Tuesday, June 19, 2007
No. 23: Innervisions
Band: Stevie Wonder
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.