Synopsis of Pop Music
"Everybody say 'yeeaaah!'"
Some people were just born to make music. In a career that spans nearly forty years’ worth of hits, Stevie Wonder has proven time and time again that he is one of those people. Starting as a child prodigy, Wonder developed a personalized blend of pop and soul music that earned him many a hit before he reached his adult years. In the 1970’s, Wonder re-invented himself as a self-contained musical force with a series of albums whose space-age style and innovative songwriting set new standards of quality for popular music. As a result, he became one of the greatest musicians of modern times.
Although he had been blind since birth, Stevie Wonder showed a gift for music from the earliest age. By age ten, his tremendous singing voice and his ability to play several instruments had made him a neighborhood sensation at his local church. When Motown Records founder Berry Gordy saw the boy perform, he immediately signed him to a recording contract. Over the next few years, the boy Wonder sharpened up his skills in the recording studio and on the concert stage. He scored his first hit at age 12 with “Fingertips,” a live recording that showcased his abilities to sing, play the harmonica, and excite a crowd.
As he became a teenager, Stevie Wonder began to blossom as a performer. Frequent tours of the U.S. and U.K. helped him keep his chops sharp, as did appearances on programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and in movies like Muscle Beach Party. However, it was the recording studio where he focused his most intense effort: unlike many Motown artists, Stevie played instruments on his own recordings and took a hand in writing and producing his songs. His hard work paid off in 1964 when he had a self-penned hit with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” an exuberant dance tune with a stomping beat and wailing horns.
“Uptight” was also important because it helped Stevie Wonder make the transition from child prodigy to mature young performer. He quickly followed it with another Top-20 hit in the uptempo tune “Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby.” He also showed a growing social consciousness by performing a soulful version of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind.” It became a Top-10 hit and was followed by another Top-10 hit, “A Place In The Sun.” In 1967, Wonder revived his harmonica skills for one of his biggest hits, the delightful soul classic and #2 smash “I Was Made To Love Her.”
In 1968, Wonder reached a personal milestone when he graduated from the Michigan School For The Blind. Meanwhile, his talents grew even sharper and he began to score on the pop charts with greater frequency as the decade drew to a close. He continued to stay active on the pop charts with uptempo soul-pop like “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” and “For Once In My Life”. The next year, he went Top-10 with two of his finest early ballads: the lush, heartfelt “My Cherie Amour” and the melancholy “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday.”
Stevie Wonder reached a crucial turning point both as person and an artist when he turned 21 in 1970. From this point on, he would be the master of his creative destiny. The singer/songwriter got his first producer’s credit on Signed, Sealed, Delivered, an album that featured two smash hits in the gospel-styled title track and the global-minded ballad “Heaven Help Us All.” He followed it the next year with Where I’m Coming From, an album he co-wrote his wife, Syreeta, and produced entirely on his own. It spawned a Top-10 hit with the horn-driven and harmony-laced pop of “If You Really Loved Me.”
But it was Music Of My Mind that truly established Stevie Wonder as a stand-alone artist. On this album, he took his music to a new level by producing, composing and performing the majority of it solo, giving the sound a space-age sheen by incorporating synthesizers. By treating the album as a coherent suite of music instead of a collection of songs, Wonder moved into the ranks of r&b innovators like Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye. He also scored a Top-40 hit with “Superwoman,” a spacey epic ballad about a conflicted relationship that balanced its ambitious length with plenty of tuneful hooks.
Music Of My Mind was hailed as an artistic triumph. By the end of the year, Wonder consolidated his new success with another album, Talking Book. It immediately spawned #1 singles with the intensely funky “Superstition,” which included some scorching rock guitar from Jeff Beck, and the jazzy, joyful ballad “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.” The latter song became a standard and was soon covered by vocalists like Frank Sinatra. The next year, Wonder was seriously injured in a car accident while touring, but he recovered in time to release what many consider his finest album.
Released in 1973, Innervisions became an even bigger success than Talking Book. With dramatic songs like “Higher Ground” and “Living For The City,” Wonder married his space-age soul sound to lyrics that reflected a new level of social consciousness. Both songs soon became Top-10 pop hits. The album also boasted lush ballads like “Golden Lady” and exuberant pop like "Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing," flawlessly folding these different types of songs together into one concise musical statement. A huge commercial success, the album was also praised in critical circles as Wonder's most impressive to date.
