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Soul - Released January 1, 2014 | Motown

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Songs in the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder's longest, most ambitious collection of songs, a two-LP (plus accompanying EP) set that -- just as the title promised -- touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder's career. The opening "Love's in Need of Love Today" and "Have a Talk with God" are curiously subdued, but Stevie soon kicks into gear with "Village Ghetto Land," a fierce exposé of ghetto neglect set to a satirical Baroque synthesizer. Hot on its heels comes the torrid fusion jam "Contusion," a big, brassy hit tribute to the recently departed Duke Ellington in "Sir Duke," and (another hit, this one a Grammy winner as well) the bumping poem to his childhood, "I Wish." Though they didn't necessarily appear in order, Songs in the Key of Life contains nearly a full album on love and relationships, along with another full album on issues social and spiritual. Fans of the love album Talking Book can marvel that he sets the bar even higher here, with brilliant material like the tenderly cathartic and gloriously redemptive "Joy Inside My Tears," the two-part, smooth-and-rough "Ordinary Pain," the bitterly ironic "All Day Sucker," or another classic heartbreaker, "Summer Soft." Those inclined toward Stevie Wonder the social-issues artist had quite a few songs to focus on as well: "Black Man" was a Bicentennial school lesson on remembering the vastly different people who helped build America; "Pastime Paradise" examined the plight of those who live in the past and have little hope for the future; "Village Ghetto Land" brought listeners to a nightmare of urban wasteland; and "Saturn" found Stevie questioning his kinship with the rest of humanity and amusingly imagining paradise as a residency on a distant planet. If all this sounds overwhelming, it is; Stevie Wonder had talent to spare during the mid-'70s, and instead of letting the reserve trickle out during the rest of the decade, he let it all go with one massive burst. (His only subsequent record of the '70s was the similarly gargantuan but largely instrumental soundtrack Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.) © John Bush /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 2014 | Motown

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After releasing two "head" records during 1970-71, Stevie Wonder expanded his compositional palette with 1972's Talking Book to include societal ills as well as tender love songs, and so recorded the first smash album of his career. What had been hinted at on the intriguing project Music of My Mind was here focused into a laser beam of tight songwriting, warm electronic arrangements, and ebullient performances -- altogether the most realistic vision of musical personality ever put to wax, beginning with a disarmingly simple love song, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" (but of course, it's only the composition that's simple). Stevie's not always singing a tender ballad here -- in fact, he flits from contentment to mistrust to promise to heartbreak within the course of the first four songs -- but he never fails to render each song in the most vivid colors. In stark contrast to his early songs, which were clever but often relied on the Motown template of romantic metaphor, with Talking Book it became clear Stevie Wonder was beginning to speak his mind and use personal history for material (just as Marvin Gaye had with the social protest of 1971's What's Going On). The lyrics became less convoluted, while the emotional power gained in intensity. "You and I" and the glorious closer "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" subtly illustrate that the conception of love can be stronger than the reality, while "Tuesday Heartbreak" speaks simply but powerfully: "I wanna be with you when the nighttime comes / I wanna be with you till the daytime comes." Ironically, the biggest hit from Talking Book wasn't a love song at all; the funk landmark "Superstition" urges empowerment instead of hopelessness, set to a grooving beat that made it one of the biggest hits of his career. It's followed by "Big Brother," the first of his directly critical songs, excoriating politicians who posture to the underclass in order to gain the only thing they really need: votes. With Talking Book, Stevie also found a proper balance between making an album entirely by himself and benefiting from the talents of others. His wife Syreeta contributed two great lyrics, and Ray Parker, Jr. came by to record a guitar solo that brings together the lengthy jam "Maybe Your Baby." Two more guitar heroes, Jeff Beck and Buzzy Feton, appeared on "Lookin' for Another Pure Love," Beck's solo especially giving voice to the excruciating process of moving on from a broken relationship. Like no other Stevie Wonder LP before it, Talking Book is all of a piece, the first unified statement of his career. It's certainly an exercise in indulgence but, imitating life, it veers breathtakingly from love to heartbreak and back with barely a pause. © John Bush /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 2014 | Motown

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Soul - Released January 1, 1973 | Motown

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At 23 years of age, Stevie Wonder’s music is in its innovative stages in Innervisions, released on August 3, 1973. Playing all kinds of instruments, featuring musicians such as Jeff Beck, Ray Parker Jr., David Sanborn and Buzz Feiten, and touching on a range of themes from drugs, ghetto, spirituality, politics, racism and of course love with a big L, Michigan’s musical genius manages to create the ultimate fusion of soul, rhythm’n’blues, funk and pop. The sound of his synthesisers was unprecedented at the time and works well with this spiritual soul music that is full of crazy melodies. Innervisions provides the perfect soundtrack for difficult times in America, like in Living for The City where Stevie recalls the trials and tribulations of a young black man from Mississippi who went to New York for a job he would never get, before ending up behind bars (to make his 7-minute composition even more realistic, he incorporates street recordings, siren sounds and arrest-dialogues). With He’s Misstra Know-It-All, Stevie takes a thinly-veiled dig against the incumbent president, Richard Nixon. This album is the perfect addition to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On released two years earlier as we leave the blues behind and embrace the broken American dream instead. It’s also very personal for Stevie Wonder, who has the original Innervisions cover engraved in braille, “This is my music. It’s all I have to say to you and all that I feel. Know that your love helps mine to stay strong”. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Soul - Released January 1, 2014 | Motown

