In earlier Stevie Wonder playlists this month, GBN has featured playlists devoted to cover versions of the songs from “Songs in the Key of Life” and from “Talking Book.” Today’s playlist, in our month devoted to the music of Stevie Wonder in honor of his 70th birthday, features the music of “Innervisions.”
By 1973, Stevie was already on an impressive streak. Now having complete creative control over his work, both “Music of My Mind” and “Talking Book” from the previous year were tremendously successful both commercially and creatively. “Innervisions” took things to the next level.
Beautiful ballads of love like “Golden Lady” and “All In Love Is Fair” are intertwined with the political commentary of “Living for the City” and “He’s Misstra Know-It-All.”
It was a new kind of soul album and it all worked – kicking off an unprecedented streak of winning Grammy Album of the Year awards for three of his releases in a row.
This covers playlist differs from the other two albums. This time, instead of switching up genres from song to song, we’ve delved deeper into jazz versions of songs from “Innervisions.”
Stevie has been an immensely influential musical force among the jazz community. Jazz musicians are constantly covering Stevie – and many have done tribute albums devoted solely to his compositions (Nnena Freelon, Stanley Turrentine, and Najee to name a few).
Nevertheless, though we’ve confined the playlist to jazz, we’ve tried to mix up jazz styles and instruments, including everything from avant garde vocalists to smooth jazz saxophone. We hope our Innervisions playlist is a great vehicle to explore jazz styles, from the comfort of already knowing all the twists and turns of the original songs by heart.
While we still have several more great Stevie-themed playlists to share in the final days of May, today GBN is asking you to join in the fun!
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring 20 Stevie Wonder songs with you, what would they be? And why? Please share your own Spotify list or written list in the comments!
GBN contributor Marlon West gamely took up this challenge to pave the playlist path. In Marlon’s words:
“Here’s my last offering/delightful assignment of this monthlong celebration of Stevie Wonder’s 70th Birthday. Twenty Stevie Wonder songs you’d take to a Desert Island. Here’s mine. It is not an “essential” list or a “best of.” This is a collection of 20 songs that have enduring appeal to me personally.
You may notice my list leans heavy on 1980’s “Hotter than July.” It was the record that came out when I was rolling around in my parents’ car as a freshly-minted driver. I wore that cassette tape out. So that record looms large for me.
What’s your list look/sound like? Please share yours in the comments.
June is African American Music Appreciation Month! See ya next week with the first of my four offerings for that month-long tribute.
With today’s playlist, from our month of playlists devoted to Stevie Wonder in honor of his 70th birthday, we take the same approach to Stevie’s 1972 watershed album, “Talking Book.” “Talking Book” is at the front end of Stevie’s period of immense creativity in the 1970s.
Still in his early 20s, and having won creative freedom over his work in his newest Motown contract, he created a multi-textured album filled with funk rhythms, smooth soul, and swinging pop – all merged together into one genius record that still sounds great today. (To hear NPR’s “Story of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book” segment, click here.)
The album kicks off with the elegant “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” – which has become Stevie’s most-covered song, with over 250 versions recorded by other artists through the years according to SecondHandSongs.com (a website devoted to cover songs).
Many of those versions are similar. As evidence of Stevie’s complete crossover popularity by that point in his career, ‘Sunshine’ actually became an easy listening staple, performed by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Mathis to Liza Minnelli – and also by Jim Nabors, Vicki Lawrence, Brigitte Bardot and Englebert Humperdinck.
Opening with alternative rocker Jack White‘s version of that standard, our goal is to give you a playlist that feels both familiar to your memories of the original album, but also stretches musically to a few new places.
We’ve mixed in rock, easy listening, funk, dance, a cappella, jazz, Brazilian by artists as diverse as Macy Gray, Rufus, Michael Bublé and Sergio Mendes. We’ve placed the songs in their original album order, and have limited each song to one version – and each covering artist to only one track.
The list concludes with one of the newest Stevie Wonder covers – actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph beautifully covers “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” for the soundtrack to “High Fidelity,” the new Hulu series in which she co-stars. Set around the vinyl-obsessed employees of a small independent record store, the choice to cover Stevie circa 2020 demonstrates that the music faithful still remain true believers in the sounds of Mr. Wonder.
Ever since this writer was elementary school age and first becoming aware of music, I’ve been obsessed with the artistic connections created by “cover” versions (“remakes,” in layman’s terms).
My father and I would routinely spend a Saturday night pairing together interesting playlists for each other comprised of original versions and their remakes, usually trying to find versions as far apart musically from the originals as possible.
Several decades ago, this was very labor intensive – we had to go ‘digging in the crates’ through our own vinyl, and we had to actually know and remember that the cover version had been done. Piecing it all together was half the fun.
Today, with Spotify and the internet, it’s much much easier to uncover covers. Just type in the song name and often you’ll find hundreds of options to pick from, especially when we’re talking about Stevie Wonder, who has literally had thousands of remakes done of his songs.
