Fingertips Part 2 By Little Stevie Wonder

September 19, 2014

Fifty-one years ago, in 1963, The Tymes, The Essex, Jan & Dean, Lesley Gore, Little Peggy March, Ruby & The Romantics, and The Rooftop Singers were some of the artists that topped the Billboard Hot 100. The common thread a half century later is all have either faded from the music scene or been consigned to the oldies circuit. That is not the case for the artist that topped the chart beginning August 10, 1963, for three weeks.

Stevie Wonder, or Little Stevie Wonder as he was known early in his career, was signed to Motown’s Tamla Records in 1961 at the age of 11. The next year, he released two albums for the label. One of those albums was The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, which contained the song “Fingertips.” The instrumental clocked in at around three minutes. The album failed to chart and disappeared, but the song would soon return.

Motown used to run “package tours” for their roster of artists called The Motortown Revue. During June of 1962, the revue pulled into the Regal Theater in Chicago. The tape was running when Wonder recorded a nearly seven-minute version of “Fingertips.” It was released in 1963 on Wonder’s Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius album, which followed up his other 1962 LP, Tribute to Uncle Ray.

The song received a positive reaction but singles during the early 1960s were not seven minutes long. Berry Gordy (the Motown CEO who signed him to Tamla) had the idea of dividing the song into two parts, with each part on one side of the release. It was “Fingertips (Pt. II)” that became the hit. It first charted June 22, 1963, and 51 years ago  became the number one song in the United States where it reigned for three weeks. It was the first number one hit of his career, which has spanned over 50 years. To date, Stevie Wonder has 30 number one hits.

“Fingertips (Pt. 2)” may seem raw and a bit antiquated today but it was the beginning of huge commercial success for one of the most successful and respected artists in American music history.




Uptight (Everything’s Alright) 45 by Stevie Wonder

May 30, 2012

Stevie Wonder hit number one with his “Fingertips” release during the summer of 1963. At the time he was the youngest artist to ever top the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. While he would have a number of chart singles following his first big hit, it would be two and a-half hears before he would reach the top ten again.

Stevie Wonder was all of 15 when he released “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” during late 1965. It marked the beginning of a new phase of his career. The music was now much more sophisticated as an upfront guitar sound, thundering drums, pulsating bass, and a big brass sound all provided the foundation for his vocal.

“Uptight” reached number one on the BILLBOARD Rhythm & Blues Chart and crossed over to the Pop Chart where it peaked at number three. It was also his first chart single in the U.K. where it reached number 14.

Dozens of hits would soon follow as he would become one of the dominant artists on the singles chart during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

A Place In The Sun 45 by Stevie Wonder

November 12, 2011

Stevie Wonder is recognized as a superstar and musical icon. His series of albums released during the 1970s, and the singles they produced, were some of the best in American music history.

The 1960s apso produced a number of hit singles. They may not have had the sophistication of his latwr work but they were excellent and straight forward rhythm & blues.

“A Place In The Sun” was released November 12, 1966 and reached number nine on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. His vocal strained against the music track in one of the better performances of his career.

#1’s by Stevie Wonder

September 5, 2011

I was going to end my series of Stevie Wonder reviews with his last studio album to date, A Time To Love. However, since I own #1’s and it was staring at me forlornly as the last Stevie Wonder album in the box, I decided to include it and finish the series at an even 20 releases.

#1’s was a part of a Motown/Universal series of releases by some of the label’s leading artists. I also own The Temptations disc, and all are released under the title #1’s. They all come in what is proudly proclaimed eco-friendly packaging, which in this case means cheap. Of course if I ever want to throw the CD away, it will have a minimal impact upon the environment.

The title refers to songs that topped Billboard’s Pop, Rhythm & Blues, and Adult Contemporary Charts. As such, the twenty tracks are not necessarily the best of his career, although a number would fall into that category. The material is limited by the theme, and to meet the requirements, the songs had to be released as singles. That left out a lot of superior album tracks. It adds up to a nice overview of his career from a singles perspective.

The tracks are taken from all periods of his career. Naturally the most memorable songs derive from the 1970s. The six song run of “Superstition,” “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” “Higher Ground,” “Living For The City,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” and “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” are about 25 minutes of the finest music you can find in one place.

The early material sounds a bit primitive compared to what was to follow and it is very apparent on an album of this nature. On the other hand, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” “I Was Made To Love Her,” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” are all uptempo, raucous delights.

The album tends to slow down a bit during the second half but that is mainly due to the placement of the songs, as some just do not fit together well.

#1’sis a flawed yet very good album. While there are better Stevie Wonder compilation albums, this one is a nice introduction to his music. If you decide to upgrade in the future at least you can discard it with a clear conscience.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – #1’s on Blogcritics.

A Time To Love by Stevie Wonder

August 31, 2011

Stevie Wonder released Conversation Peace March 21, 1995. It would be 10 years until he released his next studio album, A Time To Love, which remains his last to date.

It is an album that should be taken on its own merits. Stevie Wonder was not the same artist as during his classic 1970s period, just as he was far removed from his early 1960s material. It represented the modern Stevie Wonder and that will do very nicely.

