So why is Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?
The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, released remarkably when Stevie Wonder was 12-years old in 1962, came close to being included in the best 1,000 albums ever list (I’ve got a teeming list of “honorable mention” albums that I’ll need to do something with at some point!). I love that swinging early ‘60s jazz sound, very Mad Men if you can dig, and again it’s completely mind blowing that a little kid produced this stuff.
I’m a big fan of Stevie songs such as “Superstition,” off of Talking Book from 1972, and “Higher Ground,” off of Innerversions from 1973 (yes, I initially discovered this via Red Hot Chili Peppers’ excellent and high powered cover off of Mother’s Milk from 1989).
You might be a little surprised at what my all-time favorite Stevie Wonder song is: “Part-Time Lover,” off of In Square Circle from 1985. This is probably partially due to the amount of time I spent hearing it growing up in the mid-1980s, but to this day I find its mesh of hook-driven pop and R&B quite outstanding.
Okay, so all of the above is preamble to stating that the wide-ranging Songs In the Key of Life from 1976, 21 songs and an hour and 45 minutes strong, is the overall work that showcases Stevie Wonder at his very best (and, indeed, Rolling Stone places the album all the way up at #4 on its greatest 500 albums rankings).
“Sir Duke,” a tribute to Duke Ellington, is a brilliant blend of soul, funk, and R&B, and Stevie Wonder’s innate passion for music and for life shines through. This isn’t music that I’m likely to throw on every day, but when I do I can’t help but be made happier by it.
“Village Ghetto Land” is a gorgeous, tragic narrative of neglect of the inner cities, driven by a harpsichord synthesizer backdrop.
The second half (second album?) of the double album is mostly softer, love songs and includes classics like “Isn’t She Lovely.” My taste leans more into the upbeat funky soulful material on the first half, such as the fantastic “I Wish.”
I also must give a shout out to the great classical and melancholy sound on “Pastime Paradise,” which of course would late be sampled by Coolio on “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
Pop culture stuff that has something to do with Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life
Even though it’s not particularly kind to Stevie, an all-time pop culture name check occurs during the consistently hilarious movie, High Fidelity (which itself I name check at the bottom of every single one of these best 1,000 albums ever entries!).
“Do we look like the kind of store who sells ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’? Go to the mall… Do you even know your daughter?” Jack Black’s character blurts at an unsuspecting “music civilian.”
Side note: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is truly a wonderful and beautiful song… but, yes, it also lends itself out nicely to be teased by a more hipster or cynical set, I’ll fully admit.
Some stats & info about Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? R&B, Funk, Motown, Soul, Album Rock
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – #4
- All Music’s rating – 5 out of 5 stars
- When was Songs in the Key of Life released? 1976
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #562 out of 1,000
Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life on Spotify
A lyrical snippet from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe
Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand, with an equal opportunity for all to sing, dance, and clap their hands.
What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?
Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.
But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.