In 1974, Wonder released Fulfillingness’ First Finale. The new album continued in the vein of Innervisions with the political commentary of “You Haven’t Done Nothin,” a #1 hit that included backup harmonies by The Jackson 5. Wonder also experimented with reggae on "Boogie On Reggae Woman," which hit the Top-5 as a single. Meanwhile, he began to win Grammy Awards by the truckload for his last few albums. At this point, it seemed that Stevie Wonder could do no wrong, and the artist headed to his studio to record a new album that would take almost two years to complete.
At the end of 1976, Stevie Wonder unveiled Songs In The Key Of Life. This double album was a true embarrassment of riches, overflowing with lush melodies and funky grooves at every turn. From the social-minded “Pastime Paradise” (later sampled by Coolio for “Gangsta’s Paradise”) to the simple, sweet balladry of “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” it covered seemingly every base of modern popular music in style. It swept the Grammy Awards and also spawned two #1 hits with the autobiographical funk-pop of “I Wish” and “Sir Duke,” a jazzy tribute to the joy-giving power of music.
In 1979, Wonder tackled a totally new challenge: a film score. It led to another double album, Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants. Although it was mainly instrumental, the album contained a few pop tunes. One of these, the cosmic ballad “Send One Your Love,” became a Top-5 hit. Wonder returned to pop-soul the next year with Hotter Than July, spawning a hit a reggae-styled tribute to Bob Marley, “Master Blaster (Jammin’).” “Happy Birthday”, a loving tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., was used by Wonder in his successful campaign to make King’s birthday a national holiday.
Stevie Wonder commemorated the second phase of his career in 1982 with Original Musiquarium 1. It also contained a few new songs, including the silky pop of “That Girl” and the jazzy “Do I Do,” which incorporated a trumpet solo from Dizzy Gillespie. He also sang a duet with Paul McCartney on “Ebony and Ivory”, a tuneful plea for racial harmony that became a #1 hit. In 1984, Wonder did another film score, The Woman In Red. That soundtrack included one of Wonder’s most popular ballads, the ethereal #1 hit “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”
In 1985, Wonder released In Square Circle, his first new album of pop tunes in five years. It contained a massive #1 hit in “Part-Time Lover,” a bouncy, synth-driven tale of romantic infidelity. The typically lush ballad “Overjoyed” also became a Top-30 hit. He also lent his vocals to the Dionne Warwick hit “That’s What Friends Are For” in 1986.
Characters, Wonder’s next album, contained an r&b chart smash with the soul-searching “You Will Know.” As the 1990’s began, Wonder did his third film score for the Spike Lee film, Jungle Fever.
Today, Stevie Wonder is as active as ever, tirelessly contributing to charities and social causes while maintaining a busy schedule of performances. He also periodically releases albums, the most recent being the acclaimed Conversation Peace. His talents as a guest musician are constantly in demand, and he frequently appears on the hits of other pop stars, including everyone from Elton John to Will Smith. Meanwhile, his many past classics get radio play on a daily basis and continue to influence and shape the direction of popular music. All in all, he has earned his reputation as one of the greatest musicians of the modern era.
"Gonna keep on tryin',
'Til I reach my highest ground..."
Artist Release History1962 - The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie Wonder
1962 - Tribute to Uncle Ray
1963 - The 12 Year Old Genius
1963 - Little Stevie Wonder
1963 - With a Song in My Heart
1963 - Workout Stevie, Workout
1964 - Stevie at the Beach
1965 - Stevie Wonder
1966 - Uptight
1966 - Down to Earth
1967 - I Was Made to Love Her
1967 - Someday at Christmas
1968 - Eivets Rednow...Alfie
1968 - For Once in My Life
1969 - My Cherie Amour
1970 - Stevie Wonder Live
1970 - Signed, Sealed & Delivered
1970 - Live at the Talk of the Town
1971 - Where I'm Coming From
1972 - Music of My Mind
1972 - Talking Book
3 Aug 1973 - Innervisions
1974 - Fulfillingness' First Finale
28 Sep 1976 - Songs in the Key of Life
1979 - Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants
1980 - Hotter Than July
1984 - The Woman in Red
1985 - In Square Circle
1987 - Characters
1991 - Jungle Fever
1995 - Conversation Peace
1995 - Natural Wonder (live)
10 Dec 1996 - Song Review: Greatest Hits
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsInnervisions (Motown)
Songs In The Key Of Life (Motown)
Song Review: Greatest Hits (Motown)