So many versions, in fact, that it’s impossible to weed through them all. (According to SecondHandSongs.com, a website devoted to ‘cover’ songs, Stevie is the most covered R&B artist of all time.)
So with today’s Stevie Wonder playlist from GBN, I’ve limited myself to covers of songs from his landmark 1976 double album “Songs in the Key of Life.” “Songs in the Key of Life” capped a prolific mid-1970s golden era for Stevie Wonder, winning him a remarkable third Grammy for Album of the Year – all three of his wins coming in just four years! Many lists feature “Songs” as one of the best albums of all-time.
You may ask – why should I listen to cover versions when the originals are so perfect? I certainly won’t argue with the originals’ perfection. And I don’t think that any of the artists here would argue either that their version supersedes Stevie’s own.
What I would say is that cover versions can do several things. First, they evoke the true songwriting abilities underlying the original song – a great ‘song’ should be able to stand up to multiple interpretations.
Second, when the cover version is in a different genre (and these are the most interesting ones, usually) – they can bring the listener to new places musically that they may not have ventured before. Third, after hearing an iconic album so many times that it becomes almost second nature, it can be refreshing to hear it again in a new way.
In this playlist, we’ve got the entire ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ song list, in the same order as the original – with the four ‘bonus tracks’ from the extra single included in the original release added to the end.
Each song has only one extra version – and each covering artist is limited to just one track. The mix spans jazz, folk, rock, Latin, soul, dance music and many more, including Luther Vandross, Thelma Houston, Najee, Mary J. Blige and James Taylor‘s brother Livingston Taylor. There’s even a Spice Girl in there if you look for her!
So many generations have grown up listening to Stevie Wonder that people often refer to his music as “the soundtrack” to their lives.
Though his songs have appeared in countless movies over the decades, Stevie has also done literal soundtrack work during his career, contributing tracks and sometimes full albums worth of original music to over half a dozen movies.
Wonder even won an Original Song Academy Award for “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” his chart-topping hit from the 1984 movie “The Woman in Red.”
As Good Black News continues its month-long tribute to Stevie Wonder as he turns 70, Marlon West has compiled a new Spotify playlist celebrating Wonder’s unique contributions to cinema.
In Marlon’s words:
“STEVIE AT THE MOVIES is another playlist devoted to the talent and impact of Stevie Wonder his birthday month of May.
My love of moviemaking and Stevie Wonder’s music resulted in the playlist of his work for films. He’s written and contributed to songs for many movies including “The Outsiders,” “The Last Dragon,” “The Adventures Of Pinocchio” and “Rent.”
He has written and produced motion picture soundtracks for “The Secret Life of Plants,” (the full album title is “Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants”) “The Woman in Red” and “Jungle Fever.”
I have included a few Stevie Wonder “needle drops” from films like “Glory Road,” “Poetic Justice,” “The Thing,” “Dead Presidents,” “Almost Famous,” “High Fidelity,” and others.
I couldn’t resist including “Gangsta’s Paradise” from the Michelle Pfeiffer-starring film “Dangerous Minds,” which of course contains a sample of “Pastime Paradise” from 1976’s “Songs In The Key Of Life.”
As always, stay, sane, safe, and kind. Take care.”
Even though Stevie Wonder wrote and sang the words above in his 1976 release “Sir Duke” from his classic “Songs in the Key of Life” double album, they are words that have been true since the formation of life and the sounds from it emerged on this planet.
In good times and bad, music remains an indelible part of our souls and our existence. So even now, as the entire world faces a sobering scourge in the form of a viral pandemic, music has the power to help us cope. Music can help us relax, rejoice, reflect, rejuvenate… revolutionize.
What can be said that hasn’t already been shared about Stevland Hardaway Morris? Better known around six galaxies as Stevie Wonder, the man, former child prodigy and one of the most successful musicians of the late 20th century turns 67-years-old today (May 13). For those not old enough to know the story of the “Lil’ Stevie Wonder,” here it goes: Signed to Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11, he performed, wrote, sung and produced records for them all the way into the 2010s.
With iconic singles such as “Sir Duke,”“You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Superstition,” and albums such as Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life — Stevie has more than 30 U.S. top ten hits, won 25 Grammy Awards, helped to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday into a national holiday. He is an official “Messenger of Peace” for the United Nations and one of the all-time top artists for the Billboard Hot 100.
To us, he is simply a man who has been in touch with the divine spirit of the Creator, and has illuminated our worlds with his songs and legacy. From playing on street corners with his friend back in the days to throwing down at President Barack Obama‘s last White House party — Stevie Wonder’s impact on pop culture, politics, activism and music are the stuff of legends. For that, we celebrate his life and continuing revolution around the sun by championing these 15 stories that you should read to get more familiar with the architect behind so many classic jams.
