Stevie Wonder. You know I love the guy. If you don’t know, then just have a look at the categories and select Stevie Wonder to see just how much I love the guy’s music.
WatchMojo.com is a YouTube channel I enjoy watching from time to time and they did the decent thing of putting together a top ten of Stevie tunes. Enjoy the video.
That top ten, then, is as follows:
- I Just Called To Say I Love You
- Sir Duke
- Higher Ground
- Living For The City
- Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours
- Isn’t She Lovely
- You Are The Sunshine of My Life
- Boogie on Reggae Woman
Other songs that can be detected in the video include – Big Brother, My Cherie Amour, I Wish, Master Blaster (Jammin’) and For Once In My Life.
That’s a very good top ten. It hasn’t been suckered into just going all mainstream. It’s a highly enjoyable video too.
It got me thinking, however, of putting together an alternative top ten. These are purely my own choices of ten top Stevie Wonder tunes. As an alternative, I am giving myself the rule of not being allowed to include ANY of the songs featured in the videos – yes, that’s the top ten videos and the other Stevie Wonder that appeared on the video. So here’s my top ten.
10. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing
It’s a great example of the cultural dexterity Stevie applies to his music. It’s wrong to label him as just a soul star, because his reach had no problem touching on a variety of forms and styles. The feel he invests in this song is just sensational. It’s a light and fun feel to a song where the lyrics are not as light as the feel of the song. I like that. You feel like a moving and grooving and then you catch up with what the song is actually saying. Clever. Stevie masters the vocals and has the music arrangement on point everywhere.
9. That Girl
This song often flies under the radar of top Stevie Wonder tracks. In a way that highlights the great songs Stevie has written, but there’s also something in that where folks just plainly miss the brilliance in this song. There is a piece appreciating this song in more detail that’s worth checking.
8. With Each Beat Of My Heart
Stevie Wonder knows what it is to be in love. Not just a soppy emotion, but a deep connection with his love that goes beyond how they make you feel a flutter inside. The wealth of authentic love songs produced by Stevie is testament to that. It baffles me how this song is never mentioned when people thinkof great love songs. Just listen to the lyrics and see that this man knows how to celebrate love at its finest. That he’s done this in such a simple fashion – you could even imagine him doing this purely acapella – but there’s a richness in there that should make you sit back and take notice that here is the master at work.
There are some tunes where Stevie grabs me from the start. This is one of the best examples of that. That chord structure at the beginning, I almost want to cry with joy right there. Beautiful stuff. Then I hear the lyrics and I hear the man uttersthese glorious love truths so simply and I am hooked. It’s one of those songs I would not have a problem having played at a wedding anniversary and voluntarily dance with my wife to the tune. Now that is saying something of monumental proportions right there. Excellent Stevie foing his thing. another masterpiece.
6. I Go Sailing
There are some true gems in Stevie’s 80’s and 90’s material. It is not his richest era for tunes at all and some of his albums are largely forgettable, but this does not negate the fact that Stevie put out some brilliant pieces of music in this stage of his career. This song is largely underrated by many listeners. To a degree I can understand. It’s a piece on a soundtrack album, no big fuss was made about it. What hooks me into it though is the lyrical content and the desire to use the mind for something beneficial without needing any stimulants of a negative variety. I love the vibe of this piece as well. This is chilling music that allows you to do what the song is encouraging you to do in your mind – just go sailing.
5. You And I (We Can Conquer The World)
This has got to be the greatest love song of all time. There. I said it. I reserve the right to change my mind at some juncture, but at the moment I proclaim this one tune to be the greatest love song anyone has ever written, recorded and produced in the history of humanity. A little bit of a big statement there, but I know what I’m saying. I know how I felt the first time I heard this song back in 1996. I was already impressed with what Stevie had produced, but this sent into another stratosphere altogether. It’s not a love song of success and eternal bliss. It’s not a love song ofall being well, you hear in the chords that sense of knowing that it may not work out, it may not be permanent – and yet despite that, there’s something to just enjoying the present. Celebrating what is the case in the now because of the love so rich and so true. It is an outstanding piece of creativity and truly deserves its place on any top ten songs ever written let alone Stevie Wonder tracks. That should make you think, if it’s that good and comes in at number five then …
4. Tuesday Heartbreak
Talking Book is probably my favourite Stevie Wonder album. It’s the first one I’ll go listen to because most of the tracks on there are strong from start to finish. So having been blown away by You and I (We Can Conquer The World), I was content to have enjoyed one masterpiece. No sooner had I heard the last parts of that song then this song came on the speakers and I had the look of a man with great incredulity. How could he do that? How could he top that in the space of the next track. Tuesday Heartbreak is criminally underrated. I gotta say the music arrangement is what grabs me. The use of the keys is something already and then around the one minute 30 second region he does something on the wah-wah keys that still makes me go back to listen to it again and again and again. how could he do that??? How could he top a great song with a track like this? But that’s what he went out and did. Hit a home run one time, then just for kicks goes out and hits a home run again. Nope, I imagine a number of Stevie fans won’t rate this highly in their favourite Stevie tracks – but I absolutely adore it. Such a sumptuous feast for the ears and a major reason why my admiration for Stevie Wonder turned into unremitting love for the guy.
3. Smile Please
Welcome to my album, take a seat, make yourself comfortable, relax it is my pleasure to help you feel right at home in anyway that I can. Imagine a song that made you feel like that. It wasn’t just a song, it was a warm hug from a friend that said you’re all good, you belong here, you can just be and enjoy yourself in that. You don’t have to imagine any longer, because Stevie Wonder wrote such a song. It is something I have hailed before, but it’s still worth raving about again. He wrote it, then he recorded it, then he released it on one of those significant albums of the 70’s. He did the smart thing of letting it be the first track on the album and set things up so beautifully that he has never beaten the standard since.
