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. Read more
Listen 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.
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.
Here’s a clip from the 1985 Grammy awards with Stevie Wonder, Howard Jones, Herbie Hancock, and Thomas Dolby playing a synthesizer medley.
This clip was meant to show off, ’80s style, modern musical technology with the keyboard/midi toys as used by innovators in their field. Wonder and Hancock were the synthesizer pioneers, while Dolby and Jones were the popsters who were meant to represent their successors, maybe. I just remember being very impressed at the time, and everyone at school talked about it the next day. These days, it stands as being pretty dated. But, a part of me still thrills at it in all of its cheesy glory.
This is about as 1985 as you can get, people. Check Dolby’s Beethoven wig. Check Howard Jones’ haircut! Still, Stevie Wonder sings, which is usually pretty thrilling (‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ notwithstanding…). And Hancock plays a snippet of his electro-hip hop hit ‘Rockit’, the one with the crazy video which was also talked about in the schoolyard. All in all, this is a taste of a more innocent age, back when everything was better when it was digital, and when technology in general was looked upon as the way to a bright, worry-free future.