Friday, August 3, 2007

No. 90: Talking Book

Band: Stevie Wonder
Album: Talking Book
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Talking Book" is probably Stevie Wonder's funkiest record. "Maybe Your Baby," "Big Brother," "Tuesday Heartbreak" and "Superstition" are probably his funkiest songs. The record also features "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" are among his best love songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm OK with this ranking.
Best song: "Superstition," probably. "You've Got It Bad Girl" is also fantastic.
Worst song: I'm not sure there's really a terrible song. "Blame It On The Sun" starts off slow, but is still a really great song.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

Let's talk about keyboards for a minute. In addition to the normal piano, a rock musician in the early '70s had his or her pick of several electrified keyboards. There was the ARP keyboard and the Moog, both the first real electronic sounding keyboards. There's the Fender Rhodes (basically, a honky tonk piano sound). There was, of course, the clavinet.

Stevie Wonder used all of them on "Talking Book." He used them instead of augmenting the record with strings. He used them in double overdubs. He used them for lead melodies. He put them through effects.

And boy, did the record come out well.

"Talking Book" spans the gamut from the bookend love songs -- "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" -- to the charged political funk of "Big Brother" to the occult-y classic (now played every year on October 31) "Superstition."

Keyboards in rock and roll don't take center stage much and moreover, they don't sound like heavy effected guitar. The keyboards on "Talking Book" do. From the wah wah of "Superstition" to the slight chords on "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," it's hard to tell where the guitars end and the keyboards start. In fact, I still have trouble discerning which is which on "Blame It On The Sun."

The last of Wonder's great trilogy, "Talking Book" is amazing. It was one of the first R&B records that spans genre and really brought rock fans over.

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