Songs in the Key of Life is an highly acclaimed music 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. Time Magazine included the album in their 2006 list of 100 timeless and essential albums. It was listed at #57 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. It was also subject of an episode of the TV music documentary series Classic Albums.
- "Love's in Need of Love Today" (7:06)
- "Have a Talk with God" (2:42)
- "Village Ghetto Land" (3:25)
- "Contusion" (3:46)
- "Sir Duke" (3:54)
- "I Wish" (4:12)
- "Knocks Me Off My Feet" (3:36)
- "Pastime Paradise" (3:28)
- "Summer Soft" (4:14)
- "Ordinary Pain" (6:23)
- "Isn't She Lovely?" (6:34)
- "Joy Inside My Tears" (6:30)
- "Black Man" (8:30)
- "Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing" (3:49)
- "If It's Magic" (3:12)
- "As" (7:08)
- "Another Star" (8:28)
A Something's Extra EP:
- "Saturn" (4:54)
- "Ebony Eyes" (4:09)
- "All Day Sucker" (5:06)
- "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 Astronomy: "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 glowRainbow, moonbeams and orange snowOn SaturnPeople live to be two hundred and fiveGoing back to Saturn where the people smileDon't need cars cause we've learn to flyOn SaturnJust 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.
- Distinct Double Album: Plus "A Something's Extra:" An 7-inch EP with 4 songs that didn't fit on the album — literally or figuratively. note
- 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 worldFor 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.
- Long Title: "Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing."
- Love Makes You Dumb: "All Day Sucker."I'm an all day suckerComing to give something to get nothin'I'm an all day suckerComing 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 moreWhy did those days ev-er have to go?I wish those days could come back once moreWhy 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 troublesCan make you wish you were born in another time and spaceBut you can bet you life times that and twice its doubleThat God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placedSo make sure when you say you're in it but not of itYou're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called HellChange your words into truths and then change that truth into loveAnd maybe our children's grandchildrenAnd their great great grandchildren will tellI'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 tomorrowI am singing of loveI am singing someday love will reignThrougout this world of oursI am singing of love from my heartLet's all sing someday sweet love will reignThroughout this world of oursLet's start singingOf love from our heartsLet's start singingOf 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 understandWith an equal opportunityFor all to sing, dance and clap their handsBut just because a record has a grooveDon't make it in the grooveBut you can tell right away at letter "A" noteWhen 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 beGlad for what we haveTell me would you be happy?Village Ghetto Land
- 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."
- "Sir Duke" provides a shout-out to...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.
- The album title has been referenced several times:
- Wonder thanks none other than Frank Zappa and David Bowie in the liner notes.
- "Sir Duke" provides a shout-out to...
- 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.