Tag Archives: Hotter Than July

Rocks In The Attic #801: Stevie Wonder – ‘The Woman In Red (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#801Crikey, I’m not sure this film would get made these days. It wouldn’t fare well in the #metoo era.

A remake of the French film, Pardon Mon Affaire Gene Wilder writes and directs himself in a male super-fantasy where he attempts to start an extra-marital affair with a model at the advertising agency he works at. It’s a super-fantasy because he’s Gene Wilder and she’s Kelly LeBrock. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it just comes off tasting bad.

Gene Wilder is one of my favourite comedic actors. He’s easily the best thing about Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, fantastic in the early Mel Brooks films, and his partnership with Richard Pryor is wonderful from Silver Streak (featuring a pre-The Spy Who Loved Me Richard Kiel playing a besuited henchman with steel teeth) to Stir Crazy (“I can’t feel my legs!”) and See No Evil Hear No Evil (“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a woman?”). This film feels like a bit of a mis-step though. I’m sure it was very amusing back in 1984, and I certainly enjoyed it in my youth when I didn’t know any better, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It has its moments – mainly from the supporting cast of Gilda Radner and Charles Grodin – but the whole thing just feels awful. Somehow, I always remember that collection of inner-city vignettes (including a man copping a feel of a woman whose shoe gets stuck in a grate) to be from the opening section of this film, but that’s from Stir Crazy. I must mix up Gene Wilder films in my mind.

RITA#801aThe music is brilliant though; the film’s saving grace. Essentially a Stevie Wonder album (it comes four years after the brilliant Hotter Than July), all but one song was written by him. He shares vocal duties with Dionne Warwick on two songs, and Warwick sings lead on one track. Officially, I’m not sure if it would be credited to ‘Various Artists’, or to Stevie Wonder & Dionne Warwick, but I like to see it as a Stevie Wonder album, with a guest singer.

Like Hotter Than July, the album has its moments of pure synth gold – from the funky title song, to Love Light In Flight to Don’t Drive Drunk. The last song ended up being used in an educational video for the Department of Transportation’s drunk-driving prevention PSA. I’m not sure if Stevie Wonder is the kind of person to take driving advice from, but I appreciate any promotion for such a great cause.

But like Hotter Than July, The Woman In Red also has its one startling moment of pure cheese. Mega-hit I Just Called To Say I Love You echoes the horrible feel of the previous album’s Happy Birthday, not to mention 1982’s clanger with Paul McCartney, Ebony And Ivory. These songs feel like the technology starting to detract from the songwriting, and the trouble is that the synths Stevie was using in the early ‘80s were starting to become widely available. As a result, these songs sound like everything bad about ‘80s music that followed after.

Hit: I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder

Hidden Gem: The Woman In Red – Stevie Wonder

RITA#801b

Rocks In The Attic #271: Stevie Wonder – ‘Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants’ (1979)

RITA#271A soundtrack album for a nature documentary that nobody saw, featuring music composed by a blind musician in an attempt to provide an aural accompaniment to the visuals on screen that he obviously couldn’t see, this album should be a dud.

It’s not – largely due to the fact that it was released just at the cusp of Stevie’s classic period, a year before Hotter Than July, which for me will always be the bookend to his great run of albums. A couple of years later and it would have been awash with horrible ‘80s synths.

Neither is the album a quickly rushed off piece of fluff. There’s a fair amount of instrumentals present – seven out of twenty tracks – but you’d expect this from a soundtrack to a nature documentary, wouldn’t you? And anyway, Stevie still likes the album and rates it as one of his three favourite albums.

A Seed’s A Star And Tree Medley, a track on the album’s fourth side, sounds musically very similar to what you’d expect from a James Bond theme, highlighting a lost opportunity. If Stevie had scored a Bond film instead of this documentary, this would have been around the time of Moonraker. Imagine that – “Balls, Q?”, “Bolas, 007!” – to the strains of Stevie’s funky synths. It’s actually not too much of a stretch considering that Marvin Hamlisch had just recorded a disco-tinted soundtrack to 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, states that Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants was an early digital recording, released just three months after Ry Cooder’s Bop Til You Drop (generally considered to be the first digitally recorded pop album). I guess that shows just how cutting edge Stevie Wonder was before the ‘80s came along and put all keyboard players on the same level. On paper, you’d expect a blind musician to struggle with the technology everybody else was using, but here he is cutting a new path (through the overgrown plants).

Hit: Power Flower

Hidden Gem: Venus’ Flytrap And The Bug

Rocks In The Attic #14: Stevie Wonder – ‘Hotter Than July’ (1980)

The 1980s weren’t very kind to Stevie Wonder. Commercially, he did great – The Woman In Red soundtrack, Ebony and Ivory, Part Time Lover – but his critical successes were largely left behind in the 1970s. I love his classic period, starting with 1972’s Music Of My Mind, and I’d put this album, Hotter Than July, in there as the final album of that run.

It’s a very happy album, and other than Happy Birthday which sounds very ‘80s, the rest of the album stands up to the best of his work on Talking Book or Songs In The Key Of Life. In terms of songwriting, you could put any of these songs on those albums, and the only thing that gives the album away as coming from a slightly different time is that the synthesiser sounds are starting to sound a bit 1980s. They’re not as ‘jolly’ as the synth sounds from songs like Ebony And Ivory, but you can sort of hear them going in that direction.

Looking at the album credits, Michael Jackson pops up as one of several backing vocalists on All I Do, although you can’t hear it’s him. As usual Stevie plays most instruments on most of the songs – all keyboards, drums, and of course vocals. You get the idea that if Stevie Wonder walked up to your house and rang the doorbell, it would be the funkiest sounding time you’d ever hear it ring.

Hit: Happy Birthday

Hidden Gem: Master Blaster (Jammin’)