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Stevland was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1950, the third of six children of Calvin Judkins and Lula Mae Hardaway, a songwriter. He was born six weeks premature which, along with the oxygen-rich atmosphere in the hospital incubator, resulted in retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition in which the growth of the eyes is aborted and causes the retinas to detach; so he became blind. When he was four, his mother divorced his father and moved to Detroit with her children. She changed her name back to Lula Hardaway and later changed her son's surname to Morris, partly because of relatives. Wonder has retained Morris as his legal surname. He began playing instruments at an early age, including piano, harmonica and drums. He formed a singing partnership with a friend; calling themselves Stevie and John, they played on street corners, and occasionally at parties and dances.
In 1954, his family moved to Detroit, where the already musically inclined Stevie began singing in his church's choir; from there he blossomed into a genuine prodigy, learning piano, drums, and harmonica all by the age of nine. While performing for some of his friends in 1961, Stevie was discovered by Ronnie White of the Miracles, who helped arrange an audition with Berry Gordy at Motown. Gordy signed the youngster immediately and teamed him with producer/songwriter Clarence Paul, under the new name Little Stevie Wonder. Wonder released his first two albums in 1962: A Tribute to Uncle Ray, which featured covers of Wonder's hero Ray Charles, and The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, an orchestral jazz album spotlighting his instrumental skills on piano, harmonica, and assorted percussion. Neither sold very well, but that all changed in 1963 with the live album The 12 Year Old Genius, which featured a new extended version of the harmonica instrumental "Fingertips." Edited for release as a single, "Fingertips, Pt. 2" rocketed to the top of both the pop and R&B charts, thanks to Wonder's irresistible, youthful exuberance; meanwhile, The 12 Year Old Genius became Motown's first chart-topping LP.
During 1964, Wonder appeared in two films as himself, Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach, but these were not successful either. Sylvia Moy persuaded label owner Berry Gordy to give Wonder another chance. Dropping the "Little" from his name, Moy and Wonder worked together to create the hit "Uptight (Everything's Alright)", and Wonder went on to have a number of other hits during the mid-1960s, including "With a Child's Heart", and "Blowin' in the Wind", a Bob Dylan cover, co-sung by his mentor, producer Clarence Paul. He also began to work in the Motown songwriting department, composing songs both for himself and his label mates, including "The Tears of a Clown", a No. 1 hit for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
In 1968 he recorded an album of instrumental soul/jazz tracks, mostly harmonica solos, under the title Eivets Rednow, which is "Stevie Wonder" spelled backwards. The album failed to get much attention, and its only single, a cover of "Alfie", only reached number 66 on the U.S. Pop charts and number 11 on the US Adult Contemporary charts. Nonetheless, he managed to score several hits between 1968 and 1970 such as "I Was Made to Love Her", "For Once in My Life" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours". A number of Wonder's early hits, including "My Cherie Amour", "I Was Made to Love Her", and "Uptight (Everything's Alright)", were co-written with Henry Cosby.
In September 1970, at the age of 20, Wonder married Syreeta Wright, a songwriter and former Motown secretary. Wright and Wonder worked together on the next album, Where I'm Coming From; Wonder writing the music, and Wright helping with the lyrics. They wanted to "touch on the social problems of the world", and for the lyrics "to mean something" 1971 proved a turning point in Wonder's career. On his 21st birthday, his contract with Motown expired, and the royalties set aside in his trust fund became available to him. A month before his birthday, Wonder released Where I'm Coming From, his first entirely self-produced album, which also marked the first time he wrote or co-wrote every song on an LP (usually in tandem with Wright), and the first time his keyboard and synthesizer work dominated his arrangements.
Wonder did not immediately renew his contract with Motown, as the label had expected; instead, he used proceeds from his trust fund to build his own recording studio and to enroll in music theory classes at USC. He negotiated a new deal with Motown that dramatically increased his royalty rate and established his own publishing company, Black Bull Music, which allowed him to retain the rights to his music; most importantly, he wrested full artistic control over his recordings, as Gaye had just done with the landmark What's Going On.
