The second incarnation of my blog
Based on the top 100 albums in Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500, I have set myself the challenge of hearing and appraising each album. I hope to be surprised and educated along the way.
At number 57 is Stevie Wonder with Songs in the key of life, his 18th album from September 1976. It is an ambitious double LP with a four-song bonus EP for good measure and was produced by Stevie as the first part of a 7 album deal with Motown. I won’t be including the EP in my review.
The thing that strikes me from listening to this album is just how varied it is, but with a common thread connecting the songs. What also occurs to me is the stunning sound and production quality and that the singles are not representative of the album as a whole.
The lovely laid back opener, Love’s in need of love today links seamlessly to the jazz influenced Have a talk with God (which features Stevie on every instrument). And that’s why the album works, as each song makes a subtle change to a different style and that change seems to mostly work.
That said, I wasn’t too keen on Village ghetto land, as it sounds like an experiment to get the most out of the Yahama synthesiser he had just purchased!
A couple of funky tunes stand out and get your feet tapping – Contusion is a (mostly) instrumental song and Black Man is a funked up jazz piece that talks of racism. Sir Duke is very different though, almost twee in comparison, but a hit all the same.
More funk with I wish – didn’t realise it was called this, but I know this song with it’s big powerful brass section.
Knocks me off my feet and Ordinary day are lounge soul Sunday morning love song. As sort of fits into this area, but it’s a great melodic track and the subtle backing vocals works so well. Another great song is Pastime paradise which is clever in its construction and sound and was obviously stolen for Gangsters paradise.
The only song that doesn’t seem to fit is the hit single, Isn’t she lovely. It’s slightly sickly pop and despite the catchy melody, it doesn’t have the class of some of the funkier and jazzier tracks.
The album ends with the song used by the BBC in the World Cup from Brazil in 2014, Another Star which is a hip-moving big track.
The Smooth, precise, crisp production and performance surprised me a little. It shouldn’t have really, but when you only hear hook filled singles, you can miss the performance sometimes. If you put the awful I just called to say I love you out of your head, you can truly appreciate the genius of Stevie Wonder. This is a great place to start.
My rating: 8/10
Standout track: I wish, Pastime paradise, As
Listen to the album here.
See the Top 100 here.