Riss’s Ramblings – Songs in the Key of Life

Preconceived Notions:  For some reason, I’ve never been the biggest Stevie Wonder fan.  I don’t know why, considering my track record with loving other artists that were similar to him at the time.  I know that he hit it big when he was young thanks to the brilliant Barry Gordon machine that was Motown in its Golden Era.  I also know that this is supposedly a pretty monumental record in terms of influencing other artists and basically being the record that Stevie still builds his reputation on.  Didn’t he just headline Glastonbury last year?  I’m trying to be as open minded as possible.  I’m almost positive I’ll like it more than dislike it.

-Love’s in Need of Love Today- good, with a “What’s Going On” vibe, but because I can’t ignore that comparison, I’d still rather listen to Marvin.
-Have a Talk With God- I immediately like this song.  I like the instrumental layers and random futuristic/space sounds, with the harmonica in the background.  It’s a more soulful feel.
-Village Ghetto Land-I like how, so far, every song has a distinct feel to it.  The classical string arrangement juxtaposed against the lyrical description of a village ghetto land is pretty great.
-Confusion- a dash of funk, and I know this may sound completely odd, but it sounds a bit like something that Chicago would have done at the time, but with guitar in place of the horn section.
-Sir Duke- I would say that I’m tired of this song, but the truth is, the intro sucks me in every time.  I can understand how this became one of the “hit” singles.  The chorus is so easy and so catchy that it’s the grounding force.  The verses aren’t that impressive but it’s got the musicality to make it an easy song to listen to.
-I Wish- I feel like this might have been sampled on Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” song right?  Wasn’t there a performance with Stevie and Will actually?   Yes, there was, and I’ve found it.  You’re welcome : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V12hd2XYiiU

Sorry, I honestly can’t hear this song without hearing that song too.

-Knocks Me Off My Feet- Yeah, I really like this one
-Pastime Paradise- stop yourself, I had no idea that this was the original for “Gangsta’s Paradise”.  Oh man, I feel like such an idiot right now.  But I’m trying to think what this would have sounded like in ‘76 or ‘77.  I feel like it would have been so unlike most of the stuff out there at the time.  It still sounds relevant now.  I know that everyone else surely HATES “Gangsta’s Paradise” because no doubt you guys were all much cooler than I could ever possibly have dreamed of being at like 11, but that song is one that stands out as a weird kind of phenomenon at the time, and I liked it then.  I like this better, but I’m just glad I found out this is the original.

Isn’t She Lovely-the crying is super annoying at the beginning.  You may think she’s wonderful Stevie, but if it’s not my kid, I don’t want to hear crying.  This song is just too saccharine for me.  It’s like having to listen to that stupid song “Butterfly Kisses”.  I might have had a different opinion of this song if I had listened to this when it first came out instead of being played over every father/daughter montage moment ever and the instrumental goes on for way too long.

Joy Inside-I actually like Stevie’s voice more in this lower register.  Just a good song.

Black Man- I can kind of understand why this wasn’t a massive radio hit

Ngiculela- too easy-listening for me.  I would have asked Jeff Probst to snuff out this track’s torch if I had been the producer on this one.

If It’s Magic- The harp is a tricky instrument and this single rides the fine line of interesting and kitschy.  It’s not one I’d need to listen to over and over again, but it’s ok.  Weirdly enough, it reminds me of “In My Life” from Les Miserables…it’s probably just the harp though.

As-I know I’ve heard it before.  I like this one quite a bit as well.

Another Star-Ambitious and, generally, well done, but it went on so long it kind of began to fade into the background for me.

After Listening:  It’s no surprise that this is generally considered one of the best albums of all time.  It brings a lot of new things, and a lot of interesting combinations to the table in 1976.  It’s not genre-specific and most of the time it delivers the goods.  It’s also played up by the fact that Stevie had pretty much already made his name as a child prodigy so accomplishing a great production on this pretty much set him up as a “musical genius” for life.  I’ve always been walking behind the bandwagon on that idea, I mean I like him, but I don’t worship him, but the talent is clear here.  I was slightly hesitant about this listen, but now I’m definitely glad I did.

Overall: 4.3

Favorites: Village Ghetto Land, Knocks Me Off My Feet, Pastime Paradise
Least Favorite: I think I have to go with Isn’t She Lovely.  I brought too many of my own connotations to that one.  And Ngiculela  too…blah

Riss (46 Posts)

Raised in the Midwest, Marissa feels that she has absolutely no good defense for liking what she likes or nominating what she nominates. She likes it that way. With a preference for the indie music scene, there was a time before (alright a rough adolescence) filled with oldies, then country, then pop. She was an unabashed slave to Nsync, and boy bands in general, but not Backstreet Boys, god no! But that has passed. Marissa is passionate about music and about caring about music (and caring about things in general). She considers herself a stereotype, a cliche and a conundrum, all at the same time. When not listening to music Marissa enjoys watching movies, that she will sometimes review on her blog. She is an avid reader and a seasoned podcaster.

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