Freed from the dictates of Motown's hit-factory mindset, Wonder had already begun following a more personal and idiosyncratic muse. One of his negotiating chips had been a full album completed at his new studio; Wonder had produced, played nearly all the instruments, and written all the material (with Wright contributing to several tracks). Released under Wonder's new deal in early 1972, Music of My Mind heralded his arrival as a major, self-contained talent with an original vision that pushed the boundaries of R&B. The album produced a hit single in the spacy, synth-driven ballad "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)," but like contemporary work by Hayes and Gaye, Music of My Mind worked as a smoothly flowing song suite unto itself. Around the same time it was released, Wonder's marriage to Wright broke up; the two remained friends, however, and Wonder produced and wrote several songs for her debut album.
For the follow-up to Music of My Mind, Wonder refined his approach, tightening up his songcraft while addressing his romance with Wright. The result, Talking Book, was released in late 1972 and made him a superstar. Song for song one of the strongest R&B albums ever made, Talking Book also perfected Wonder's spacy, futuristic experiments with electronics, and was hailed as a magnificently realized masterpiece. Wonder topped the charts with the gutsy, driving funk classic "Superstition" and the mellow, jazzy ballad "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," which went on to become a pop standard; those two songs went on to win three Grammys between them. Amazingly, Wonder only upped the ante with his next album, 1973's Innervisions, a concept album about the state of contemporary society that ranks with Gaye's What's Going On as a pinnacle of socially conscious R&B. The ghetto chronicle "Living for the City" and the intense spiritual self-examination "Higher Ground" both went to number one on the R&B charts and the pop Top Ten, and Innervisions took home a Grammy for Album of the Year. Wonder was lucky to be alive to enjoy the success; while being driven to a concert in North Carolina, a large piece of timber fell on Wonder's car. He sustained serious head injuries and lapsed into a coma, but fortunately made a full recovery.
Wonder's next record, 1974's Fulfillingness' First Finale, was slightly more insular and less accessible than its immediate predecessors, and unsurprisingly, imbued with a sense of mortality. The hits, however, were the upbeat "Boogie On, Reggae Woman" (a number one R&B and Top Five pop hit) and the venomous Richard Nixon critique "You Haven't Done Nothin'" (number one on both sides). It won him a second straight Album of the Year Grammy, by which time he'd been heavily involved as a producer and writer on Syreeta's second album, Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta. Wonder subsequently retired to his studio and spent two years crafting a large-scale project that would stand as his magnum opus. Finally released in 1976, Songs in the Key of Life was a sprawling two-LP-plus-one-EP set that found Wonder at his most ambitious and expansive. Some critics called it brilliant but prone to excess and indulgence, while others hailed it as his greatest masterpiece and the culmination of his career; in the end, they were probably both right. The hit "Isn't She Lovely," a paean to Wonder's daughter, became something of a standard. Not surprisingly, Songs in the Key of Life won a Grammy for Album of the Year; in hindsight, though, it marked the end of a remarkable explosion of creativity and of Wonder's artistic prime.
Having poured a tremendous amount of energy into Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder released nothing for the next three years. When he finally returned in 1979, it was with the mostly instrumental Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, ostensibly the soundtrack to a never-released documentary. Although it contained a few pop songs, including the hit "Send One Your Love," its symphonic flirtations befuddled most listeners and critics. It still made the Top Ten on the LP chart on Wonder's momentum alone -- one of the stranger releases to do so. To counteract possible speculation that he'd gone off the deep end, Wonder rushed out the straightforward pop album Hotter Than July in 1980. The reggae-flavored "Master Blaster (Jammin')" returned him to the top of the R&B charts and the pop Top Five, and "Happy Birthday" was part of the ultimately successful campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday (Wonder being one of the cause's most active champions). Artistically speaking, Hotter Than July was a cut below his classic '70s output, but it was still a solid outing; fans were so grateful to have the old Wonder back that they made it his first platinum-selling LP.
