STEVIE WONDER — Songs in the Key of Life

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STEVIE WONDER - Songs in the Key of Life cover
4.67 | 14 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 1976

Filed under RnB


A1 Love's In Need Of Love Today 7:05
A2 Have A Talk With God 2:42
A3 Village Ghetto Land 3:25
A4 Contusion 3:45
A5 Sir Duke 3:52
B1 I Wish 4:12
B2 Knocks Me Off My Feet 3:35
B3 Pastime Paradise 3:20
B4 Summer Soft 4:16
B5 Ordinary Pain 6:22
C1 Isn't She Lovely 6:33
C2 Joy Inside My Tears 6:29
C3 Black Man 8:29
D1 Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing 3:48
D2 If It's Magic 3:11
D3 As 7:07
D4 Another Star 8:19
A Something's Extra Bonus Record
E1 Saturn 4:54
E2 Ebony Eyes 4:10
F1 All Day Sucker 5:06
F2 Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call) 3:58


About this release

Tamla ‎– T13-340C2(US)

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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By wowing the world with two masterpieces in a row, “Innervisions” and “Fulfillingness’ First Finale,” there were few humans on planet Earth in the mid 70s that wouldn’t acknowledge that Stevie Wonder couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate last name. As an aural artist he was literally without parallel. At that point we excused him for taking some well-deserved time off but nobody expected his next album to be over two years in the making because he’d always been so prolific and fast. Rumors about what was taking so long ran rampant at the time and it seemed the new LP would never materialize. Many of his fans feared it would be impossible for even a giant like Stevie Wonder to live up to the enormous hype generated by Motown so when it finally hit the record bins on September 28, 1976 most of us snatched it up, took it home and lowered needle to groove with just a touch of nervous trepidation. Within seconds we realized our worries had been phantoms. The master had done it again. He’d delivered 21 brand new songs (the majority of them instant classics) for us to marvel over and indulge in for decades to come. We simply could not have asked for anything more satisfying.

His decision to open this two-disc-plus-EP set with the subtle but poignant “Love’s in Need of Love Today” was a wise one for it contains everything his loyal followers had been yearning to hear, not least of all Stevie’s incredible voice, and he generously gave us 7 minutes of his unique magic to jump into. He follows with the sincere spirituality of “Have a Talk with God,” presented with an understated funk track augmented by springy synths. Knowing that millions were listening, he urges us to look to our Creator for answers to and help with problems. “Many of us feel we walk alone without a friend/never communicating with the One who lives within/forgetting all about the One who never ever lets you down/and you can talk to him anytime/He's always around,” he assures. Ever unpredictable, Wonder next drops on us “Village Ghetto Land,” a thoughtful piece supported by a string quartet that further displays his uncanny versatility. But all is not frilly peace & love. He reminds us that in the midst of prosperity there are “Families buying dog food now/starvation roams the streets/babies die before they're born/infected by the grief” and that we’re responsible for that dire situation. Suddenly he whisks us away to the land of jazz/rock fusion with the fiery instrumental, “Contusion.” It comes streaking out of nowhere to hit like a hard jab to the chin. To say it’s a pleasant surprise is putting it much too mildly. Guest Mike Sembello’s guitar work sizzles throughout this energy-filled tune.

From that wild ride he segues to the glory that is “Sir Duke” and the general response is something akin to “Holy cow! Is this guy a certified genius or what?” The number’s highly memorable signature horn line and lyrics like “For there's Basie, Miller, Satchmo/and the king of all Sir Duke/and with a voice like Ella's ringing out/there's no way the band can lose” make this perhaps the greatest tribute song ever written. On its heels comes “I Wish” with its irresistible funky groove and the unabashed playfulness in Stevie’s sublime vocal. Once again his clever horn arrangement slays. Then, reinforcing his status as one of the best balladeers of the 20th century, he offers up “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” a romantic gem with hardly a peer. He follows that with “Pastime Paradise,” its inspired orchestration layered over a hypnotic R&B feel. It’s only 4 chords but the tune’s captivating arrangement never allows for a dull moment to pass. “Proclamation of race relations/consolation/integration/verification of revelations/acclamation/world salvation/vibrations/simulation/confirmation to the peace of the world” he shouts emphatically. This was groundbreaking stuff. “Summer Soft” starts out tentatively but wastes no time in building into a dynamic, engaging song that modulates higher and higher as it goes along, allowing Wonder’s vocal range to flabbergast all pretenders of all ages. On “Ordinary Pain” an Al Green-styled rhythm suits this simple yet very effective R&B ditty to a tee. Just when you’ve settled in, though, it abruptly evolves into a heavy rockin’ jam where guest soul singer Shirley Brewer vamps with sass for a good three minutes.

