The Vinyl Brew: Stevie Wonder - Songs In the Key of Life

Good Morning Brewers,

I hope that we are well and comfortable, with our beverage of choice and record player within arms reach as we sit down for our chat. Today we are going to chat about an album that I think a lot of people will have in their collections, even if it’s not a genre that you would normally listen to.

The artist of choice is the youngest ever solo artist to achieve a number 1 in the Billboard Hot 100, a master of his craft and has been inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, which deemed it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". We are of course speaking about Stevie Wonder and in particular the album Songs in the Key of Life. So, if it’s one you own pop it on and let's enjoy a master at work.

This album, right from the opening vocals of “Love’s In Need Of Love Today”, is a warning to any doubters of Wonder’s and of just how good a sound he can produce. Listening now to the album it’s hard to believe that Stevie nearly gave up music in 1975, the year before Songs in the Key of Life was released. After several back-to-back hits including ‘Innervisions’ Wonder become disillusioned with the US Government, and it’s running of the country and had decided to quit music and put all his efforts into charitable work. As noble as an idea as that was, he ultimately decided to stick with music and started work on the double LP that would become Songs in the Key of Life.

Having become one of the best-selling artists of the seventies there was massive interest in signing Wonder to a record deal. With interest from Arista and Epic, Stevie finally signed for Motown records on a seven-year, seven LP contract with full artistic control and worth $37 million, and so would come the wait for one for the most highly anticipated albums of the decade. Having been scheduled for an October release, Wonder would put all on hold as he felt the essential remixing was needed and so the album would get its official release almost a year later in September of 1976. 

As we sit with the album now it’s clear how personal this piece of work is, with Stevie touching on all aspects of his life. Not only does this take us on a biographical journey but also a musical journey with Wonder showing the many different genres of music that inspired him and which he came to master. Calling in the help of so much talent, including Herbie Hancock and George Benson, all in all 130 people worked on the album but at no point does it sound as if Stevie wasn’t in control of every note..

There is a feeling I get when I listen to albums like Songs in the Key of Life; it’s a feeling of inclusiveness, to know that I am feeling this joy for music that so many have felt before me and so many will feel long after I’m gone, and I guess for artists that’s the draw of writing music. With every album you listen to you become part of a community and Stevie’s community is joy and love and life.

So, which track do we let play us out today? I think this week it should be a pick your own but for me I’m going to revisit “As”.

“Did you know that true love asks for nothing?
Her acceptance is the way we pay
Did you know that life has given love a guarantee?
To last through forever and another day”

Smiley Day,
T