Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Your musical education - number whatever

Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder

Christmas 1976 and a broken hearted JerryChicken has just split up with the first love of his life, is regretting the dump and feeling sorry for himself, he buys himself the new Stevie Wonder album, a double album with a free EP inside.

Its a landmark moment, both in Stevie Wonders career and in the 20 year old JerryChickens life.

If I was to recommend one album from the seventies to anyone who wasn't there then this would be it, no question.

When an artist is told by his record company to release a double album its usually because they have one too many good songs to fit onto a single album and the next two months are spent in a blind panic trying to find some bilge to fill out the second part of the sleeve.

In 1976 Stevie Wonder must have had enough new songs to fill five or six albums, so good is the quaility of every single track on Songs in the Key of Life and it makes you wonder what happened to the ones that were rejected - they were squeezed onto an EP and thrown in for good measure as a freebie is the actual answer, a double album and then four more tracks shoved inside.

From the first bars of "Love's in Need of Love Today" you melt into this album with its several long tracks of self indulgent, wonderful, not blindingly commercial but nevertheless platinum selling soul music the likes of which had not been heard up until then and in my opinion has never been surpased.

Almost every track has been covered or sampled on some far more inferior trash but no-one has made the music speak the message like Stevie Wonder does, twelve tracks from seventeen charted as singles under Mr Wonders banner and since then ten of the tracks have been covered and god knows how many samples have been included by assorted rap and gangsta wankers - "Pastime Paradise" being the most famous, released as the inferior "Gangsta Paradise" by some twat called Coolio.

And I shudder as I write this, and curl in embarrassment for I am truly ashamed of being British at this point - in 1977 Stevie Wonder released the single "Isn't she Lovely" which celebrates the birth of his daughter Aisha and includes audio of her baby bathtimes, its a great track and a very personal one to him and was destined make No 1 in the UK singles charts without doubt.

And then, in an act of gross vandalism, and an extreme violation, nay, rape of the artistic merit of the song, a record company in the UK who had earlier received permission to record the song with a no-mark called David Parton (no, I'd never heard of him before or since either), released their version as a spoiler - and in a tragedy that has never been explained properly the crap version reached number one and kept Stevie Wonders original down in the bottom of the charts - unforgiveable.


Its impossible to pick a favourite track off the album, there are simply too many, but for starters I'd recommend the aforementioned "Loves in Need of Love Today", "Joy inside my Tears" and "As".

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