Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (1973)

“Innervisions” by Stevie Wonder (1973)

Release Date: August 3, 1973
Produced by Stevie Wonder, Robert Margouleff, Malcolm Cecil
Chart Positions: #4 (US), #8 (UK), #11 (Canada), #26 (Australia), #264 (Japan)
Certifications: Gold (UK, Canada)
Singles: “Higher Ground” (US #4, US R&B #1, UK #29, Canada #9, Netherlands #28)
“Living For The City” (US #8, US R&B #1, UK #15, Canada #17, Germany #20)
“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” (US #16, US R&B #2, Canada #13, Netherlands #19)
He’s Misstra Know It All (UK #10)

Stevie Wonder is one of the most popular and prolific musicians in the history of recorded music, having sold well over 100 million records worldwide. He has had ten #1 singes and ten top five albums.

Just a year earlier Stevie added a rock sound to his music with the single “Superstition,” suddenly he was being played on FM classic rock stations as well as the R&B/Soul stations. With 1973’s “Innervisions” Stevie capitalized on that rock style and incorporated heavier guitars and propulsive drum work into songs such as “Higher Ground” and “Living For The City.” 1973 brought on a new direction for Stevie Wonder, rock and funk were now part of his sound. He was recording a heavier FM radio sound getting away from the AM radio format.

Innervisions is Stevie’s 16th studio album, released August 3, 1973, on the Tamla label for Motown Records, a landmark recording of his "classic period". The nine tracks of Innervisions encompass a wide range of themes and issues: from drug abuse in "Too High", through inequality and systemic racism in "Living for the City", to love in the ballads "All in Love Is Fair" and "Golden Lady".

As with many of Stevie Wonder's albums, the lyrics, composition and production are almost entirely his own work, with the ARP synthesizer used prominently throughout the album. The instrument was a common motif among musicians of the time because of its ability to construct a complete sound environment. Wonder was the first black artist to experiment with this technology on a mass scale, and Innervisions was hugely influential on the subsequent future of commercial black music. He also played all or virtually all instruments on six of the album's nine tracks, making most of Innervisions a representative one-man band. Critics received this album with overwhelming positive response.

“Innervisions” was Stevie Wonder’s second of eight consecutive top five albums. The album also won the Grammy Award for “Album of the Year,” this was his first of three albums to win the award, “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and “Songs In The Key Of Life” are the other two. Wonder has won a total of 22 Grammy awards.

The first single release “Higher Ground” was released a month before the album and quickly sailed up to #4 on the US chart as well as reaching #1 on the US R&B chart, this was Wonder’s 7th out of 19 songs to top the R&B chart. Wonder wrote and recorded the song in a three-hour burst of creativity in May 1973. The album version of the song contains an extra verse and runs 30 seconds longer than the single version. The unique wah-clavinet sound in the song was achieved with a Mu-Tron III envelope filter pedal. The bass line is provided by a Moog synthesizer and using overdubs, Wonder played all instruments on the track, including drums and percussion.

The lyrics in “Higher Ground” deal with getting a second chance ("So darn glad he let me try it again") and making the most of it. Strangely, Wonder recorded it three months before he was almost killed on his way to a benefit concert in Durham, North Carolina. The car he was riding in was behind a truck carrying a load of logs, which stopped suddenly, sending a log through the windshield and hitting Wonder in the head. The accident put Wonder in a coma for four days. His road manager and good friend, Ira Tucker Jr., knew that Stevie liked to listen to music at high volume, so he tried singing this song directly into his ear. At first he got no response, but the next day, he tried again and Wonder's fingers started moving in time with the song - the first sign that he was going to recover. Recalling his time in the coma, Wonder said, "For a few days I was definitely in a much better spiritual place that made me aware of a lot of things that concern my life and my future and what I have to do to reach another higher ground. This is like my second chance for life, to do something or to do more and to face the fact that I am alive."

Wonder was a huge influence on The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who remade “Higher Ground” with a more up-tempo beat on their Mother's Milk album. They even thank him in the lyrics by adding the phrase "You know what Stevie says."

"Higher Ground"

The second single “Living For The City” was another smash hit receiving a huge amount of airplay on both AM and FM radio stations. It was one of the first soul songs to deal directly with systematic racism and use everyday sounds of the street like traffic, voices and sirens, which were combined with the music recorded in the studio. Wonder played all the instruments on the song and was assisted by Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff for recording engineering and synthesizer programming. The song reached US #8 and US R&B #1 and also won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Song. This was the second year in a row he won this award. In the previous year his hit “Superstition” won the award.

The third single “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” had a bit more of a pop funk vibe to it while maintaining the more urban edge Wonder had recently adopted. It reached #16 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, #10 and #2 on the R&B chart. The song's lyrics convey a positive message, focusing on taking things in one's stride and accentuating the positive. The song's second chorus begins with Stevie taking the vocals up an octave with two vocal overdubs singing the same line. He also sings two other background overdub vocals, mimicking a horn line with the Spanish phrase "Todo 'stá bien chévere", which, loosely translated, means "Everything's really great."

The album’s closer, “He’s Misstra Know It All,” was the fourth single release and possibly the most controversial song from the album. The song is a scathing attack on then-US President Richard Nixon, similar to Wonder's song a year later, "You Haven't Done Nothin'". The mellow ballad with a steady beat charted only in the UK and made it to #10. In the US the song did not receive airplay most likely due to the nature of its rebellious lyrics.

Stevie Wonder (1973)


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