Tag Archives: Songs In The Key Of Life

Rocks In The Attic #461: Stevie Wonder – ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ (1976)

RITA#461Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those double albums that’s like an entire Desert Island Discs episode in one package. There aren’t many double albums that I’d be happy listening to over and over again as I grew my beard out and learned how to spear fish, but this is one of them. I just hope there’s a lady on the island that I can dance with when I’m blasting out As or Sir Duke.

It’s interesting looking at the singles that were released off this album to promote the album – only I Wish, Sir Duke, Another Star and As. So that means no 7” releases for either Pasttime Paradise – famous more for its use by Coolio in Gangsta’s Paradise – or Isn’t She Lovely – undoubtedly the most famous song off the record – but denied a single release by Stevie himself who wouldn’t allow Motown to release a shortened edit of the six and a half minute song.

It’s a testament to Stevie’s talent and sheer dedication to his craft that he was able to pull a double-album’s worth of such strong material together, and that’s not including the bonus 7” record which adds a further four songs onto the running time. Soul music and R&B isn’t known for its double albums. The genre is borne out of dancing and partying, and who wants to flip a record over that many times? In fact, for almost the same reason, the other genre that tends to eschew the double album format is punk. Well, until London Calling came along – a genre-spanning collection similar in scope and confidence to Songs In The Key Of Life.

Speaking of flipping the record over, Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those weird records with the A/D B/C format, built for record changers. I still haven’t seen one of those near-mythical machines so I’m yet to experience one in action, but I always think it would be better to order the sides A/C B/D and then if you had two turntables and a mixer you could seamlessly play the album without stopping.

Isn’t She Lovely reminds me of the times I used to visit friends in Wexford, Ireland. We used to go and see a covers band called the Dylan Bible Band, who used to do a great cover of the song. It’s built to be played endlessly, when you have the right players (which Dylan Bible did), and it sounded great just going around and around as a seemingly infinite chord progression, just like Stevie’s version.

Hit: Isn’t She Lovely

Hidden Gem: Contusion

Rocks In The Attic #336: Various Artists – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#336The one person who should be stood up against a wall and shot for this travesty of an album is George Martin. In just eighty three minutes, Martin manages to avoid all traces of innovation he was known for in the previous decade, and produces an album full of schlocky middle-of-the-road Beatles covers. With very few exceptions, each song sounds like it was recorded with Murph and the Magictones (in the Armada Room at the Holiday Inn, “Quando Quando Quando…”).

I’ve never seen the film that this album soundtracks, and I don’t think I ever want to. I’ve seen the segment where Aerosmith perform Come Together on YouTube – the highlight of the album (and while you might think I would say that, being a diehard and unapologetic Aerosmith fan, Robert Christgau earmarked it at the time as being the best of a very bad bunch, along with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Got To Get You Into My Life); but the farcical stuff that was going on around Aerosmith, involving Frankie Howerd, was very hard to watch.

Who would ever want to listen to Donald Pleasance sing (or rather, say) I Want You (She’s So Heavy)? While Peter Sellers doing A Hard Day’s Night in the ‘60s raised a smile, this just sounds bad. And Frankie Howerd singing When I’m Sixty-Four and Mean Mr. Mustard? Are you fucking joking?

Just to make things ever worse, the album is one of those annoying ‘70s double albums where sides A and D are on one disc, and B and C share the other disc. I’m prepared to forgive certain double albums for this (Electric Ladyland, Songs In The Key Of Life, for example), but with this album being so unlistenable I really resent the inconvenience. Did anybody ever even see one of those turntables that would play this sequence of sides? I’m sure it was just a record company conspiracy to confuse stoned people in the 1970s: “Hey man, as well as being blind, Stevie Wonder doesn’t seem to be able to spell. What gives, dude?”

Hit: Got To Get You Into My Life – Earth, Wind & Fire

Hidden Gem: Get Back – Billy Preston

Rocks In The Attic #222: Stevie Wonder – ‘Talking Book’ (1972)

RITA#222This is my favourite Stevie Wonder album, because it has Superstition on it, and that song is for me the pinnacle of Stevie’s career; and I like that song so much, I’m prepared to put up with a lot of the slower material which otherwise blights this album.

If Stevie Wonder only wrote funky, upbeat, melodic music (a la Superstition, Higher Ground, Sir Duke, etc) I’d be the happiest man in the world. But he compliments these types of songs with slower ballads – the kind of which always sound like he’s writing them for lesser talents. The perfect example of this type of song is You And I (We Can Conquer The World), from Talking Book. A nice song, if that’s your sort of thing – but for me it holds no interest. It’s a million miles away from the likes of Superstition, and there’s a very bare melody, so it also stands out from his better slower songs like You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.

Songs In The Key Of Life is usually held up as his greatest achievement, and although there’s a lot of great material on there, like most double albums it’s filled with a fair but of fluff too.

I love how this album starts, almost like a freeform jam. Stevie’s the third person to sing a line of You Are The Sunshine Of My Life – and in this current climate where corporate record companies dictate everything, I can’t imagine a record that would come out in the 21st century by a well known singer, where the vocals on the opening track would start by someone other than that particular artist.

Hit: Superstition

Hidden Gem: I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)