The Boy Wonder of Motown, Stevland Hardaway Morris signed with the Detroit-based label aged just 11 and, under the moniker Little Stevie Wonder, immediately began work on his debut LP, ‘Tribute to Uncle Ray’, a reference to fellow blind African American musician Ray Charles.
Stevie Wonder’s teen years were largely orchestrated and overseen by the label’s management and their ever shifting whims, cycling the musician through a number of teen-pop fads.
It wasn’t until the early seventies that Wonder, under less label control, would find his voice and “classic sound” on records like ‘Talking Book’ and ‘Innervisions’.
Another classic Stevie Wonder LP, ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ will this year get the full live treatment as he performs it in its entirety at British Summer Time Hyde Park. Widely regarded as one of the greatest records of the 20th century, in 2005 ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” object.
Click here to find out more about this exclusive Stevie Wonder show at London’s Hyde Park.
With this news, what better excuse for a look back at ten of Stevie Wonder’s best songs, including some international hits, classic covers and little-known gems.
Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
Now this is definitive sass. Stevie Wonder was just 15 when he penned ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’, it was his second single to enter the Billboard charts at number one.
Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer
One of two songs that Stevie Wonder performed at Michael Jackson’s funeral, this break-up ballad was originally a b-side to ‘We Can Work It Out’ but has become one of Wonder’s most popular ballads, later covered by Phil Collins and Lauryn Hill.
The song Stevie Wonder ‘stole’ off Jeff Beck. That’s not quite the full story. Beck and Wonder were in the studio together when they partnered in its creation. The original plan was for Beck to release his version of this song first but good fortune favoured Wonder and he was able to release ‘Superstition’ 10 months ahead of Beck.
A funk classic was born.
We Can Work It Out
Noted for a number of covers during his career, including Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, this Beatles cover was Grammy nominated and marked the start of a friendly relationship between Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. The pair later collaborated on ‘Ebony and Ivory’, another contemporary classic and - perhaps unsurprisingly - the only Macca tune to be officially banned by the South African Broadcasting Corporation during the Apartheid era.
Watch below to see Stevie Wonder performing it live at the White House back in 2010, McCartney sat on the front row, next to President Obama.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours
As Stevie Wonder’s first Grammy nominated song, ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’ would mark a number of milestones and moments. More recently, Barack Obama used the song as the theme of his first presidential campaign, and Wonder performed it live on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
Forget Coolio, the king of this G Paradise is certainly Stevie. A standout track from ‘Songs in the Key of Life’, the song was one of the first to use a synthesizer to sound like a full string section.
Living for the City
Boys from hard-time Mississippi didn’t request a soundtrack but Stevie still chose to pen them one. A story of a Black man during the Civil Rights era, tricked into carrying drugs and then convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison, ‘Living for the City’ is a true 20th century classic.
I Don’t Know Why
The B-side to 1968’s ‘Ma Cherie Amour’, this tune was covered by the Jackson 5, the Brand New Heavies and, most notably, the Rolling Stones, who were practicing it when they got the news that founding member Brian Jones had died. It will take one listen for you to wonder why it’s not one of your favourite Stevie Wonder songs.
If You Really Love Me
Co-written by Stevie and his first wife, Syreeta Wright, this single marked a departure from the classic Motown Sound for Wonder as he reached his more significant professional period.
Wonder’s own tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington, the swinging style of ‘Sir Duke’ saw ‘the people start to move’.
The jazz-funk tune proved irresistible, shooting to the top of singles charts around the world and gave Wonder his highest charting single in the UK.