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Released in 1982, the double-album Original Musiquarium I summarizes Stevie Wonder's classic period of the '70s, concentrating primarily on the hits, but adding a few album tracks to hint at the depth of his albums, as well as four new songs (one for each side, all pleasant, none particularly remarkable). Though there could be some dispute about the album tracks, this does wind up as an excellent overview of Wonder's period of greatest activity, and it's a terrific listen to boot -- any record that sports such hits as "Superstition," "You Haven't Done Nothin'," "Living for the City," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Higher Ground," "Sir Duke," "Boogie on Reggae Woman," and "I Wish" is guaranteed to be a great listen, and it is. Wonder remains a quintessential album artist, but this record is a terrific snapshot of the highlights. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1972 | Motown

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With a new contract from Motown in his hand, Stevie Wonder released Music of My Mind, his first truly unified record and, with the exception of a single part on two songs, the work of a one-man-band. Everything he had learned about musicianship, engineering, and production during his long apprenticeship in the Snakepit at Motown Studios came together here (from the liner notes: "The sounds themselves come from inside his mind. The man is his own instrument. The instrument is an orchestra.") Music of My Mind was also the first to bear the fruits of his increased focus on Moog and Arp synthesizers, though the songs never sound synthetic, due in great part to Stevie's reliance on a parade of real instruments -- organic drumwork, harmonica, organs and pianos -- as well as his mastery of traditional song structure and his immense musical personality. The intro of the vibrant, tender "I Love Every Little Thing About You" is a perfect example, humanized with a series of lightly breathed syllables for background rhythm. And when the synthesizers do appear, it's always in the perfect context: the standout "Superwoman" really benefits from its high-frequency harmonics, and "Seems So Long" wouldn't sound quite as affectionate without the warm electronics gurgling in the background. This still wasn't a perfect record, though; "Sweet Little Girl" was an awkward song, with Stevie assuming another of his embarrassing musical personalities to fawn over a girl. © John Bush /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1972 | UNI - MOTOWN

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R&B - Released January 1, 1974 | Motown

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After the righteous anger and occasional despair of the socially motivated Innervisions, Stevie Wonder returned with a relationship record: Fulfillingness' First Finale. The cover pictures his life as an enormous wheel, part of which he's looking ahead to and part of which he's already completed (the latter with accompanying images of Little Stevie, JFK and MLK, the Motor Town Revue bus, a child with balloons, his familiar Taurus logo, and multiple Grammy awards). The songs and arrangements are the warmest since Talking Book, and Stevie positively caresses his vocals on this set, encompassing the vagaries of love, from dreaming of it ("Creepin'") to being bashful of it ("Too Shy to Say") to knowing when it's over ("It Ain't No Use"). The two big singles are "Boogie on Reggae Woman," with a deep electronic groove balancing organic congas and gospel piano, and "You Haven't Done Nothin'," an acidic dismissal of President Nixon and the Watergate controversy (he'd already written "He's Misstra Know-It-All" on the same topic). As before, Fulfillingness' First Finale is mostly the work of a single man; Stevie invited over just a bare few musicians, and most of those were background vocalists (though of the finest caliber: Minnie Riperton, Paul Anka, Deniece Williams, and the Jackson 5). Also as before, the appearances are perfectly chosen; "Too Shy to Say" can only benefit from the acoustic bass of Motown institution James Jamerson and the heavenly steel guitar of Sneaky Pete Kleinow, while the Jackson 5 provide some righteous amens to Stevie's preaching on "You Haven't Done Nothin'." It's also very refreshing to hear more songs devoted to the many and varied stages of romance, among them "It Ain't No Use," "Too Shy to Say," "Please Don't Go." The only element lacking here, in comparison to the rest of his string of brilliant early-'70s records, is a clear focus; Fulfillingness' First Finale is more a collection of excellent songs than an excellent album. © John Bush /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1972 | UNI - MOTOWN

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Pop - Released January 1, 1972 | Motown

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R&B - Released January 1, 1980 | Motown

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Soul - Released December 8, 1968 | Motown

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Rather than rushing out an album in the spring of 1968, when "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day" (Number 9 Pop, Number One R&B) hit, Motown waited, through the modest summer success of "You Met Your Match" (Number 35 Pop, Number Two R&B), until "For Once in My Life" (Number Two Pop and R&B) became Wonder's next mammoth single, to release an album. As a result, this album contained all three hits, making it one of Wonder's more consistent albums of the '60s, even with filler like "Sunny" and "God Bless the Child." The real find, however, is the driving "I Don't Know Why," which, when placed on the B-side of Wonder's next single, "My Cherie Amour," became a hit on its own, going to Number 39 (Pop) and Number 16 (R&B). © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 29, 2002 | UNI - MOTOWN