In 1981, Wonder began work on a follow-up album that was plagued by delays, suggesting that he might not be able to return to the visionary heights of old. He kept busy in the meantime, though; in 1982, his racial-harmony duet with Paul McCartney, "Ebony and Ivory," hit number one, and he released a greatest-hits set covering 1972-1982 called Original Musiquarium I. It featured four new songs, of which "That Girl" (number one R&B, Top Five pop) and the lengthy, jazzy "Do I Do" (featuring Dizzy Gillespie; number two R&B) were significant hits. In 1984, still not having completed the official follow-up to Hotter Than July, he recorded the soundtrack to the Gene Wilder comedy The Woman in Red, which wasn't quite a full-fledged Stevie Wonder album but did feature a number of new songs, including "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Adored by the public (it was his biggest-selling single ever) and loathed by critics (who derided it as sappy and simple-minded), "I Just Called to Say I Love You" was an across-the-board number one smash, and won an Oscar for Best Song.
Wonder finally completed the official album he'd been working on for nearly five years, and released In Square Circle in 1985. Paced by the number one hit "Part Time Lover" -- his last solo pop chart-topper -- and several other strong songs, In Square Circle went platinum, even if Wonder's synthesizer arrangements now sounded standard rather than groundbreaking. He performed on the number one charity singles "We Are the World" by USA for Africa and "That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne Warwick & Friends, and returned quickly with a new album, Characters, in 1987. While Characters found Wonder's commercial clout on the pop charts slipping away, it was a hit on the R&B side, topping the album charts and producing a number one hit in "Skeletons." It would be his final release of the '80s, a decade capped by his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
New studio material from Wonder didn't arrive until 1991, when he provided the soundtrack to the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever. His next full album of new material, 1995's Conversation Peace, was a commercial disappointment, thought it did win two Grammys for the single "For Your Love." That same year, Coolio revived "Pastime Paradise" in his own brooding rap smash "Gangsta's Paradise," which became the year's biggest hit. Wonder capitalized on the renewed attention by cutting a hit duet with Babyface, "How Come, How Long," in 1996. During the early 2000s, Motown remastered and reissued Wonder's exceptional 1972-1980 run of solo albums (Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants excepted) and also released The Definitive Collection, a representative single-disc primer.
In 2005, after a decade had transpired without a new studio album, Wonder released A Time to Love, which was bolstered by collaborations with Prince and Paul McCartney, as well as one with daughter and "Isn't She Lovely" inspiration Aisha Morris. His far-reaching influence continued to be felt through samples, cover versions, and reinterpretations, highlighted by Robert Glasper Experiment and Lalah Hathaway's Grammy-winning version of "Jesus Children of America." Well into the late 2010s, Wonder continued to appear on albums by other artists, including Snoop Dogg, Raphael Saadiq, and Mark Ronson. All the while, Wonder regularly toured. From November 2014 through 2015, he celebrated the approaching 40th anniversary of Songs in the Key of Life with lengthy set lists that included all 21 songs of the classic album.
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After a promising but uneven debut, Syreeta summoned her creative strengths and worked in tandem with creative partner Stevie Wonder to produce another album in 1974. The result was Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, the most delightful and consistent album of her career. As with Syreeta, this album pursues a combination of smooth soul tracks ideally suited to Syreeta's silky vocal range and more experimental outings that are creatively in line with Wonder's then-current solo work. However, the eclecticism that weighed down Syreeta is transformed into a strength on Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta: the tracks pursue a dazzling array of different pop-soul styles, but everything is kept in check by solid performances from everyone involved and tight arrangements that keep the album's hook-filled songs on track. Highlights on the first side include "Spinnin' and Spinnin'," a clever tune that uses a spiraling, carnival-styled keyboard motif to bring its tale of an unwieldy relationship to life, and "Come And Get This Stuff," a funky pop number built on an infectious sing-along chorus. Another notable track is "Cause We've Ended As Lovers," a delicate breakup ballad with a stunning, ethereal vocal from Syreeta. On the second side, a majority of the running time is devoted to an Abbey Road-style medley of short tracks. Everything here is catchy and well-arranged, but the highlight is "I Wanna Be By Your Side," a heart-melting romantic duet between Syreeta and fellow Motown solo artist G.C. Cameron. All in all, Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta is the shining moment of Syreeta's solo career and a lost highlight of 1970's soul in general. Any fans of Stevie Wonder owe it to themselve to track this album down because it makes a worthy companion to albums like Talking Book and Innervisions.
