Listen to this track by Motown wunderkind and soul pop auteur Stevie Wonder. It’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever)”, the closing track of his 1972 record Talking Book.
That album was almost dead center in the inarguable purple patch of records Wonder would create in the early ’70s, wedged between Music Of My Mind, and Innervisions, while still managing to rival those albums as among the best examples of his work. And this was a highlight among highlights, with a co-authorship by Yvonne Wright, his then sister-in-law.
The song would be covered by a wide range of artists on the pop spectrum, from Peter Frampton, to Art Garfunkel, to George Michael, to Petra Haden, to Josh Groban. This could be because it’s one of those sweeping pop songs, full of the glory of idealized love, with plenty of room for singers to stretch out their chops.
But, there’s more to this tune then being a showstopper, which it is of course.
First, this song seems to be all chorus, so compelling is the central text of the song. The phrase that makes up the whole of the song’s title seems to have enough fire to fuel many repeats, and still somehow managing to leave the listener hoping for more. It helps of course that Wonder’s own range as a singer is unleashed here, with multitracked Stevies singing for all they’re worth, with countermelodies and harmonies a-plenty. Once again, it’s this soaring quality that made it a prime cut for cover versions.
But, another aspect of this tune is how unconventional it is otherwise. As soaring as that big chorus is, the song packs a surprise with a supremely funky outro to contrast the balladry of the intro. In some ways this works against the laws of pop accessibility. And yet, here it is; one of the best songs on an album that may well be the best of the best.
The year this song, and the record it comes from, came out in a very eventful year for Stevie Wonder. Not counting the release of the record at the end of the year, he’d also released Music Of My Mind at the beginning of it – that’s two classics in one year, good people.
Also, soon after Talking Book was released, he’d go out on the road with the Rolling Stones as their opening act. This was an important slot for Stevie Wonder, and for the development of R&B in general. It was here that another song of his off of Talking Book – “Superstition” – would gain in stature in front of rock audiences after already gaining top ten status, with its signature Hohner Clavinet riff that still sets people’s hair on fire today.
Stevie Wonder is an active musician. Check out StevieWonder.net.
And today – May 13 – is Stevie Wonder’s birthday. He’s 63! Happy birthday, Stevie!