Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Stevie Wonder, The #3 Artist of the Seventies*

This musical genius signed his first record contract at the age of 11.  He became a superstar in the 60's, continued as one of The Top Artists of the Seventies, and was a major force in the 80's as well.

Stevie Hardaway was born six weeks premature, which along with the oxygen in the hospital incubator resulted in retinopathy of prematurity, a condition that causes the retinas to detach, so he went blind.  When Stevie was four, his mother left his father and took the children to Detroit, Michigan.  She also changed Stevie's surname to Morris, party because of relatives.

Stevie begin playing piano, harmonica, drums and bass at an early age.  He joined a friend, naming the partnership Stevie and John, and they played at parties and dances, as well as on street corners.  In 1961, when he was just 11, Stevie wrote a song, "Lonely Boy", which he sang for Ronnie White of the Miracles.  White arranged for Stevie to audition at Motown Records, which resulted in a record contract with Motown's Tamla label. 

Stevie acquired the nickname Little Stevie Wonder and recorded two albums, but neither was successful.  Wonder joined the Motortown Revue, touring theatres across America that accepted black artists.  In Chicago, Stevie's 20-minute performance was recorded and released in 1963 as the album Recorded Live:  The 12 Year Old Genius.  The single "Fingertips" went to #1, making Wonder the youngest artist ever to reach #1. 

Wonder went on to register 21 hits in the 60's, with nine of those going Top 10, including "I Was Made To Love Her", "For Once In My Life", and "Uptight (Everything's Alright)". 

In 1970, Wonder released the album Signed Sealed Delivered.  The lead single, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" soared to #3 overall and #1 on the R&B chart. 

The strong follow-up, "Heaven Help Us All" peaked at #2 on the R&B chart and #9 on the Popular chart.

Wonder released the album Someday at Christmas, featuring the great title song.

Another single from the album, "What Christmas Means To Me", also showed Stevie's tremendous growth as a songwriter.

The following year, Stevie also released the album Where I'm Coming From, with help from wife Syreeta Wright.  In 1971, Stevie allowed his Motown contract to expire.  Meanwhile, he co-wrote and played several instruments on the Spinners song "It's A Shame".  This gave Wonder a bargaining chip with Motown, and it resulted in a much higher royalty rate when Stevie returned in 1972.  The single "If You Really Love Me" raced to #8.  

Stevie and Wright wrote this ballad--"Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer".

Beginning with the album Music of My Mind, Stevie began to consistently explore social and political material, and his music was becoming more complex.    With the exception of a single part on two songs, Wonder was a one-man band, playing all the instruments on the album.  The single "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)" was a minor R&B hit. 

Wonder began to show signs of the uncanny ability to put together some of the best albums of the Rock Era that would soon follow.& We also want to feature "I Love Every Thing About You".

Later in the year, Stevie released the first in a string of amazing albums.  It was clear that he had reached another level.  Talking Book included the single "Superstition", which went to #1 on both the Popular and R&B charts.  It was Stevie's first #1 song since "Fingertips" nine years before.  "Superstition" captured Grammy Award for Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

The huge hit "Superstition" led Talking Book to #3 on the Album chart.  Wonder began touring with the Rolling Stones, which gave him considerably more exposure.  Wonder then unleashed an even bigger hit--"You Are The Sunshine Of My Life".  It was #1 on the Adult chart, #3 R&B, and #1 Popular, and Wonder won Grammy Awards for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Stevie's synthesizers shine on "Tuesday Heartbreak", with great sax work from David Sanborn.

And he gives an outstanding performance on "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever".

Wonder won an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist, and he was nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist.  In 1973, Stevie continued his winning streak with the great album Innervisions.  "Higher Ground" elevated to #4 overall and gave Stevie his eighth career R&B #1.

Wonder won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and the American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist.  He was nominated for another AMA for Favorite Soul/R&B Album.  The great song "Living In The City" also reached #1 R&B and was underrated at #8 overall.  It won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. 

