steviewonder_innervisionsListen to this song by Motown wunderkind turned soul-funk sonic visionary Stevie Wonder.  It’s “Jesus Children of America” as taken from his 1973 LP Innervisions.

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.

stevie-wonder-1973
Much like his contemporaries Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder was interested in going beyond the three-minute single and trying to make a statement about his community, and his country as a whole. Perhaps ironically, much of his ability to strike out on his own artistically away from the yoke of his Motown singles days was down to the fact that the song royalities he’d amassed up until this point became fully available to him when he turned 21 in 1971!

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.

Enjoy!

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6 thoughts on “Stevie Wonder Sings “Jesus Children of America”

  1. I’m a big fan of classic Stevie Wonder. The music is indeed timeless. Inspired by this, right now I’m revisiting Superstition, one of his best compositions, as performed by him and as covered by another great Stevie, Mr. Stevie Ray Vaughan.

    1. It’s interesting that SRV covered ‘Superstitiion’, seeing as it was once intended for another guitar god when it was written. Apparently, Stevie Wonder wrote the song with the intention of giving it to Jeff Beck to record, but decided to keep it for himself! Beck played on the album off of which it comes, of course , Talking Book.

  2. As SW does TM it is obvious that SW is promoting it and ridiculing religion and society. He is saying that people arnt really feeling what they pray they are praying with the surface level of thought. He is also saying that mere praying has very little effect on the mind. He is saying that people cant practice what they preach because they can only logically force themselves to act that way because they have had no experiance of the transcendental field. When doing TM you naturally practice what the enlightened sages throughout time have preached spontaneouly. The true message of relligion is lost by people trying to intellectualise it. Do your yoga postures, do your religious rituals, create your karma and sing your prairs but only the experiance of the trancendance will change your state of mind effortlessly. wow what a song

    1. Some very interesting points, John. Thanks!

      I’m not sure if this song is really a condemnation of one religion in favour of another. To me, it’s not a commercial for TM. It’s about telling your story from where you’re at, and being honest about it. Because in the context of the rest of the record, Stevie is talking about the plight of those living in cities in America at the time he wrote the songs, some issues of which remain unaddressed even today. Connecting into what’s happening was the common thread to be found there. So, with this song, it’s about being empowered by where you came from, how your faith (whatever it happens to be) informs your understanding of those origins, and with the implied idea of coming together and changing the course of the story.

      Thanks again for comments!

    1. I’m not suggesting it’s not a classic record. But to me, SITKOL is a transition record. It leads into another phase in his career that was slightly more maudlin in tone, and less gritty than the records that proceeded it.

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