Blind from birth, Stevie Wonder note
(1950-) first became famous as "Little" Stevie Wonder as a supporting act on the Motown
Records roster. He could play keyboards and various percussion instruments, but it was his harmonica talents that most impressed Berry Gordy, and featured in Wonder's first hit, "Fingertips Part 2" (1963), a live recording of a mostly improptu performance. (Listen closely, and you'll hear the bassist for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas stammering, "What key? What key?" after he got on stage thinking Stevie was done performing.)
Even at his young age, Wonder attempted to be progressive with his singing and song choices, notably his recording the Bob Dylan
song "Blowin' In the Wind" which some at Motown thought was a mistake. While several of his 1960s
hits, particularly "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and his cover of "For Once In My Life", have proved durable, it's his material starting with 1972's Talking Book
up through 1976's Songs in the Key of Life
that are probably his most popular and critically well regarded. These songs even broke the alleged Album Rock "color barrier", thanks in no small part to his performing the Talking Book
material on a tour with The Rolling Stones
at that time.
Today, Wonder is still revered by many, though his days as a major radio force are over. He's also known for his political activism, from his criticisms in-song of Richard Nixon
; to his song "Happy Birthday", which popularized the idea of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; up to his very vocal endorsement and support of Barack Obama
Albums by Wonder with their own page:
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Wonder does this hilariously in the intro to "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing".
- Blind Black Guy and Blind Musician: Together with Ray Charles probably one of the most iconic examples.
- Child Popstar: He started when he was seven.
- Child Prodigy: Began his career at a young age and topped the charts with the live album The 12 Year Old Genius. He still holds the record for the youngest artist to get to number one.
- Cover Version: Being both a writer and performer for Motown, this was often inverted. Two examples:
- Downer Ending: "Living for the City" from Innervisions. In spite of a solid upbringing from two loving parents who taught him responsibility and a strong work ethic, the protagonist of the song is convicted of drug possession after being tricked into being a mule, spends ten years in jail, and winds up destitute.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Executives at Motown had no idea what to do with Wonder at the beginning of his career. They started out by branding him as "the next Ray Charles" (his second album was even called "Tribute to Uncle Ray"), before he was rebranded as a lounge singer. When that failed, he was given a bunch of surfer anthems to sing. Once his voice changed in puberty, he penned 1965's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and became a hitmaker for Motown from then on. Tellingly, despite releasing five albums prior, "Uptight" would be his second single to chart in the United States.
- Epic Rocking: "Living for the City", "Love's in Need of Love Today", "As", "Another Star".
- The instrumental for "Isn't She Lovely?" from Songs in the Key of Life runs so long that the song needed to be cut in half for radio play.
- Genre Adultery: 1979's Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"—his first album since his Magnum Opus, Songs in the Key of Life. Despite being billed as a soundtrack for a documentary, the album dipped heavily into New Age and worldbeat music—while simultaneously suffering from "synthesizeritis." It included a nine-minute proto-house track called "Race Babbling." All in all, it was a style he never returned to.
- Handicapped Badass
- I Am the Band: Literally! He plays keyboards, bass, drums, and harmonica. Many songs are all him except for backing vocals, guitar, and horns.
- Lighter and Softer: The majority of his output post-Songs, epitomized in 1983's "I Just Called to Say I Love You."
- Melismatic Vocals
- N-Word Privileges: Expect him to make at least one passing joke about where the cue cards are, or how he's just trolling about being blind are at least once during a show.
- Piss-Take Rap: Wonder pulled off a masterful one in "Do I Do".
"I know I cannot rhyme 'cause I ain't like a friend of mine
but I hai, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha ha ha…"
- Protest Song: Released many socially-conscious songs throughout the 1970s, including songs that criticized Republican politics (particulary those of Richard Nixon), racial inequality and civil rights issues.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Isn't She Lovely?" is a celebration of the birth of his daughter, Aisha. The song starts with a baby crying and the second half of the song features sound clips of Aisha playing with him.
- Sesame Street Cred: His 1970s appearance on Sesame Street where he performs "Superstition" and the theme song is one of the classic moments of the series.
- Spoken Word in Music: "Living for the City".
- Stop and Go: "Visions".
- Take That: "He's Misstra Know It All" and "You Haven't Done Nothin'" from Innervisions, about Richard Nixon.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: Frequently. "Summer Soft" does this no less than 4 times!
- Uptown Girl: Uptight (Everything Is Alright) by Stevie Wonder.
- Your Cheating Heart: "Lately".