Stevie Wonder will get the all-star treatment next month during a tribute concert in his honor. The Associated Press reports that Usher, Willie Nelson and Janelle Monae will be among the performers paying tribute to Wonder at “Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life — An All-Star Grammy Salute.”
The event, which will also feature performances from Coldplay‘s Chris Martin and Ed Sheeran, will take place at the Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles on Feb. 10.
The concert is scheduled to be held two days after the 57th annual Grammy Awards. Wonder’s history with the Grammys is a stellar one that includes receiving 25 Grammy Awards during his career.
Tickets for “Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life — An All-Star Grammy Salute” are currently on sale. The show is set to air as a two-hour special Feb. 16 on CBS.
“Yes! We did it!” Stevie Wonder exulted, and rightly so, about three hours into his concert at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. He and a huge band, directed by the keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, had played his 1976 album, “Songs in the Key of Life,” from start to finish, 38 years later and every bit as vibrant.
Mr. Wonder’s voice was bright and true, snaking through the melismas that successive generations of singers have emulated and rising easily through every uplifting key change he had built into the songs. At 64 — he started young — Mr. Wonder showed that his lifelong melding of serious intentions, omnivorous musical sophistication and jubilant execution was utterly sure. He laughingly forgot a lyric, played the wrong harmonica for a moment, sang just enough sour notes to show that he’s human and suffered numerous microphone glitches. It was the first show of a tour. But the concert was a triumph: not a simple nostalgia trip but a return visit to songs and ideas that still matter.
“Songs in the Key of Life” was beloved from the moment it appeared. It won a Grammy as album of the year and is widely cited as a favorite by musicians and pop listeners. In interviews, Mr. Wonder has called it the album he is most happy with. But it’s also a long, sprawling experience: 21 tracks that originally filled two LPs and a four-song EP.
Its songs touch on social ills, individual joys, faith, love, war, music, birth, memories, fears and hopes. One title may sum it up: “Joy Inside My Tears,” a ballad that, when he got to it at Madison Square Garden, had Mr. Wonder pounding the top of his piano with his fist, singing the title again and again with gospelly insistence.
Along with the radio-friendly tracks the album is widely remembered for — “Sir Duke,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “I Wish,” “Pastime Paradise” — it holds exploratory songs like “Contusion,” a jazz-rock instrumental in tricky shifting meters, and “Black Man,” an anti-racism history lesson in funk.
It also balances hurt and healing; its opening song, the beguiling “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” warns, “The force of evil plans to make you its possession” unless love can conquer hate. The album traverses styles; there are blues, soul, rock, funk, chamber pop, bossa nova, big-band salsa, jazzy ballads, even honky-tonk country (in “Ebony Eyes,” for which Mr. Wonder brought out what he called a “thumbtack piano,” an upright with thumbtacks in its hammers to make each note go plink).
What has held it together, then and now, is Mr. Wonder’s good intentions and boundless musicality. All over the album, he ingeniously meshes syncopated ascending and descending lines, as he did in the upbeat “Sir Duke,” the doleful “Pastime Paradise” and the kinetic “I Wish.”
Onstage, he let the best riffs stretch out, savoring the danceable constructions he had set in motion decades ago, as the audience members, many of whom were around for the original album release, stood and shimmied. Now and then, backup singers — including India.Arie, who came and went in multiple regal costumes — took over verses that Mr. Wonder had originally sung. But he was always there to chime back in on higher, more difficult variations.
Mr. Wonder was voluble between songs, joking about tabloid reports that he dismissed as rumors but also doing some preaching. He advocated more accessibility worldwide for the disabled, and he called for better gun control, pointing to a family in the audience that lost a daughter in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In what seemed like a scripted moment, he said: “I challenge America, I challenge the world, to let hatred go, to let racism go. To respect every single man as if they were your brother, every woman as if they were your sister, every single child as if they were your child.” He continued, “This is the only way we will win as a nation, as a world.”
For an encore, he played one song that wasn’t on “Songs in the Key of Life”: his hit “Superstition,” bolstered by the six-member horn section that was part of the band, which also included a string section and multiple percussionists, keyboardists and guitarists. It wasn’t too different from the rest of the concert: a great riff, a kinetic beat and a warning everyone could dance to, this one about dogma versus rationality. “Superstition ain’t the way!” the arena sang along.
The rest of the “Songs in the Key of Life” tour dates are:
11/9 – Verizon Center – Washington D.C.
11/11 – TD Garden – Boston, MA
11/14 – United Center – Chicago, IL
11/16 – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA
11/20 – Palace Of Auburn Hills – Auburn Hills, MI
11/22 – Philips Arena – Atlanta, GA
11/25 – Air Canada Centre – Toronto, ON, CA
11/29 – MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV
12/3 – KeyArena – Seattle, WA
12/5 – Oracle Arena – Oakland, CA