This should not be that much of a concern, however, because no one else has ever topped that as a standard to introduce a thoroughly enriching listening experience with such a warm and cosy opening track. Beyond being an opening track, though, you can listen to this and appreciate what Stevie is saying. Sure you had a bad day, sure things look rough and there’s no guarantee that things will be better in the morning. Yet while there is still life, while we are still here together, while we have things to be grateful for and while we’re still capable, it makes perfect sense to just for a moment from the heart share a smile. It does wonders to the face and it does wonders to the environment around you. So it’s no wonder that Stevie had the genius to pur this beautiful track together. As far as I know he has never done this track live. I have also yet to come across a cover version that comes anywhere close to replicating this standard of warmth, love, fellowship and care. That is why it among the best tracks that Stevie has ever produced.
2. Feeding Off The Love Of The Land
This song is serious. It is one thing to celebrate love and enjoy the love that we can share among each other in intimate settings. It is good to reflect that in song. What makes Stevie Wonder a heavyweight in the world of music, though, is that he is not limited to just talking about those issues. He has a great insight in the nature of the world that he lives in. He has his finger on the pulse and can express the dismay at how we mess up the world both in our human relationships and in our treatment of this earth. Stevie knows it, Stevie feels it, Stevie sings it, Stevie emotes through music construction on the matter.
This is the pinnacle of his work where those matters are concerned. He has written much about having a consciousness for how fit in the world around us, but he has never topped this masterful work. You can listen to it today and still be moved to tears at the plea in his words and the rebuke in it as well about our selfishness. It’s a song that transcends cultural barriers. It’s a song that hits the heart of our human experience. It is not just a song that makes you think or feel, it’s a song that provokes you to question why we live in a world like this and what we can do to be about the business of changing it. Not many songs can accomplish without either sounding harsh and preachy or somehow failing to connect lyrically and through the music. Stevie tenderly hits the top marks in this piece.
There are two versions I’ve heard. One with the string arrangement and one with just the piano. Either one you go for you’re in for a treat. The laid back acoustic feel of just Stevie and the piano gives it an even greater haunting effect in considering the issues he touches on in the song. I first heard this song with the string arrangement and whoever put that together deserves an award for such beautiful composing and arrangement. It really emphasises some of the disconnect in our busy world and the underlying tragedy in it. Stevie’s vocals have never been more mature and when he provides his own backing vocals at the end, it is simply superb to take on and reinforce dire the plight we are in. It’s a prophetic song. It cries out for justice everywhere and it cries out that this justice starts within us individually and works itself out among us. It’s a powerful song and deserves to be recognised as such.
Before the Number One selection here are some of the tracks that just missed out on a top ten placing: Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer, Golden Lady, Visions, Passionate Raindrops, Blame It On The Sun, Looking For Another Pure Love, As If You Read My Mind, I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It, Send One Your Love, Knocks Me Off My Feet, Rocket Love, Dancing To The Rhythm and Something Out Of The Blue.
1. Summer Soft
The number one greatest Stevie Wonder track is not something that is selected easily. As you have seen in the other nine tracks, I regard his work as superb. Saying one is the greatest is a tough choice. But it’s a choice I have made nonetheless – and this song is that choice.
Musician, vocalist, creator/writer, producer, man – Stevie Wonder in my humble estimation is the greatest of them all and there have been plenty. This one tune is a good reason for that humble estimation. Check that piano at the start, then kicks in the bass and other musical accompaniment. So, yeah, just appreciate it for its lush musical combination. Take it in as a musical piece without any singing and get the sense of musicians having some fun with this track. It’s not a selfish track, either. Room for the instruments to shine and play their part in the piece. That it is so sensitively on point where the feel of the song is concerned too and the modulating being right in line with the theme of time moving on is just Stevie showing off without being flamboyant or arrogant.
Then listen to the man singing. Unlike other pieces, he goes it alone. No backing vocals of any kind at all. So he carries the piece. It’s not falsetto he sings at any point in the song. The start of the song is him being playful and gentle even as underneath there are serious currents of time pressing on. Then his vocal gets more prominent as the chorus goes on and he belts it out without ever seeming to lose control. It’s a great vocal display with no need to show off, just express the sentiment in a way that we the listener can appreciate.
Then check what the man is singing. You’re hanging about waiting to see what will come with the time and you’re uncertain about what it will be as you wait in anticipation and before you know it that season has gone and it’s the next season. If you’re not careful you can just go from one season to the next waiting, hoping, hearing suggestions about something, but never being brave enough to actually seize the day and do something with the season in your life rather than reacting to it. So you will wait to see what they will do and you’ll find that season has gone. Can you afford to be doing that for your whole life, because soon it won’t just be the seasons that are gone. That’s a heavy message right there, but you’re not too bothered about it on casual listening, because it’s not choked down your throat. It’s serenaded, it’s plaintively brought across to you by the masteful vocals of the writer of the song who evidently knew a thing or two about not wasting time.
All that in under five minutes. That’s more than a feast – that’s at least a dozen feasts to enjoy in the one song. And that’s just the studio version of that song. The different cover versions you come across and the live renditions you also might hear only enrich that fesitval of sound. It is why just referring to the man as a Wonder remains an understatement in itself.
That’s the top ten. Subject to change, obviously. To be so challenged to pick an alternative top ten, highlights just what a gifted musician Stevie is – and to think he has unreleased songs too!
C. L.. J. Dryden