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Music / Songs in the Key of Life

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An album mankind will love "until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea!"

Songs in the Key of Life is a double album released in 1976 by Stevie Wonder. It was his 18th solo release and one of the best selling albums of his career. It debuted at #1 in the Billboard Pop Albums Chart where it spent another 12 weeks, and was awarded Album of the Year at the 1977 Grammy Awards. It spawned hits such as: "Sir Duke," "I Wish," "As," "Isn't She Lovely", and "Pastime Paradise."

In 2005 it was inducted in the National Recording Registry for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. It was also subject of an episode of the TV music documentary series Classic Albums.

The album title is so well known that TV Tropes has none less than two Pun-Based Title articles based on it: Songs in the Key of Panic and Songs in the Key of Lock.


Disc One

Side One
  1. "Love's in Need of Love Today" (7:06)
  2. "Have a Talk with God" (2:42)
  3. "Village Ghetto Land" (3:25)
  4. "Contusion" (3:46)
  5. "Sir Duke" (3:54)

Side Two

  1. "I Wish" (4:12)
  2. "Knocks Me Off My Feet" (3:36)
  3. "Pastime Paradise" (3:28)
  4. "Summer Soft" (4:14)
  5. "Ordinary Pain" (6:23)

Disc Two

Side Three
  1. "Isn't She Lovely" (6:34)
  2. "Joy Inside My Tears" (6:30)
  3. "Black Man" (8:30)

Side Four

  1. "Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing" (3:49)
  2. "If It's Magic" (3:12)
  3. "As" (7:08)
  4. "Another Star" (8:28)

A Something's Extra EP:

Side One
  1. "Saturn" (4:54)
  2. "Ebony Eyes" (4:09)

Side Two

  1. "All Day Sucker" (5:06)
  2. "Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call)" (3:57)

Tropes in the Key of Life include:

  • Alliterative Title: "Summer Soft," "Ebony Eyes," "Pastime Paradise."
  • Artistic License Space "Saturn," apart from Stevie's rather casual plan of planning to live there he has a rather unrealistic idea of life on this planet:
    Going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
    Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
    On Saturn
    People live to be two hundred and five
    Going back to Saturn where the people smile
    Don't need cars cause we've learn to fly
    On Saturn
    Just to live to us is our natural high
  • Babies Make Everything Better: "Isn't She Lovely" about Wonder's baby daughter.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Ngiculela Es Una Historia I Am Singing" which repeats its verse in Zulu, Spanish, and English (with an additional bridge in English)
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: "Saturn," where Wonder decides to leave Earth and all its misery behind and go to Saturn.
  • Concept Album: The album tries to capture what life is all about. The title supposedly came to Wonder in a dream and he and his band worked to live up to it.
  • Crapsack World: The tracks "Village Ghetto Land" and "Pastime Paradise," an attack on all the stuff Wonder considered awful:
    How many of them are you and me?
    Dissipation of race relations,
    consolation, segregation,
    dispensation, isolation, exploitation, mutilation,
    mutations, miscreation, confirmation to the evils of the world.
    • The rest of the album is a celebration of life, but these songs underpin that life has its bad moments. The album's working title was Let's See Life the Way It Is, after all.
  • Epic Rocking: "Isn't She Lovely", "As", "Another Star", "Black Man", "Joy Inside My Tears", and "Ordinary Pain".
  • Face on the Cover: His face is seen on the album cover, but as a drawing, surrounded by circles.
  • Fictional Country: "Village Ghetto Land," which depicts all the horrors of street life amplified in one place.
  • God Is Love Song: "Have a Talk with God".
    He's the only free psychiatrist that's known throughout the world
    For solving the problems of all men, women, little boys, and girls
  • List Song: "Black Man" lists the achievements of several people of different races who did great deeds in history.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: "All Day Sucker."
    I'm an all day sucker
    Coming to give something to get nothin'
    I'm an all day sucker
    Coming to give something but to get none of your love
  • Manly Tears: "Joy Inside My Tears:"
    Oh baby, you've brought some joy inside my tears
  • Non-Appearing Title: The album title doesn't appear in any of the lyrics.
  • Nostalgia Filter: "I Wish," about Wonder's youth.
    I wish those days could come back once more
    Why did those days ev-er have to go?
    I wish those days could come back once more
    Why did those days ev-er have to go?
    Cause I love them so
  • One-Man Band: Most of the instruments were all done by Stevie himself, recorded on separate tracks brought back together on one tape.
  • One-Word Title: "Saturn," "Contusion," and "As."
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Ngicuela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing" (see also The Power of Love), but especially the final verse of "As."
    We all know sometimes life's hates and troubles
    Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
    But you can bet you life times that and twice its double
    That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
    So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
    You're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
    Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
    And maybe our children's grandchildren
    And their great great grandchildren will tell
    I'll be loving you...
  • The Power of Love: "Love's in Need of Love Today", "Knocks Me Off My Feet", "Another Star", "As", "Isn't She Lovely", and "Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing", which has the following lines:
    I am singing of tomorrow
    I am singing of love
    I am singing someday love will reign
    Througout this world of ours
    I am singing of love from my heart
    Let's all sing someday sweet love will reign
    Throughout this world of ours
    Let's start singing
    Of love from our hearts
    Let's start singing
    Of love from our hearts
  • The Power of Rock: "Sir Duke" is a homage to jazz and soul musicians Stevie admires:
    Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand
    With an equal opportunity
    For all to sing, dance and clap their hands
    But just because a record has a groove
    Don't make it in the groove
    But you can tell right away at letter "A" note 
    When the people start to move
  • Protest Song: "Pastime Paradise," and to a lesser extent "Black Man" and "Village Ghetto Land:"
    Now some folks say that we should be
    Glad for what we have
    Tell me would you be happy?
    Village Ghetto Land
  • Re-Cut: Initial CD releases of the album append each side of A Something's Extra to the end of each disc, with "Saturn" and "Ebony Eyes" closing out disc one and "All Day Sucker" and "Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call)" closing out disc two. The 2000 remaster instead places the full EP at the end of disc two to better mimic the original vinyl release.
  • Sampling: In keeping with the theme of the title, the album has several sound clips strewn throughout. In addition to those mentioned in Spoken Word below, there's the sounds of evening crickets as a transition between "Pastime Paradise" and "Summer Soft," and of girls jumping rope between "Saturn" and "Ebony Eyes."
    • Also, in 1995 Coolio used "Pastime Paradise" as the basis for his "Gangsta's Paradise."
    • A lot of "I Wish" ended up as the main theme from the Will Smith movie Wild Wild West.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Sir Duke" provides a shout-out to...
      For there's Basie,note  Miller, Satchmo, and the king of all Sir Duke.
      And with a voice like Ella's ringing out, there's no way the band could lose.
    • "Black Man" references several historical characters of different race and lists their achievements, among them: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Bruce Lee, Harriet Tubman, Sacagawea, and Hiawatha.
    • Wonder thanks none other than Frank Zappa and David Bowie in the liner notes.
  • Special Guest: Among the people present during the sessions were Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Michael Sembello, and Minnie Riperton.
  • Spoken Word: The baby noises of Wonder playing with his daughter in "Isn't She Lovely" and the call and response outro to "Black Man".
  • Uncommon Time: "Contusion" frequently changes metre signature; many of the examples fall into this trope.


Pastime to Gangsta's Paradise

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5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / Sampling

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