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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
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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
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Soul - Released January 1, 1973 | Motown

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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
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R&B - Released January 1, 1972 | Motown

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Pop - Released January 1, 1973 | Motown

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R&B - Released January 1, 1972 | Motown

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Soul - Released January 1, 1972 | UNI - MOTOWN

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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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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
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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
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Soul - Released January 1, 1980 | Motown

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Soul - Released January 1, 1985 | Motown

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Soul - 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
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Soul - Released January 1, 2013 | Motown

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R&B - Released May 4, 1966 | UNI - MOTOWN

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R&B - Released January 1, 1964 | UNI - MOTOWN

Stevie Wonder once described this period in his musical development as embarrassing. He particularly spoke of "Harmonica Man" in this regard; an early single release, it featured a barking male backing chorus, a zippy beat, and some spirited harmonica playing and vocalizing by Stevie. "Red Sails In the Sunset" and "Beachstomp" have the same feel as "Harmonica." The slower "Castles In the Sand" also failed to scale the charts, as it's a rather dull attempt to appeal to surfers and beach hangers; the instrumental version (included) is more appealing then the vocal, since the lyrics were just too wimpy. Not one of Stevie's most sterling efforts, but it's not the embarrassment he claims either. Well...maybe for him. ~ Andrew Hamilton
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Soul - Released January 1, 1969 | Motown

Notable for containing Wonder's then-most recent Top Ten hit, the title track, and its follow-up, "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday," this album otherwise contains contemporary filler like "Light My Fire," plus a peculiar arrangement of "Hello, Young Lovers" from The King and I that makes it sound like "For Once In My Life." ~ William Ruhlmann
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Soul - Released January 1, 2005 | Motown