Stevie Wonder issued his Original Musiquarium I, May 4, 1982, which effectively brought the classic, and most commercially successful, period of his career to a close. It contained 12 well-known and arguably the best tracks from his albums issued 1972-1980, although there was so much superior material from that period of his career, a number of other tracks could have been substituted without the loss of much quality.
He also released four new songs which ended each side of the original double vinyl album. He did not miss a beat as three of the four became successful singles and all fit in nicely with his best material which surrounded them.
The highlight of the new material was the 10 minute “Do I Do,” which brought the album to a close. It was a jazz classic and featured bebop great Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, who complimented the creative bass lines of Nathan Watts. A much shorter version became a top 20 single but, to hear the track in all its glory, you need to explore the unedited version.
The other new songs were almost as good. “That Girl” was a successful top five single and proved that Stevie Wonder could still play the harmonica. “Ribbon In The Sky” was one of those gentle songs that he was so good at creating. The least effective of the four new songs was “Front Line,” which was another scathing commentary about war. It may have been the weakest track, but it was still above average, which says a great deal about the overall quality of the album.
The album began with “Superstition,” “Living In The City” and “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” and music doesn’t get much better then that. The second side was one of beauty with “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You),” “Send One Your Love,” and “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” (single version with horns) fronting the new “Ribbon In The Sky.”
The third side was a potpourri of funky joy. “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke,” “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” with their odd rhythms and tempo changes, were the 1970s and early 1980s at their funky best.
The last three songs were longer, especially the uncut version of “Isn’t She Lovely” and the aforementioned, “Do I Do.” When combined with “I Wish,” they gave off a jam like, spontaneous vibe.
Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I was very different from his studio releases. While compilation albums have the inherent weakness of removing songs from their original context, this release remains essential due to the quality of the material, the perfect placement and ordering of the songs, plus the new material.
Stevie Wonder would continue to produce quality material but not of the quantity as during his classic period. If you want a quick introduction to his career, while exploring some of the best music of the era, this is an album for you.
Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I on Blogcritics.