by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)
Stevie Wonder told us with his very first hit, ‘Fingertips,’ recorded when he was 12, that he was a harmonica master. Somehow, through all the genius songwriting, singing, production and keyboard innovation, we tend to forget about those harmonica skills.
But Stevie hasn’t.
His unmistakable harmonica blowing is right there, easy to find in such Stevie favorites throughout his career including ‘I Was Made to Love Her,’ ‘Isn’t She Lovely,’ ‘For Once In My Life,’ ‘That Girl,’ ‘We Can Work It Out,’ ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman,’ and even 1990s gems like ‘Treat Myself.’
Although he does play that Hohner Chromonica often on his own records, Wonder actually seems to utilize his harmonica skills most frequently as a means to collaborate with other artists.
From the 1960s to today, he’s played harmonica as a guest session man on over 150 songs from other artists. That’s more than 10 whole albums worth of additional Stevie-infused material!
To celebrate that part of Stevie’s career, today’s GBN Month of Stevie playlist is entitled “The Wonders of Stevie’s Harmonica,“ where we’ve amassed every Stevie Wonder harmonica guest appearance that we could find on Spotify into one huge list.
You’ll find a few famous hits – Chaka Khan’s ‘I Feel For You,’ Elton John’s ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,’ Sting’s ‘Brand New Day,’ R&B classics from DeBarge’s ‘Love Me In A Special Way’ to Jermaine Jackson’s smash ‘Let’s Get Serious’ (which Stevie also wrote and produced). And one of my personal favorites, the Eurythmics #1 UK hit ‘There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart).’
And though he hasn’t released a full album of new work since 2005, Stevie Wonder has stayed relevant to the charts through these harmonica-based collabos. That’s Stevie’s harmonica on Drake’s ‘Take Care’ album – the #1 album of 2012.
He appears twice on the Mark Ronson 2015 album that contained the #1 song of that year, “Uptown Funk.” And just last year, that was Stevie’s harmonica again on rapper Travis Scott’s chart-topping album “AstroWorld.”
But going on Stevie Wonder’s harmonica journey through music takes you to more than just the top of the charts. One of the special things about being Stevie – a sonic force for nearly 60 years – is his wide-ranging love of music across all genres and generations, and his ability to play with all those people.
While many associate the harmonica mostly with blues and folk sounds, Stevie takes the instrument to new places. To be expected, his harmonica is present in the work of his Motown compatriots from the Supremes to the Temptations to Smokey Robinson.
But he’s also played with the finest in rock music (Paul McCartney, James Taylor), popular standards (Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett), world music (Sergio Mendes, Djavan), jazz (Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie), pop (NSync, 98 Degrees, Mariah Carey), hip hop (Drake, Snoop Dogg) and gospel (BeBe Winans, Andrae Crouch). (Stevie, of course, has also ventured into Broadway, but the version of Rent’s ‘Seasons of Love’ with his contributions isn’t available on Spotify. But you can hear it here.)
The list closes with another personal favorite, this one from Stevie’s own catalog – his harmonica infused take on the classical holiday piece ‘Ave Maria’ – written in 1825 and sung primarily by opera singers through the centuries.
The 45-second harmonica solo here is simple and majestic, and completely at home within a classical music space, something I think only Stevie Wonder could achieve with this instrument.
Come take a ride on Stevie’s harmonica highway – and listen out for that unmistakable sound. As with most musical adventures, we hope you will find something unexpectedly nice along with way.
Special thank you – assembling this playlist wouldn’t have been easily possible without the massive amounts of information on the fan website www.steviewonder.org.uk .