When I was a kid, in the 60′s, I loved Stevie Wonder. When 1970 came and they were playing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” I went out and bought the 45 RPM single. I played that thing, along with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown” until the grooves were torched. I can’t imagine what my family thought of my repetitive play lists. I’ve mentioned all of this before, but as a refresher course, by 45 collection had the usual stalwarts like The Beatles (Dance With You), The Rolling Stones (Street Fighting Man), The Doors (Light My Fire)and Bob Dylan (Lay Lady Lay), but it was also peppered with Pop Rock bands like The Mamas & The Papas, Steppenwolf, The Grassroots, The Young Rascals, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Zombies, Shocking Blue, Norman Greenbaum, Joe Tex, Brewer & Shipley, Tommy Roe, Tommy James & The Shondells, Crazy Elephant, America, The Foundations, Diana Ross & The Supremes…the list is endless. Explains a lot no? I remember beginning to listen to FM radio around 1974 or so. Their had bands I wasn’t completely familiar with, but would become very familiar with within the next three years. I’m talking about Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, The Eagles and on and on. I remember my first real exposure to overplayed records. I remember very clearly being sick of songs like Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good,” Rufu’s “Tell Me Something Good,” Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business.” Come to think of it, I’m still sick of “Taking Care of Business,” but I still listen to 1974′s Not Fragile to this day. I think the point I’m trying to make is that Stevie Wonder, as great as he was from 1970-1976, was sort of off the beaten AOR Rock Music Path. I had moved on. Motown will always be great, but it’s not what I reach for at home you know? I love Al Green, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations, but back in those days I was just discovering all this Blues oriented Rock and I wanted in.
Stevland Hardaway Judkins, later to become known as Stevie Wonder, was born May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, MI. Though he has not had his sight for 99.9% of his 61 years, he has pulled down a record 22 Grammy Awards and had 30 Top Ten hits in the United States according to our friends at Wikipedia. Quite the accomplishment wouldn’t you say? The reason I told the story above about liking Stevie Wonder in the 60′s is because I started to think he was getting some of those Grammy’s ahead of some of the bands I wanted to win back then. Truthfully, songs like “My Cherie Amour, For Once in My Life and I Was Made To Love Her” seemed larger than life. By the time songs like “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” and “Supersition” from 1972′s Talking Book were winning awards I was listening to other stuff. I knew he was good, but I just didn’t know how good. 1973′s Innervisions is the Stevie Wonder record I would choose if I had to choose one. My God. Wonder just exploded with awe inspiring music. “Too High, Living For The City, Golden Lady, Higher Ground and Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a thing” could well be my five favorite Stevie Wonder tracks. And that is really saying something. What a phenomenal talent. End of story. Do I wish he never released “Ebony & Ivory” in 1982 or “I Just Called To Say I Love You” in 1984? No question, but 1980′s Master Blaster (Jammin’), I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” and 1981′s “That Girl” cancel those efforts out quite nicely.
Most folks gravitate towards 1976′s Songs in The Key of Life and I understand that, but for me the dirty gritty “Living For The City” is my all time Stevie Wonder favorite. He just had it going on in 1973. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to Stevie Wonder since the early 80′s. I totally admit that, but I’m a rocker. For my money the best thing with Stevie Wonder’s stamp on it since then was when Coolio reworked his song “Pastime Paradise” from Songs in The Key of Life and turned it into “Gangsta’s Paradise” in 1995 for the film Dangerous Minds. That is one great Rap song. I don’t have a ton to add to this post except to say that when Stevie Ray Vaughan covers you that’s a good thing. Actually “Superstition” has been covered by a number of artists including Jeff Beck, Widespread Panic, Alicia Keys, The Jonas Brothers, Paul Hardcastle and George Michael. There is only one Stevie Wonder though. Those of us with hearing are very thankful for his musical efforts. I have enjoyed listening to him for decades. Happy belated Birthday Stevie from The Giant Panther.
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