Few musicians who rose to the top of the pop charts as children matured musically and personally with the grace and accomplishment of Stevie Wonder, and fewer still managed to enjoy a degree of popular and critical success that matched Wonder's in the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. Narrowing Wonder's massive catalog down to 39 songs is no easy task, but The Definitive Collection does as good as a job as one could hope for; this two-disc set includes practically all of Wonder's biggest hits and signature songs, from 1963's "Fingertips" to 1995's "For Your Love," as well as featuring a number of fan favorites and deep cuts. While the set hasn't been sequenced chronologically, this actually works in its favor, pointing to the stylistic diversity of Wonder's body of work as well as the consistent strength of his songwriting and his restless, imaginative style as a producer and arranger. Between the sheer bulk of Wonder's catalog and his status as one of the most honored pop musicians of his time (essentially everything he recorded in the 1970s is essential, as is most of his catalog from the 1980s), you can hardly call a two-disc set a "definitive collection," but as a (relatively) brief overview of his best-known work and a way into his catalog, The Definitive Collection does an excellent job of reminding us why Stevie Wonder meant so much to so many people, and continues to matter more than half a century after his first hit. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1985 | Motown

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Pop - Released January 1, 1979 | Motown

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Stevie Wonder broke a three-year silence, one that followed a series of six classic albums released within six years, with this double album, the score/soundtrack to a little-seen environmental documentary directed by Wild Bunch co-screenwriter Walon Green. From the release of Songs in the Key of Life through the release of Plants, Wonder had been active, actually, but only as a collaborator, working with Ramsey Lewis, the Pointer Sisters, Minnie Riperton, Syreeta, Ronnie Foster, and Michael Jackson. Even so, three years was a considerable lag between albums. Anticipation was so high that this release peaked at number four on the Billboard 200 and R&B album charts. It quickly slipped to footnote status; when Wonder’s 1972-1980 albums were reissued in 2000, it was left out of the program. Plants is a sprawling, fascinating album. Though it is dominated by synthesizer-heavy instrumental pieces with evocative titles, there is a handful of full-blown songs. The gorgeous, mostly acoustic ballad “Send One Your Love” was a Top Ten R&B single, while the joyous “Outside My Window” registered in the Top 60. Beyond that, there’s the deep classic “Come Back as a Flower,” a gently lapping, piano-led ballad featuring Syreeta on vocals. Otherwise, there are playfully oddball tracks like “Venus’ Flytrap and the Bug,” where Wonder chirps “Please don’t eat me!” through robotizing effects, and “A Seed’s a Star,” which incorporates crowd noise, a robotized monologue, and a shrieking Tata Vega over a funkier and faster version of Yellow Magic Orchestra. The album is not for everyone, but it suited its purpose and allowed its maker an amount of creative wiggle room that few major-label artists experience. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 2013 | Motown

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R&B - Released November 23, 1999 | UNI - MOTOWN

He's been called one of the most influential performers and songwriters of the century, but until 1999 Stevie Wonder didn't even have a box set to call his own. Such was the reissue campaign at Motown that, until very recently, some of the best pop music of the '60s sounded poorer in reissue form than when it was first played on AM radio. In 1996, the long-awaited Stevie Wonder digital-age hits package Song Review reached the shelves, but it didn't even follow compilation etiquette (that is, chronological order). Finally, At the Close of a Century made everything right -- complete with digital remastering, near-perfect sound, complete coverage of his epic career, an attractive design, and copious liner notes and pictures. The box, a four-disc set spanning 1962 to 1996, debuts with "Fingertips, Pts. 1 & 2," the long-unheard seven-minute version of his first hit. The first disc includes every hit that fans can remember, including great-sounding versions of "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and "Hey Love," plus plenty of moderate hits they may not remember, like his definitive cover of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out." Disc two features more than a dozen of his biggest hits, including "Superstition," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Living for the City," "Higher Ground," and "Boogie On Reggae Woman." Disc three begins with no less than nine tracks from Songs in the Key of Life, his standout double album from 1976. Right into the '80s and '90s, Stevie Wonder remained at the top of the charts, with hits like "Rocket Love," "Master Blaster (Jammin')," "Happy Birthday," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," and "Part-Time Lover." It took far too long, but Motown finally issued a box set worthy of Stevie Wonder's continuing artistry. © John Bush /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1984 | Motown

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R&B - Released August 7, 1970 | UNI - MOTOWN

Stevie Wonder was beginning to rebel against the Motown hit factory mentality in the early '70s. While he certainly hadn't lost his commercial touch, Wonder was anxious to address social concerns, experiment with electronics, and not be restricted by radio and marketplace considerations. Still, he gave the label another definitive smash with the title track, while sneaking in a cover of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" and penning more intriguing tunes like "I Can't Let My Heaven Walk Away" and "Never Had a Dream Come True." © Ron Wynn /TiVo
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R&B - Released May 4, 1966 | Motown

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