A Time To Love was a strong and solid album. It may not have had an outstanding or truly memorable song, but everything merged together into a pleasant and cohesive whole. There were love songs and lyrics of social awareness. There were ballads and mid-tempo soul tunes. Through it all his musicianship and production expertise helped to form a slick and polished release.

He continued to play many of the instruments and compose all the material. He co-opted a number of guest stars to provide support including Prince, Paul McCartney, En Vogue, Bonnie Raitt, Kim Burrell, Kirk Franklin, and Hubert Laws.

The best song, and certainly the most poignant, was “How Will I Know,” which featured his daughter Aisha Morris. This jazzy love ballad brought the affection for his daughter full circle. It began with the 1976 song, “Isn’t She Lovely,” which celebrated her birth from the year before (1975). Close behind was another Aisha collaboration, “Positivity,” which was a fun-filled, feel-good romp.

The biggest production was “So What’s The Fuss,” with Prince on guitar and backing vocals by En Vogue. The other major star-turn was the guitar work by Paul McCartney on the title song.

There were a number of other tracks that added quality to the album. “Sweetest Somebody I Know,” “Tell Your Heart I Love You” with Bonnie Raitt’s slide guitar, and “My Love Is On Fire” with Hubert Laws on flute are all typical Stevie Wonder love songs that fit together well. He brought out his old harmonica for “From The Bottom Of My Heart.”

Stevie Wonder has aged well and continues to make it look all so easy. As his career moves on toward the 50-year mark, his music remains accomplished, relevant, and enjoyable. A Time To Love is a fine representation of his 21st century mind and music.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – A Time To Love on Blogcritics.

Conversation Peace by Stevie Wonder

August 24, 2011

Conversation Peaceis an album that is often overlooked in the vastness of the Stevie Wonder catalogue. Released March 21, 1995, it was his first new studio album in eight years at the time. It was a moderate commercial and chart success, receiving a Gold Record Award for sales. “For Your Love” was the best known song as it won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance.

It was an album of solid material. The lack of a few outstanding songs prevented the album from reaching the status of his classic releases. The material was also a return to a longer format as 10 of the 13 songs exceeded five minutes and five topped the six minute mark. The punchy and short single type track was replaced by music that returned him to the sprawling and improvisational feel of the past.

The music travels in a number of directions in terms of style and content. There is jazz, rhythm & blues, reggae, funk, and gospel. There are love songs, spiritual pieces, and lyrics that promote social awareness. There are pop ballads, funky rhythms, smooth strings, and some tasty mid-1990s electronic sounds. It may not have added up to a cohesive release, but the individual parts are very good in their own right.

The best track was “I’m New.” Just about every Stevie Wonder album contained at least one song that can be classified as beautiful. Good percussion and guitar lines propel the song along.

Many of the other tracks have something good going for them. “Sensuous Whisper” was nearly six minutes of smooth danceablity. “Cold Chill” is a long exploration of the funk style of music. Wonder had consistently been using outside guitarists for his past several albums and here, Ben Bridges shines with his riffing.

“Take The Time Out” found him preaching that love can heal anything. That may not have happened but it was the presentation of the one consistent theme of the lyrics. “The Edge Of Eternity” was another funky, R&B song that was built with the help of a horn section. “Tomorrow Robins Will Sing” was a fusion of reggae and electronics.

Conversation Peace remains a nice stop in the exploration of the music of Stevie Wonder. It may not be as essential as his classic 1970s releases but there is some cool music to be heard here.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – Conversation Peace on Blogcritics.

Characters by Stevie Wonder

August 20, 2011

Stevie Wonder released Characters on November 6, 1987. It would be eight years before he issued another studio album. His commercial decline had begun, as it was his lowest charting album since 1972’s Music Of My Mind.

The album was primarily aimed at a black urban audience, as many of the songs dealt with the social issues of the day. This focus no doubt hurt its sales across the broad spectrum of music fans but it proved popular with his target audience, as it topped the Billboard Magazine Rhythm & Blues Album Chart for seven weeks and produced two number one R&B singles. All in all, it may have been too worldly for many of his pop fans.

It was by no means a bad release and compares well with other music of the late 1980s. It’s just that the highs were not as high as in the past and while there were some very good songs, none are essential to his legacy.

There are three tracks that stand above the rest. “You Will Know” was both a sad and hopeful ballad at the same time. “Skeletons” was a smooth up-tempo tune that settled into a danceable groove. It was his last Top 40 pop hit to date. The best and most creative of the lot was the ballad “With Each Beat Of My Heart.” It had a nice melody and a tasty harmonica solo. The song was built around an actual heartbeat.

“Get It,” with guest artist Michael Jackson, occupies the middle ground in terms of quality, as it never really takes off. “Dark ‘N’ Lovely” may not be perfect but at least it got a little funky in places.

At the other end of the scale were songs such as “Cryin’ Through The Night,” “Galaxy Paradise,” “One of A Kind,” and particularly “In Your Corner,” which have all deservedly disappeared into the depths of his large catalogue of music.

Characters was his last release of the 1980s and while he retained his sense of social consciousness, in some ways it seems he was just coasting. It was a release that contained some good moments but it is not a place to linger given the quality of his previous work.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – Characters on Blogcritics.