You Picked It!: Stevie Wonder – ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ – Album Review

Alright…You Picked It! And here it is. The one you picked was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’.  The votes were as follows:

  1. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life – 7 votes
  2. Genesis – Genesis – 4 votes
  3. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain – 3 votes
  4. Adelitas Way – Shine On – 3 votes (one vote was a Like on Twitter by the band)
  5. Mr. Mister – Welcome to the Real World – 2 votes

Thanks to all for participating.  The October choices will be up on Saturday!

STEVIE WONDER – ‘SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE’

I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked this album to add to the You Pick It ! post. I had completely forgot what a daunting task this would be as this album is considered the best Stevie Wonder album, one of the best albums ever and it is a double LP with 21 songs and at a run time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, it is a lot of ground to cover. When the album easily won the vote count, I became a little freaked on how I was going to do this album any justice. There is really no way I can go song by song as this post would be way too long and you would get bored. So, I am only going to go through what I found to be the highlights of this album which is still quite a lot.

The thing is, I don’t even know where to begin so I will start out with the basic information. ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ is actually Stevie’s 18th Studio album at the time and was released on September 28th, 1976 which means I shouldn’t be posting it today, I should’ve waited two more weeks, but that doesn’t work with giving me enough time to get the votes in and have it listened to and reviewed before the month end. Heck I spent weeks with this before I could formulate a review. The album had 5 singles, 2 of which went to #1 and the album itself went to #1 on the Billboard Charts. It sold over 5 million copies in the US alone and being that it is a double LP, that makes it a Diamond seller.

The credits on this album have over 130 musicians and singers contributing to this masterpiece doing anything from handclaps, to background vocals and the normal guitar and drum work. You had Herbie Hancock, George Benson and Michael Sembello to name a few. It is a rather impressive list. With all that talent, it is no surprise that the album garnered 7 Grammy nominations and sadly he only took home 4 awards that year. Too bad the album wasn’t good enough to get all 7…oh well!

The album for me felt like a narrative for the Black culture in the America at the time. It was the Bi-centennial year being 1976 and it was a perfect time to show the struggle and accomplishments of the Black people in America. And with what is going on in our country right this very minute, this album is so relevant and impactful even today. Despite all the strides that have been made since 1976, at the same time it feels we have gone no where. You get songs like “Village Ghetto Land” with some beautiful string orchestration and Stevie’s smooth vocals talking about the pain of poverty and homelessness and is still rampant today. There is also “Black Man” with its funky goodness and rich bass lines which celebrates the contributions of all cultures in throughout history and even “Ngiculela—Es Una Historia—I Am Singing” which was celebrating multiple languages and cultures by singing in Zulu, Spanish, and English.

The album was so influential with musicians and used to sample many a hip hop song. Most notably you get the song “Pastime Paradise” with its latin beats which when you hear it you realize this was what Coolio used to sample for the song “Gangsta’s Paradise”. And if that wasn’t enough, “I Wish” that is drenched in the soul and funk grooves was used by Will Smith for his song “Wild Wild West”. Sorry Will, but I would rather hear Stevie’s version all day long as it is one of the best songs on the album for me.

However, the best song on the album for me might be “Sir Duke”. This is Stevie’s tribute to the late, great Duke Ellington. It is also a tribute to all musicians that inspired Stevie in his life. I love the horn opening and there is so much going on musically, that you hear different things with each listen. It is a fun, energetic song that you can’t help but sing along and dance to the beats and the groove.

One song everyone probably knows is “Isn’t She Lovely” which is a tender and sweet tribute celebrating the birth of his daughter. This is straight up R&B/Soul song and it became so popular that it eventually was released as a promotional song to radio stations. It wasn’t released as a single originally because Stevie refused to shorten the over 6 minute song, but the demand was too much to resist.

Another song that I thoroughly enjoyed was the funk/jazz fusion instrumental song “Contusion”. It had some amazing guitar playing from Michael Sembello, infectious grooves and it was an explosion of talent. A fast paced jam session that left you wanting a whole album of music exactly like this. Totally unexpected for me and totally worth every second.

And you get a powerful and yet beautiful love song called “As” which is Stevie confessing his undying, unconditional love for his partner. It isn’t a typical sounding ballad as it is more upbeat and the music is filled with soul and a driving beat. If all people could be loved like this, we would be living in a wonderful world.

Despite all the greatness, the album does have a fault. Where I found the first LP to be almost perfect with no hiccups or missteps, the second LP left me wanting a little more. There seemed to be some filler for me and left the album feeling a little bloated. It was a task to get through all of this as the length of the album is quite long which is why it took me several weeks to absorb what I could. Which is also another great thing about this album, with its length there is so much going on and you always find different nuggets of goodness that you catch that you might have missed on the prior listen.

I can see why this album was so influential to so many people, it has a lot of magic on it. I can also see why this is one of Stevie’s best albums as it is really close to being a greatest hits album all on its own. With my only complaint being too long and some filler, that doesn’t really deduct much from the score as the album is so strong overall. I will give it a 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars. Stevie was so prolific during the early to mid-70’s and he could do no wrong during this time. He is a true legend and this is a wonderful showcase to a talent that crossed all genres and boundaries. I don’t think I know anyone that can deny the greatness that is Stevie.

Thanks for picking this one as it was very challenging for me and I hope my review did the album justice. This Saturday you will get the next 5 albums to choose from and there are some big, big albums on it.

26 thoughts on “You Picked It!: Stevie Wonder – ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ – Album Review

    1. How the hell is Will Smith a star? 90% of his movies suck shit, and the dude doesn’t have any of the charisma of the A-list ’80s action stars like Gibson, Glover, Schwarzenegger, Willis, or Stallone. Hell, he doesn’t even have as much charisma as anyone in the supporting cast in the original Predator. Carl Weathers, Arnold, and the gang are just fucking classic.

      Will Smith? He’s just a dude frequently playing characters getting irritated over trite things that plays as lowest common denominator comedy. Bad Boys I & II are just Smith and Lawrence incessantly bitching at each other the entire fucking run-time played off as humor, but it’s god damn excruciating. Those movies are horrible, and unfortunately I own them in a 4K steelbook because a friend recommended them and they were the only action movies referenced in Hot Fuzz that I hadn’t seen.

      Funny enough I actually liked the third one (Bad Boys for Life) that came out earlier this year. Probably because it was more mature, the bitching wasn’t as grating or frequent, and Bay didn’t direct it. No masterpiece, but a serviceable action picture which was way more than I was expecting. Credit where it’s due.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Nice write up. I haven’t listened to his catalogue at all. I’ve heard cover versions and some of the singles that made it to the Aussie charts but that’s it. Interested to hear Sembello playing on it so will have to queue this one up.

    And I still reckon you should give Maggot Brain a review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this review. I think I voted for it but I gosh darn don’t remember, Doesn’t matter because I liked it. It was honest and I think I’ll end up getting the album. I only own Talking Book. So I should expand my collection a bit. I remember at the Record Store, this sometimes came in two separate CD cases. Sometimes people would only have one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

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