From 1971 to 1976, Stevie Wonder pursued his own vision as an album artist with something to say about his country’s social landscape. It was an artistic trajectory which most critics and fans agree represents his prime period as a songwriter, producer, and performer.
Innervisions is arguably his best record of this period, although this is a point on which many can argue for hours being as it is in extremely close competition with albums like Talking Book, Music of My Mind, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale, all of which were written and recorded in very close succession.
One of the most amazing things about this period was that Stevie Wonder fully embraced the latest technology of the times to make these albums, and yet the music he created is entirely timeless. Any one of the songs he recorded and which are now considered classics could have been recorded yesterday. And thematically, of course, many of the songs which touch upon the issues of poverty, political alienation, and spiritual despondence are also sadly relevant today.
For instance, “Jesus Children of America” is an examination of a culture, with the questions surrounding how spirituality has the power to inspire people to change themselves and to change the world in which they live. Yet, I think it also touches on the idea that a culture can often make faith into something that is little more than an accessory to human experience, not applied to the potential it has to inspire change.
At the same time, this song is a rally cry to those in states of confusion, that a spiritual dimension to life can be a stabilizing force – “transcendental meditation can give you peace of mind”. This aspect of things stops this tune from being a judgmental finger-waggling exercise. What it does is to turn the song into a statement of genuine concern about losing out on the real message behind most religions, which I believe is to draw one closer to one’s true origins to finding meaning there, and then make the world better for others as a result.
And as the most important line in the song says: “you better tell your story fast”; the world isn’t getting any better without those stories, and without those stories being understood by others.