herbie Hancock or Minnie Riperton. Concentrate on the enthusiastic flow of Wonder on some songs, the playful laugh, improvisation, or prattle on another. Appreciate the jazz inflections on R&B vocals. Listen to tales of love, God, struggle and joy. It is a lush, incredible example of exceptional talent and a reminder of how important it is to encourage the creation of wonderous art. ”

– Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar
Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Music
Professor of History