Stevie pulled a third single from the LP--"Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing"--#2 on the R&B chart and an underrated #16 overall.

"Visions" is another superb ballad from this legendary genius.
"Too High" is Wonder's warning to unsuspecting youth of the dangers of drugs.

Another incredible track on the album is "All In Love Is Fair".
Stevie suffered a severe accident while on tour in North Carolina, when the car he was riding in hit the back of a truck.  He bounced back, and released another amazing album in Fulfillingness' First Finale in 1974.  Wonder released the poignant "You Haven't Done Nothin'" about U.S. President Richard Nixon, and the public agreed, taking it to #1 on both the Popular and R&B charts.   

The album went to #1, Stevie's first, and gave him another Grammy for Album of the Year, and a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (for the entire album).  "Boogie On Reggae Woman" rose to #3 overall and #1 on the R&B chart.  It won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

"Creepin'" is superbly crafted, another Top Track* from Wonder.

Wonder shows his incredible versatility on "Smile Please".

George Michael  recorded a great cover of this song much later, but Stevie did it originally--"They Won't Go When I Go".

"Please Don't Go" is another outstanding song on the album.
Stevie had won consecutive Album of the Year awards for Innervisions and Fullfillgness' First Finale, but he set his sights even higher.  In 1976, he came up with his masterpiece, the double album Songs in the Key of Life.  Wonder became the first artist from the U.S. to debut at #1 on the Album chart, and Songs in the Key of Life spent 14 weeks at the top.  The first single, "I Wish", landed at #1 on both the Popular and R&B charts in the United States and gave Wonder one of his biggest hits in the U.K. at #5.

The song "Isn't She Lovely?" was written to celebrate the birth of Stevie's new baby Aisha.  It did not chart on either the Popular or R&B chart, but did reach #23 on the Adult chart.
Songs in the Key of Life has now gone Diamond, for sales over 10 million copies.  "Sir Duke" became the biggest hit on the album, #1 in the U.S. and #2 in the U.K. 

The single "Another Star" was highly underrated at #18 on the R&B chart and #32 overall.

Another song on the album began attracting attention, but radio blew it big-time on this one.  "As" at #36 is easily one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

Wonder captured American Music Awards for Favorite Soul/R&B Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Album for Songs in the Key of Life, and he was nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist and Favorite Pop/Rock Album.  Another prime cut is "Love's In Need Of Love Today".

Once again, Wonder captured Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (for the entire album), Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for "I Wish"), and Producer of the Year, and Songs in the Key of Life ranks as The #4 Album of the Rock Era*.  "Village Ghetto Land".
You can find great song after great song on this masterpiece.  This is "If It's Magic". 
"Pastime Paradise" also features powerful lyrics and is one of Wonder's best career songs.  It was later remade into a monster hit under the title "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio.

In 1979, Wonder released the album Journey through the Secret Life of Plants.  The lead single, "Send One Your Love" raced to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #5 overall.

Wonder was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special (for Journey through the Secret Life of Plants). 
 In 1982, Stevie released the compilation Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I, a #4 album that went Gold.  His compilation Song Review went Platinum in 1996.  Wonder also scored a Gold album with the box set At the Close of a Century in 1999, and The Definitive Collection was Platinum.

Wonder continued to do well in the 90's and is still recording and performing.  In 1981, Stevie won an Award of Merit from the American Music Awards.  Two years later, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  In 1989, Wonder was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In 1996, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.

In 2002, Wonder received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  In 2004, he received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Century Award at the Billboard Music Awards.  In 2007, Stevie was honored by ASCAP with its American Troubadour Award.

In 2009, Stevie became the second recipient of the Library of Congress's Gershwin Prize, an award received from U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.  The following year, French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand presented Wonder with a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.

In 2012, Wonder received the Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards.  Stevie also won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Civil Rights Museum.

Wonder sold over 20 million albums in the decade, and scored 20 hits, with 12 of those reaching the Top 10 and five #1's.  On the Adult chart, Stevie registered 12 hits in the Seventies, with five Top 10's and two #1 songs.

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