“Isn’t She Lovely?” is a lighthearted father-doting-on-daughter love fest possessing an infectious bouncing beat and a harmonica performance that is absolutely stunning. The real-life audio snippets at the end are sweet icing on the cake. For those keeping count, that’s 11 exemplary cuts in a row so when I say that “Joy Inside My Tears” is the first tune to appear that’s only average I do so with humble respect. Its bluesy atmosphere is a nice change of pace, however, and it gives off a sort of Elton John meets Ray Charles vibe that’s far from off-putting. A funkified Latin feel propels “Black Man” like a bullet train and never lets up on the intensity. I love the spirited breakdown in the 2nd half and the enthusiastic school children yelling out various multiethnic contributions to mankind is a brilliant touch. "Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing" is next and you may remark, “A ballad in Spanish? Really?” To which I respond “Why not?” It’s a beautiful composition and the carnivale aura is way cool. “If It’s Magic” sports, of all things, a harp for accompaniment and it proves to not only be a knockout move on his part but more proof that Stevie recognizes no restrictions when it comes to creativity. The song is exquisite. “As” is a smooth, jazzy tune that keeps the album’s impressive momentum rolling along unimpeded. His passionate vocal strikes right at the heart when he belts out words like “We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles/can make you wish you were born in another time and space/but you can bet your life times that and twice its double/that God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed.” The Brazilian aura that feeds “Another Star” lightens the mood immediately and, while the composition is a slight step down, Wonder’s soaring voice elevates the track as hot percussion and Bobbi Humphrey’s flute spice things up properly.

For most normal songwriter/musicians those 17 tunes would be enough but Stevie saw fit to add another EP’s worth for good measure. An elegant, uplifting intro leads you into “Saturn,” a powerful ballad that contains a thought-provoking message. “Packing my bags/going away/to a place where the air is clean/on Saturn there's no sense to sit and watch the people die/we don't fight our wars the way you do/we put back all the things we use/on Saturn there's no sense to keep on doing such crimes, “ he sings. It’s unusual for Wonder to go nostalgic but when he employs that tactic on “Ebony Eyes” he makes it fresh and entertaining. It’s the kind of thing that the Beatles were so clever at pulling off and he’s up to the task. “All Day Sucker” is an eclectic little song that keeps you guessing what he’ll do next and, while perhaps it’s nothing more than Stevie having some fun in the studio, it’s charming all the same. A lazy jazz melody lets "Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call)" drift by serenely without effort and this coy instrumental is the perfect way to close such a spectacular achievement. Voila!

I heard that 130 different folks contributed to this project and it just goes to show how meticulous and determined Wonder was to make a reality the music he heard in his head and heart for “Songs in the Key of Life.” It was a phenomenal success. It was only the third album in history to debut at #1 and it held that position for 14 weeks. It spent 35 weeks hovering in the top 10 and a total of 80 before it finally slipped from the charts. It garnered the Grammy for album of the year (his 3rd) and was awarded three more in other categories. If not for Steely Dan’s awesome “Aja” I’d deem it the finest specimen of 70s music in existence but being a close runner up to that monumental LP is far from a disgrace. I’m just happy I lived in an era when stellar music like this could suddenly arrive to change my whole outlook on life. This is what a bonafide masterpiece sounds, smells, tastes, looks and feels like.

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