Thursday, November 22, 2012

In The 1970s Stevie Wonder


Stevie went blind before the age of one in 1950. He was born as Stevland Hardaway Judkins and has won twenty two Grammy awards in an unprecedented music career.  The Wonder kid was so good that he was signed with Tamla Motown at the ripe old age of eleven, where he was signed up by Barry Gordy after being “discovered” by the Miracles singer Gerald White.

By 13 Stevie had had his first hit at the age of 13 in 1963. The 60s made him a huge star with classics like For Once In My Life and a record that entered the 1970s singles chart Yester- Me Yester- You, Yesterday. The song went to No.2 in December 1969 but stayed in the charts during January 1970.
The song was written by Bryan Wells and Ron Miller (Died in 2007) and came from Stevie’s album My Cherie Amour.

The first single to chart in 1970 was a No. 5 hit called Never Had A Dream come True another UK top ten for the Wonder kid. This was written by Stevie and Henry Cosby (wrote Tears Of A Clown and died in 2002) with Sylvia Moy. Both Sylvia and Henry appear in the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
1970 was a great year for Stevie on both sides of the Atlantic.

His next single made the top twenty in the UK with Signed Sealed, Delivered I’mYours which was No.1 U.S. hit for six weeks in the R&B charts. Later in the year Stevie would produce an album of the same name which included this track. Stevie was still only twenty years old. The song was nominated for a Grammy that year too.
Stevie told Jonathon Ross that the title actually came from his mother who liked the song. The backing vocals were supplied by Lynda Tucker Lawrence who went on to work in the Supremes, and Syreeta write who also helped write the track. Syreeta had a few hit singles in the charts; she also was the wife of Stevie for eighteen months from 1970 to 1972. Sadly she died in 2004 of a heart condition.

The very last single hit of 1970 was Heaven Help Us All, again written by Miller
In the 1970s Stevie had eighteen top twenty hits in the U.S. alone, with five going to the top of the Billboard 100.

In the UK 1971 saw Stevie hit the top thirty with We Can Work It Out, which was a cover of the Beatles hit. The bigger hit that year was If You Really Love Me written by Stevie and his then wife Syreeta from the album Where I Am Coming From. The single did better in America getting to No. 10.

1972 saw Stevie keeping up the pressure on the music charts with Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You) a U.S. hit but failed to even chart across the water in the UK. But the next single did chart. The next song was a classic.


Superstition was the hit that made everybody sit up and listen. Stevie did almost everything on this track. He wrote. He produced. He sang and played instruments. This was the soul of Stevie. The original drum sound was produced by Jeff Beck, but he did not actually play it on the single.
Stevie was using the Moog too. Al these sounds made this an incredible record. Add in the powerful vocals of Wonder and great lyrics you have the perfect recipe for success.

The song was obviously about superstitions. From walking under a ladder and the No. 13.Now Stevie was over 21 he negotiated to have a bigger share of the royalties, so not only did he do everything in the song, he earns a great deal more from it. Tamla had no choice but to agree. For many this was the biggest song Stevie had ever done.




In 1973 Stevie did it again with the beautiful You Are The Sunshine Of My Life No. 1 in the U.S. and No.3 in the UK. The song came from the album Talking Back and won Stevie a Grammy for best male vocalist of the year. Not many people know that the opening lines are not sung by Wonder, but in fact by James Gilstrap and Lani Groves. James would have a big hit in 1975 with Swing Your Daddy.

The song was about Syreeta, even though they were now divorced.
Higher Ground was the follow up hit doing much better in the U.S. charts. The song comes from the album Innervisions and was written and completed in three hours only. The song is about taking control or having a second chance.

Still in 1973 and still at the top of his game Stevie produced the fantastic Living For The City which again came from Innervisions. The song is about a small boy struggling with life in Mississippi. He is suffering the racism and poverty and moves to New York City and ends up in jail after drug trafficking. The sound of Stevie’s voice was so rough at the end. Rough as in anger, as the producer deliberately messed about in the studio causing Stevie to really lose his temper. The result showed in his voice, and the song was perfect because of it.

The last hit in 1973 was Don’t You Worry About A Thing (did not chart well in UK) and was about a man trying to impress women with words.

It was 1963 when Stevie had his first No. 1, now eleven years later he was still going strong. 1974 the story continues with another with a No. 10 hit in the UK (did not chart in the U.S.) He’s Misstra Know It All, which was the 4th hit from the album Innervisions. The song was all about a very good
You Haven’t Done Nothing was a song he did with the Jackson 5, and was a politically motivated record against President Nixon. It is also assumed the Nixon may have been the trickster in He’s Misstra Know It All. It reached No.1 in the U.S. and only No. 30 in the UK.

Boogie On Reggae Woman was the last single hit of the year. No. 3 in the U.S.  and No. 12 in the UK. From the strangely named album Fullfillingness’s First Finale. The song has Stevie laying his harmonica throughout.
On to 1977, and this year would give Stevie TWO No.1 in the U.S. the first being I Wish (No. 5 UK) coming from the amazing album Songs In The Key Of Life. The song in part is about childhood.
The second No.1 (both were top ten singles in the UK) was Sir Duke and was written as a tribute to Duke Wellington who had died recently. Stevie also had the lyrics refer to other such classic musicians and singers like Glenn Miller and Aretha Franklin. The song has a catchy trumpet at the beginning.

The last two singles of the year were minor hits called Another Star and AS. But the hit that never was has to be Isn’t She Lovely which appeared on the album Songs In The Key Of Life that had radio play all over the world, and actually featured Stevie’s child laughing during bath time. The radio stations were demanding it be released. But Stevie never did release it as a single. It was released in the UK as a single by David Parton and he charted very high with a very inferior version of the song.
1979 and Stevie had one single hit in the U.S. with Send One Your Love. But although the decade ended Stevie still moved on into the 1980s and beyond. Stevie has had nearly forty singles in the top forty in his career in the U.S. Eighteen top forty albums too.

Stevie has so many accolades that it would be impossible to write them all here. But some would include.

Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Billboard Century Award and Messenger of Peace for the United Nations. Stevie still performs, and one of his most memorable last big performances was at the Queens 60th Birthday Party in 2012.

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