101 Great Albums. No.4: Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

During his 1972-80 pomp Stevie Wonder released a litany of LPs that could easily end up featured in this series, the first of those is the 21-track double album and bonus EP, Songs in the Key of Life, released through Motown/Universal in 1976

Songs in the Key of Life. Stevie Wonder.

The dedication afforded during the recording and production of a tirelessly crafted album is clear from the early going of “Songs in the Key of Life”, with the buoyant tempo of ‘Sir Duke’, funk infused ‘Ordinary Pain’ and exquisite ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ stand-outs among the initial gambits.

The second stanza commences with one of Wonder’s most enduring memoirs, “Isn’t She Lovely”, a song penned in celebration of the birth of his daughter Aisha. Although unapologetically effusive, the unbridled elation of Stevie’s contagiously raspy mouth organ solos provides enough value to balance musical integrity with saccharine sentiment.

“As” is another breezy poesy that embellishes the tranquil aura of the album, covered by George Michael and Mary J. Blige in 1999, this is one of a string of songs that were subsequently sampled on future tracks.

To that end, the pertinence of “Songs in the Key of Life” remains palpable within the contemporary music scene; “I Wish” receiving a belated homage via Will Smith’s “Wild West” and, more notably, the eerie “Pastime Paradise” responsible for placing American rapper Coolio on the mainstream map, with his pimped out, updated “Gansta’s Paradise”, topping 18 separate singles charts upon issue in courtesy of a mid-1990’s interpretation of the original.

Opinion is split amongst disciples of Wonder, over where the pinnacle of his output can be pinpointed; although Innervisions may have the higher hit rate, ‘Life’ is a more expansive LP that reflects a transitional passage in the career of an enduring artist whose zenith undoubtedly occurred during this decade – providing a vital facet of an astounding legacy.

 

 

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Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

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