Tuesday, October 13, 2015
"Talking Book" by Stevie Wonder (October, 1972)
The 1970s turned out to be a great decade for Stevie Wonder, and really started with this record, his 15th album.
Fueled by two monster hits "Superstition" and "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life," Stevie left Little Stevie Wonder behind and showed that he was a grown-up musical force to be reckoned with. This is where he became a superstar. This was hist first album to reach #1 on the R&B charts, and it made #3 on the Pop charts. It also took home three Grammys at the 1974 awards (the same year his next album, Innervisions, won album of the year). Obviously, Stevie Wonder dominated 1973, and it all started with this release in October, 1972.
Any album that starts with a classic megahit love song like "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life," has a lot to live up to. Sometimes it's hard to get beyond the kind of sappy lyrics and notice the jazzy rhythm section that drives the song. It's just a good one, all the way around.
But once Wonder gets passed the obvious radio hit that naturally starts the album, he hits a funky groove that shows he is more than a hit machine, that he's an innovative master of R&B. Today's R&B artists owe a huge debt to Stevie Wonder. While many of the songs seem locked very much in their time period, mainly because of the very-seventies electronic keyboards, others transcend the calendar and could have been laid down any time from the late sixties to today. "Maybe Your Baby" could have been sent back in time from now, especially vocally. But it's really the backing track that makes it for me, with the big Moog bass sound and the funk guitar, and interesting rhythms. I dare you to try to do something else while this song is playing.
The album goes on like this, combining gentle jazzy love songs with big R&B numbers, showing both sides of Stevie Wonder, and never getting boring because of the sameness that dominated some other albums of the period. There are also plenty of the social messages that have always been found in soul records. "Big Brother" is the obvious example here. Wonder is versatile, and his talents as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist drive this record.
Of course, for me, the album is dominated by the monster sounds of "Superstition." What a song that is! Even after all these years, it's timely and modern and just plain Funky with a capital F. The kind of song that, if you do nothing else in your career, you'll be known as a legend because of this one record.
This is a great album. Sure, today parts of it sound dated, but certain sounds become associated with a specific time period because they dominated that time, and dominant albums are usually classics. It's hard, though, to imagine where modern R&B would be without the influence of this and other Wonder albums. And, as good as this is, it's hard to believe how much bigger Little Stevie was going to get over the next few years.
First off: It's crazy to think that in the early 70's Stevie Wonder was already releasing his 15th album. Was this guy releasing music since the beginning of time? What a machine!
The album opens with the super popular (and super dated) "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life." It's a cute song, but a great classic song? I dunno. The dated-ness of a few of these songs (mostly the slower ones) really took a toll on my patience and willingness to get through this. Blame it on the generation gaps before you strike me! Fortunately though, the great songs are actually really, really great!
"Maybe Your Baby" is definitely a highlight on Talking Book. Ray Parker Jr. (the Ghostbusters song guy!) plays some mean electric guitar on this heavy funk jam. If this song was peanut butter, it'd be extra chunky. "Tuesday Heartbreak" is another one of the great up-beat tunes on here that I really enjoyed.
But let's get real... "Superstition" takes the top highlight spot. That song still rocks! Totally timeless, Everything about that song is perfect,
Even on the very few doozies on Talking Book, Stevie's voice is what really carries the album. His voice and the emotion he packs behind it really makes his music shine. That voice is just "wonder-ful", even still.