Friday, March 02, 2007

Number 657 - Stevie Wonder

Number 657

Stevie Wonder

"Isnt She Lovely"

Stevie Wonder is a much-beloved American icon and an indisputable genius not only of R&B but popular music in general. Blind virtually since birth, Wonder's heightened awareness of sound helped him create vibrant, colorful music teeming with life and ambition. Nearly everything he recorded bore the stamp of his sunny, joyous positivity; even when he addressed serious racial, social, and spiritual issues (which he did quite often in his prime), or sang about heartbreak and romantic uncertainty, an underlying sense of optimism and hope always seemed to emerge. Much like his inspiration, Ray Charles, Wonder had a voracious appetite for many different kinds of music, and refused to confine himself to any one sound or style. His best records were a richly eclectic brew of soul, funk, rock & roll, sophisticated Broadway/Tin Pan Alley-style pop, jazz, reggae, and African elements -- and they weren't just stylistic exercises; Wonder took it all and forged it into his own personal form of expression. His range helped account for his broad-based appeal, but so did his unique, elastic voice, his peerless melodic facility, his gift for complex arrangements, and his taste for lovely, often sentimental ballads. Additionally, Wonder's pioneering use of synthesizers during the '70s changed the face of R&B; he employed a kaleidoscope of contrasting textures and voices that made him a virtual one-man band, all the while evoking a surprisingly organic warmth.
Along with Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes, Wonder brought R&B into the album age, crafting his LPs as cohesive, consistent statements with compositions that often took time to make their point. All of this made Wonder perhaps R&B's greatest individual auteur, rivaled only by Gaye or, in later days, Prince. Originally, Wonder was a child prodigy who started out in the general Motown mold, but he took control of his vision in the '70s, spinning off a series of incredible albums that were as popular as they were acclaimed; most of his reputation rests on these works, which most prominently include Talking Book, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life. His output since then has been inconsistent, marred by excesses of sentimentality and less of the progressive imagination of his best work, but it's hardly lessened the reverence in which he's long been held.

About Stevie Wonder's ground breaking Album "Songs in the Key of Life"...
Songs in the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder's longest, most ambitious collection of songs, a two-LP (plus accompanying EP) set that -- just as the title promised -- touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder's career. The opening "Love's in Need of Love Today" and "Have a Talk With God" are curiously subdued, but Stevie soon kicks into gear with "Village Ghetto Land," a fierce exposé of ghetto neglect set to a satirical baroque synthesizer. Hot on its heels comes the torrid fusion jam "Contusion," a big, brassy hit tribute to the recently departed Duke Ellington in "Sir Duke," and (another hit, this one a Grammy winner as well) the bumping poem to his childhood, "I Wish." Though they didn't necessarily appear in order, Songs in the Key of Life contains nearly a full album on love and relationships, along with another full album on issues social and spiritual. Fans of the love album Talking Book can marvel that he sets the bar even higher here, with brilliant material like the tenderly cathartic and gloriously redemptive "Joy Inside My Tears," the two-part, smooth-and-rough "Ordinary Pain," the bitterly ironic "All Day Sucker," or another classic heartbreaker, "Summer Soft." Those inclined toward Stevie Wonder the social-issues artist had quite a few songs to focus on as well: "Black Man" was a Bicentennial school lesson on remembering the vastly different people who helped build America; "Pastime Paradise" examined the plight of those who live in the past and have little hope for the future; "Village Ghetto Land" brought listeners to a nightmare of urban wasteland; and "Saturn" found Stevie questioning his kinship with the rest of humanity and amusingly imagining paradise as a residency on a distant planet. If all this sounds overwhelming, it is; Stevie Wonder had talent to spare during the mid-'70s, and instead of letting the reserve trickle out during the rest of the decade, he let it all go with one massive burst. (His only subsequent record of the '70s was the similarly gargantuan but largely instrumental soundtrack Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.) ~ John Bush

For Prince see Number 812
For Ray Charles see Number 518

What does Tumbling Boulder think about Stevie?
Originally released as two LPs with a bonus seven-inch EP, Stevie Wonder's 106-minute 1976 opus, Songs in the Key of Life, is the crowning achievement of Seventies pop's grand aspirations. Early in the decade, Wonder demanded creative control from his label, Motown, and the result was a string of smash LPs -- 1972's Talking Book, 1973's Innervisions and 1974's Fulfillingness' First Finale. Only twenty-six years old, Wonder slowed his flow of hits to negotiate a $13 million contract and then made good on the deal with Songs, his most ambitious and successful album ever. While engaging a slew of overdubbed instruments, Wonder nurtured his ongoing synthesizer affair, mimicking a sophisticated string quartet to highlight the horrors of "Village Ghetto Land" or laying down a warm bed of spongy keys for his baby-celebrating "Isn't She Lovely." Satisfying a disco-fueled hunger for lengthy dance cuts, he also jammed with , and other jazz A-listers on gospel-funk tracks like "Another Star" and "As." Veering from ("Sir Duke") to childhood ("I Wish") to multicultural history lessons ("Black Man"), nostalgia addicts ("Pastime Paradise") and beyond, Wonder created a musical galaxy that encompassed the personal, the political and the spiritual. Songs did all this and posted -like sales numbers: Blockbuster albums would follow, but none could match Wonder's combination of commercial success, critical praise and musical scope. BARRY WALTERS
For George Benson see Number 978
Crowbarreds choice for Website to find more on Stevie Wonder ... Click on the address

Rolling Stone Top 500 Songs ranked this song at Number (Its not "Superstition is it?) and the Album ranked at Number 56
This song has a crowbarred rating of 70.2 out of 108 pts
Search Artist here:1-2-3-A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P-Q-R-S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z

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