Songs In The Key Of Life

Stevie Wonder

Tamla, 1976

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


One cannot help but be in awe of what Stevie Wonder tried to accomplish with the most famous of his records. The man tried to take all that was good in his previous three masterworks and throw it out there on a sprawling, double LP that was intentionally designed to be his masterwork.

Multiple sections of Songs… are a tedious affair and shining examples of overindulgence, which is common on double albums. However, to tear apart the album on account of that would be akin to picking at a few blemishes on Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” The majority of the material present ranks up there as Wonder’s best, and, in fact, some of the best of the 70s.

Disc One (or sides one and two, for those of you who stick to vinyl) is the best example of this. With the exception of “Summer Soft,” Wonder and his backing band rarely miss a beat, as song after song is a home run. The combination of rock, funk, gospel, pop and R&B is top notch.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The oft-deried “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” may not be the most uptempo of opening tracks, but when placed in context of what Wonder wanted his album to mean, it is the perfect song to start things off. It was a genius stroke on Stevie’s part to include faux-strings on the blisteringly ironic “Village Ghetto Land,” or to shock everyone who had previously listened to a Wonder record with the acid rock tinged “Contusion.”

The singles "Sir Duke" and "I Wish" speak for themselves, and there's not much more I could add to the discussion. So, on to the second disc (or sides three and four).

The proceedings begin promisingly, with the utterly ebullient “Isn’t She Lovely.” Everything is pitch-perfect on this track, from Wonder’s infectious vocals to classic harmonica solo. “Joy Inside My Tears” rewards the listener with its subtleties; it is slow paced but just as effective as its predecessor. “Black Man” is more than a tad preachy, but the subject it elaborates upon is well worth the time and effort to listen to.

“As,” and “Another Star” are the two final tracks on the album, technically speaking, and together they clear 15 minutes of running time. Both would have been much more successful as 4-5 minute tracks; in their present form, the energy and momentum that had already taken a hit with the sub-par “If It’s Magic” falters even further. In this case Stevie reached for the knockout punch with an epic closer, but his reach extended his grasp, one of the few times that has ever happened.

The Something Bonus EP included here reclaims the album from a poor ending; these four songs represent a Wonder just laying it out and having some fun. None really make any indicting statements on humanity, or resemble his better love songs, but they are just as innately melodic as anything from his other albums.

Songs In The Key Of Life should be essential listening for any fan of late 20th century music; the good moments are that important. However, the added excess and length of the double album format means Songs falls just short of the level reached by Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and represents the last important statement Wonder would make of the 70s. But what a statement!

Rating: B+

User Rating: B



© 2007 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Tamla, and is used for informational purposes only.