Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No. 23: Innervisions

Band: Stevie Wonder
Album: Innervisions
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of Stevie Wonder's great three albums, "Innervisions" has two of Wonder's more famous songs, "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" and the often-covered "Higher Ground." Moreover, the record is his most socially conscious record and has poignant songs about drugs, politics and urban decay.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is something I'll get into as I write about Miles Davis, but any black artist post-1965 needs to write a record filled with protest songs in order for RS to care about it. That really doesn't matter here, as this album is quite good.
Best song: Probably "Higher Ground."
Worst song: Because of my religious beliefs (I worship the sun) "Jesus Children of America" is not up my alley.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

I had a pretty negative view of Stevie Wonder going into high school, as my childhood was littered with commercials soundtracked by the blind singer. "I Just Called to Say I Love You," "Part-Time Lover" and "Happy Birthday" were all commercial radio songs when I was a small child and I think I developed a little disdain for Wonder because of those syrupy nonsense tracks.

Due to a friend who was a big soul fan, I eventually got into the three albums I consider to be Wonder's best work: "Talking Book," "Innvervisions" and "Songs in the Key of Life." These albums, to me, are Wonder at his best: Funky and smart. It's easy to find him to be sentimental nonsense if all you know is the records he did in the '80s, but in the mid-70s, Wonder did a lot of very soulful, driving funky songs. "Living for the City" is a good example of that type of song.

"Innervisions" saw Wonder being overtly political and socially critical. In addition to the anti-drug "Too High," Wonder took on Richard Nixon in the album's closer "He's Misstra Know It All." Like "What's Going On," Wonder sees religion as a solution to the problems of urban decay and underachievement in "Higher Ground" and "Jesus Children of America."

I'm sure a lot of my generation know "Higher Ground" from the cover version the Red Hot Chili Peppers did in 1989. That cover version has been in a million movies and most recently, the video game "Guitar Hero II." It's a testament to the greatness of that song that it remains the only listenable Red Hot Chili Peppers song.

Overall, "Innervisions" is a wonderful album that slots well on the list. Clearly, Wonder's years as a young singles artist are more influential, but "Innervisions" is probably his best album, start to finish.

Postscript: As you can probably notice, I can't write on Stevie Wonder with the zeal that I do the Beatles or Nirvana. This guy, however, writes extensively about Wonder and I recommend his paper.

1 comment:

bob_vinyl said...

Stevie Wonder over the course of his career is grossly overrated, but not on this (or either of the other two you mention). Prior to these albums, he was a limited R&B artist with the novelty card of being blind. After this, he was just a sap who wrote bad, though often catchy, pop songs.