Title: “Songs in the Key of Life”: An Oldy But A Goody
Stevie Wonder has left a profound impact on pop culture. His intoxicating melodies and soulful, powerful voice can make poets weep, and children laugh. While he is undoubtedly an older artist, he can still release hits like “Faith,” his 2016 duet with Ariana Grande, and playing harmonica in Mark Ronson’s album “Uptown Special.” Taking a look at Stevie Wonder at the peak of his career takes you to his 1976 album, his magnum opus, “Songs in the Key of Life.”
“Songs in Key of Life” was Stevie Wonder’s eighteenth album. After deciding not to quit the industry in 1975, he signed the most significant recording contract in history and got to work. He took 37 million dollars, now about 178 million dollars, for a seven-album deal. The first product is currently #4 on The Rolling Stones’ Top 500 albums of all time.
In the early seventies, Stevie Wonder overcame the difficult transition from a teen sensation to an impactful adult musician. He did so with grace, finding his art in soul and helping to define Motown as a genre. He became a symbol in Black Power politics, and his songs became the anthems of the underrepresented. His success gave credibility to album-making in Soul music, which had previously been heavily populated with singles.
The album opens with “Love’s In Need of Love Today”. He uses his voice and the voices of others in the form of a choir to portray the message of the album – one of love through hardship. He outlines his problems with the system in America with “Village Ghetto Land” and “Ordinary Pain.” But his solution is all about love and togetherness.
Wonder gives tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington in one of his hit singles within the album, “Sir Duke.” The car ride-sing-along song is full of percussion and trumpet solos and is a break from the heavy topics of early songs.
“Black Man” is, at its core, a great equalizer. Its chorus preaches equality and recognition of all races. The rest of the songs list the numerous incredible accomplishments of Native, Asian, and African Americans. It’s the catchiest list you’ll ever hear.
As much as “Songs” is about all of us, it is the world viewed by Wonder. The most famous song on the album is assuredly “Isn’t She Lovely.” The song is accompanied by recordings of Wonder’s newborn daughter, whom the song is about. Wonder is famously blind, and he knows his daughter from her cries, making this song much more impactful and joyful.
Stevie Wonder uses a variety of instruments. From the typical violin, piano, and drums to synthesizer, bongos, and all the bells and whistles that take full advantage of the studio, his mixing of sounds gives a unique variety and depth.
Regarding the album’s effect on the future, you may recognize the melody of “Pastime Paradise” from its remixing by Coolio in “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Likewise, Micheal Jackson sang Love’s In Need of Love Today in his 1988 tour, and Whitney Houston cited it as a significant influence on her music.
“Songs in the Key of Life” is profound in its lyrics and an absolute bop. Every song is different. Laid back, on edge, happy, sad, heartbroken, on top of the world, all in one album. It’s a must-listen on anyone’s list. While modern and pop music has not greatly evolved at this time, it’s still a vibe, so take a chance on the true to name, “oldy but a goody.”