Review Summary: A past time paradise indeed as this album is both musical and historical
At the age of only nine, Stevland Hardaway Moriss taught himself to play harmonica, piano, drums, and bass. Despite the fact that he was blinded by his pre-mature birth, nothing ever stopped Stevie Wonder at accomplishing his dreams. Singing at young age in his church’s choir, Stevie Wonder grew up to become a multi-talented and multi-instrumentalist. Being signed to the hit pumping record company Motown Records at a very young age, Stevie Wonder matured as a musician and as an artist. By the early 70’s Stevie Wonder wrote three amazing albums Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), and Fullfillingness’ First Finale (1974). This was the beginning of what is now known as is “classic” period. However, by 1974, Stevie Wonder challenged himself to write songs of different styles and different ideas, but keeping the concept of the idea of life. Thus by 1976, Stevie Wonder released Songs in the Key of Life an album that is not only musically well defined, but lyrically as well. Overall, Songs in the Key of Life is a masterpiece contributing so much to music and leaving its mark as one of the greatest albums of all-time.
Each time Songs in the Key of Life is played I experience a new feeling that makes my appreciation for this album grow and grow. What I love about Songs in the Key of Life is how Stevie Wonder expressed his emotions of life through unique and interesting rhythms. As a whole each song on the album is different in the idea of instrumentation, rhythm, and overall style, but keeping the main theme of life, and what makes up life itself. Stevie Wonder is an artist, with Songs in the Key of Life being his canvas. He not only wrote the music, but played a majority of the instruments, wrote and sang the lyrics, produced the album, and orchestrated 130 musicians to create his beautiful picture .This album took two years in the making, as Stevie Wonder was known as a perfectionist. His use of incorporating different genres throughout the album really gives the album a unique tone.
One moment you’re grooving to a funky jam like “I Wish”, next you’re listening to a soulful ballad such as “If it’s Magic”, then you’re on to a jazzy tone like “Sir Duke”, and out of nowhere you’re listening to a Latin style track like “Another Star”. Songs in the Key of Life is so diverse when it comes to genre, keeping the album interesting and fresh as each track goes by. Another interesting element of Songs in the Key of Life is the instrumentation. Stevie Wonder is well known for his use of electronic instruments such as a Fender Rhodes, keyboards, and synthesizers which was an uncanny component in “Pop Music”. Even though these were artificial sounds, they created such a natural and beautiful tone. With the use of these electronic instruments it helped him hit multiple and different notes that would not have been possible using “regular” instruments.
What was also special was the use of multiple and diverse instruments on each track. As an example on the track “Black Man” Stevie Wonder uses different kinds two different synthesizers, his classic Fender Rhodes piano, drums, a talk box, and a whole brass section consisting of saxophones, trumpets and trombones. What is also significant about the instrumentation of Songs in the Key of Life is how each singular instrument plays a massive role in the song as a whole. A lot of the songs on the album have minor details that if cut out, would change the song entirely. In “Pastime Paradise” the song incorporates cowbell, handclaps, Hare Krishna bells, synthesizers that sound like a full string section, a church choir and a gong. Each one of these minor details play a major role in not only this song, but each song on the album. Songs in the Key of Life was not an album that had a few singles and some filler songs. The whole album is a work of art as each song was written until Stevie Wonder was satisfied with every track. What is interesting about the packaging of the album is the fact that it was a double LP and an EP all in one album. Overall, this album consisted of 3 records and 21 songs, which is quite impressive. Nevertheless, Songs in the Key of Life is truly a spectacular album in variety of ways.
Songs in the Key of Life has an exquisite amount of striking tracks. If one was to ask what the best song on the album was the answer would be too difficult. Each song is so different and is special in its own unique way. However, one track that stands out for me is “Isn’t She Lovely”. The lyrics of the album are poetic as he sings about the most important thing in his life his daughter. Singing about what love has done and what was created with love. His vocals are fantastic as he hits notes both high and low and holds them for such a long time. Musically, it contains Jazz and Pop elements that create a new fusion. In this song, Stevie Wonder uses his signature Fender Rhodes piano and an abundance of synthesizers to create different sounds and melodies. What was impressive about his track was that he recorded the drums himself and played every instrument that was used on the song. What tops it all off is his roaring harmonica solo that blares through the track.
The song “Sir Duke” is fabulously written song as it was inspired by the late great Jazz legend Duke Ellington. In the song, it incorporates very jazzy elements with the piano and the chord progression. Accompanied by Stevie Wonder is a funky backup band consisting of powerful brass section that adds an extra punch to the song. Lyrically, he mentions his love for music and how it’s a universal language. He also pays respects to musicians such as Duke Ellington and Etta James as both of them inspired him. “Another Star” is another great song off the album. It’s very original and quite diverse as it incorporates Latin and salsa elements with the tempo and the use of different percussion instruments such as timbales. Again, backing Stevie Wonder’s powerful vocals is a brass section. What I enjoy most about this song is the flute solo by Bobbi Humphrey; it comes out of nowhere and brings a stunning melody with it. Furthermore, the legendary Jazz guitarist George Benson is featured on this song adding his signature jazz funk tone.
The song “As” brings Stevie Wonder back to his roots of soul. He has a lot of vocal solos on the track with back up harmonies by a group of women. Stevie Wonder provides a passionate aggressive vocal solo that does not usually match his normal voice. Jazz great Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder do a duo solo on their Fender Rhodes which is quite impressive. He sings about the love he has for his wife and family. Moreover, one great song on the album is “Black Man”. In the song he creates so many funky tones and provides a whole band with the use of the synthesizers and a drum kit. Besides the up-beat tempo and the amazing bass tones the lyrics are what also stand out. Stevie Wonder sings about how the world is made for all types of men no matter what colour their skin is. Stevie Wonder always believed in peace and love. Even though Stevie Wonder could not see and he saw that everyone is the same no matter what race or religion you are. He treated everyone the same and wrote music for everyone. Each song on Songs in the Key of Life is outstanding as its makes up an album of life with music and lyrics.
Songs in the Key of Life should be in everyone’s record collection. This album did so much for music. Stevie Wonder showed how popular music can still be artistic and not artificial at the same time. His use of various genres such as Soul, Funk, Pop, R&B, Jazz, Latin, and Classical is impressive as every song is different. Songs in the Key of Life touches every surface in music such as instrumentation and lyrics. Many innovations were involved in Songs in the Key of Life such as the use of the synthesizers, the use of using many small instruments to create one big masterful song, and the incorporation of diverse influences. One of the most important things about this album is that he challenged himself to write something so beautiful. Stevie Wonder put everything and so much passion in to this album that made it such a masterpiece. Songs of the Key of Life was also one of the first albums on Motown Records where he total artistic control giving him the freedom to experiment with different ideas and styles. Before Songs of the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder wrote three amazing albums and he topped all of them with this. Songs in the Key of Life influenced so many different musicians in so many different genres such as Michael Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest, and Elton John. Without Songs in the Key of Life music would not be as diverse or experimental as it is today. Stevie Wonder is ultimately one the greatest musicians of all-time. An amazing writer, producer, instrumentalist, singer, orchestrator, and most importantly an artist, and it can be seen in Songs in the Key of Life. Even though Stevie Wonder could not see, he could see love and soul that was in his music and love and soul he created for people with his music.