Although it wasn’t his first hit single, “Uptight” was the track that firmly announced the Boy Wonder as a major talent to the rest of the world. The first song to credit Stevie as a co-writer, “Uptight” sounds as vital today as when it first burst out of coast-to-coast transistor radios back in 1965. Riding in on that trademark stomping Motown tambourine-topped beat, and a triumphant blast of brass, the fifteen-year-old Stevie’s rasping tenor voice soars with youthful exuberance. He may only be a “poor man’s son from across the railroad tracks” but here is a young man heady with the power of his own potential, even breaking into an infectious laugh as the track fades towards the end. “No-one is better than I,” he sings. Damn right Stevie. Clean out of sight.
A Number one in the USA and ranked by Rolling Stone as the 74th Greatest Song of All Time, “Superstition” was taken from the album “Talking Book” and marked a move away from the lightweight outward-looking pop of Stevie’s sixties back catalogue and into much deeper, more personal waters. Famous for it’s opening pimp-strut drumbeat (played by Wonder himself) and impossibly funky clavinet riff, “Superstition” was originally intended for Jeff Beck. The lyric demands a wake-up call to reality in favour of the credulity towards witchcraft that Wonder saw as holding back the American black communities - “When you believe in things you don’t understand, you suffer,” warns Stevie, as the assembled horns, led by Trevor Laurence’s trumpet sound like a warning klaxon of the impending apocalypse. “Superstition” remains one of the most covered songs in Stevie’s canon.
LIVING FOR THE CITY
Stevie Wonder never sounded so angry and impassioned as on this 1973 hit single taken from his “Innervisions” album. Musically, the song is underpinned by a tense and prowling synth bass, providing the perfect sonic backdrop to Stevie’s seething tale of the boy from “hard time Mississippi” who heads for the big city in search of self respect, only to find further social injustice. Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Alicia Keys, and Michael McDonald are just a few of the artists who have tackled “Living For The City”, but none of them have imbued it with the same self righteous fury as it’s author.
ISN’T SHE LOVELY
Taken from his groundbreaking 1976 album “Song’s In The Key Of Life”, “Isn’t She Lovely” marked the arrival of Stevie’s first child, Aisha. The intro of the track features Aishe’s cry and the song plays out with the sampled sounds of her giggling and playing with her father. “Isn’t She Lovely” features a trademark soaring harmonica solo and was later covered by Frank Sinatra. After making possibly one of the earliest debuts on a record by anyone (“less than one minute old”) Aisha went on to accompany her father on several tours and recordings, including 2005’s “Time To Love” “Isn’t She Lovely” has since become firmly entwined in the social fabric of life, being played at weddings, birthdays and bar mitzvah’s the world over.
Stevie’s tribute to Bob Marley, the King Of Reggae. Marley opened for Stevie on his US Tour in the fall of 1980, and the two men found they shared a common artistic vision with regards to the intrinsic power of love and positivity to heal the ills of mankind. As well as borrowing his heavy roots feel, “Master Blaster both name checks the Tuff Gong himself (“Marley’s hot on the box”) and incorporates lyrical elements of his live favourite “Jammin’”. The track was a huge commercial success, spending seven weeks at number one on the R&B Billboard chart and climbed to number 2 in the UK.
One of the most joyous songs Stevie has ever recorded, Happy Birthday called for a special day in the American calendar to commemorate the life and dreams of Dr Martin Luther King. Although the song has an open hearted celebratory feel, the lyric is something of a lament, a cry of disbelief that anyone could oppose such an occasion. In it’s spoken word outro, Stevie states his intent with a firm clarity of purpose: “We’ll make the dream become a reality. I know we will, because our hearts tell us so.” The song became a rallying call, and the first official Martin Luther King Day was finally held on January 20th 1986. The holiday was heralded by a massive outdoor concert, headlined by Stevie Wonder. Who says music can’t change the world?
I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU
Maligned by the critics, adored by the public, “I Just Called To Say I Love You” is probably Stevie Wonder’s most commercially successful single release to date. Appearing on the soundtrack to the smash movie “Woman In Red” the song was his tenth number one on the American R&B charts and his first solo number one hit in the UK, staying at the top of the charts for six weeks. The track also won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Simple, sentimental, but huge in impact, “I Just Called To Say I Love You” is an unabashed ode to the joys of random acts of kindness and their power to bring magic into the everyday.
Stevie's life story