Syreeta - Syreeta + Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta (flac 474mb)
01 I Love Every Little Thing About You 4:57
02 Black Maybe 4:35
03 Keep Him Like He Is 2:54
04 Happiness 5:21
05 She's Leaving Home 4:20
06 What Love Has Joined Together 3:42
07 How Many Days 3:34
08 Baby Don't You Let Me Lose This 2:58
09 To Know You Is To Love You 6:07
Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta
10 I'm Goin' Left 3:36
11 Spinnin' And Spinnin' 4:21
12 Your Kiss Is Sweet 4:31
13 Come And Get This Stuff 3:38
14 Heavy Day 4:02
15 Cause We've Ended As Lovers 4:29
16 Just A Little Piece Of You 4:01
17 Waitin' For The Postman 1:47
18 When Your Daddy's Not Around 1:03
19 I Wanna Be By Your Side 4:03
20 Universal Sound Of The World (Your Kiss Is Sweet) 4:07
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When Stevie Wonder applied his tremendous songwriting talents to the unsettled social morass that was the early '70s, he produced one of his greatest, most important works, a rich panoply of songs addressing drugs, spirituality, political ethics, the unnecessary perils of urban life, and what looked to be the failure of the '60s dream -- all set within a collection of charts as funky and catchy as any he'd written before. Two of the highlights, "Living for the City" and "Too High," make an especially deep impression thanks to Stevie's narrative talents; on the first, an eight-minute mini-epic, he brings a hard-scrabble Mississippi black youth to the city and illustrates, via a brilliant dramatic interlude, what lies in wait for innocents. (He also uses his variety of voice impersonations to stunning effect.) "Too High" is just as stunning, a cautionary tale about drugs driven by a dizzying chorus of scat vocals and a springing bassline. "Higher Ground," a funky follow-up to the previous album's big hit ("Superstition"), and "Jesus Children of America" both introduced Wonder's interest in Eastern religion. It's a tribute to his genius that he could broach topics like reincarnation and transcendental meditation in a pop context with minimal interference to the rest of the album. Wonder also made no secret of the fact that "He's Misstra Know-It-All" was directed at Tricky Dick, aka Richard Milhouse Nixon, then making headlines (and destroying America's faith in the highest office) with the biggest political scandal of the century. Putting all these differing themes and topics into perspective was the front cover, a striking piece by Efram Wolff portraying Stevie Wonder as the blind visionary, an artist seeing far better than those around him what was going on in the early '70s, and using his astonishing musical gifts to make this commentary one of the most effective and entertaining ever heard.
Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (flac 296mb)
01 Too High 4:37
02 Visions 5:17
03 Living For The City 7:26
04 Golden Lady 5:00
05 Higher Ground 3:54
06 Jesus Children Of America 4:04
07 All In Love Is Fair 3:45
08 Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing 4:55
09 He's Misstra Know-It-All 6:06
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After the righteous anger and occasional despair of the socially motivated Innervisions, Stevie Wonder returned with a relationship record: Fulfillingness' First Finale. The cover pictures his life as an enormous wheel, part of which he's looking ahead to and part of which he's already completed (the latter with accompanying images of Little Stevie, JFK and MLK, the Motor Town Revue bus, a child with balloons, his familiar Taurus logo, and multiple Grammy awards). The songs and arrangements are the warmest since Talking Book, and Stevie positively caresses his vocals on this set, encompassing the vagaries of love, from dreaming of it ("Creepin'") to being bashful of it ("Too Shy to Say") to knowing when it's over ("It Ain't No Use"). The two big singles are "Boogie on Reggae Woman," with a deep electronic groove balancing organic congas and gospel piano, and "You Haven't Done Nothin'," an acidic dismissal of President Nixon and the Watergate controversy (he'd already written "He's Misstra Know-It-All" on the same topic). As before, Fulfillingness' First Finale is mostly the work of a single man; Stevie invited over just a bare few musicians, and most of those were background vocalists (though of the finest caliber: Minnie Riperton, Paul Anka, Deniece Williams, and the Jackson 5). Also as before, the appearances are perfectly chosen; "Too Shy to Say" can only benefit from the acoustic bass of Motown institution James Jamerson and the heavenly steel guitar of Sneaky Pete Kleinow, while the Jackson 5 provide some righteous amens to Stevie's preaching on "You Haven't Done Nothin'." It's also very refreshing to hear more songs devoted to the many and varied stages of romance, among them "It Ain't No Use," "Too Shy to Say," "Please Don't Go." The only element lacking here, in comparison to the rest of his string of brilliant early-'70s records, is a clear focus; Fulfillingness' First Finale is more a collection of excellent songs than an excellent album.
Stevie Wonder - Fulfillingness' First Finale (flac 283mb)
01 Smile Please 3:27
02 Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away 5:01
03 Too Shy To Say 3:28
04 Boogie On Reggae Woman 4:55
05 Creepin' 4:19
06 You Haven't Done Nothin' 3:20
07 It Ain't No Use 3:57
08 They Won't Go When I Go 5:54
09 Bird Of Beauty 3:45
10 Please Don't Go 4:04
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Songs in the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder's longest, most ambitious collection of songs, a two-LP (plus accompanying EP) set that -- just as the title promised -- touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder's career. The opening "Love's in Need of Love Today" and "Have a Talk with God" are curiously subdued, but Stevie soon kicks into gear with "Village Ghetto Land," a fierce exposé of ghetto neglect set to a satirical Baroque synthesizer. Hot on its heels comes the torrid fusion jam "Contusion," a big, brassy hit tribute to the recently departed Duke Ellington in "Sir Duke," and (another hit, this one a Grammy winner as well) the bumping poem to his childhood, "I Wish." Though they didn't necessarily appear in order, Songs in the Key of Life contains nearly a full album on love and relationships, along with another full album on issues social and spiritual. Fans of the love album Talking Book can marvel that he sets the bar even higher here, with brilliant material like the tenderly cathartic and gloriously redemptive "Joy Inside My Tears," the two-part, smooth-and-rough "Ordinary Pain," the bitterly ironic "All Day Sucker," or another classic heartbreaker, "Summer Soft." Those inclined toward Stevie Wonder the social-issues artist had quite a few songs to focus on as well: "Black Man" was a Bicentennial school lesson on remembering the vastly different people who helped build America; "Pastime Paradise" examined the plight of those who live in the past and have little hope for the future; "Village Ghetto Land" brought listeners to a nightmare of urban wasteland; and "Saturn" found Stevie questioning his kinship with the rest of humanity and amusingly imagining paradise as a residency on a distant planet. If all this sounds overwhelming, it is; Stevie Wonder had talent to spare during the mid-'70s, and instead of letting the reserve trickle out during the rest of the decade, he let it all go with one massive burst. (His only subsequent record of the '70s was the similarly gargantuan but largely instrumental soundtrack Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.)
Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key Of Life (flac 292mb)
01 Love's In Need Of Love Today 7:05
02 Have A Talk With God 2:42
03 Village Ghetto Land 3:25
04 Contusion 3:45
05 Sir Duke 3:52
06 I Wish 4:12
07 Knocks Me Off My Feet 3:35
08 Pastime Paradise 3:20
09 Summer Soft 4:16
10 Ordinary Pain 6:22
Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key Of Life 2 (flac 443mb)
01 Isn't She Lovely 6:33
02 Joy Inside My Tears 6:29
03 Black Man 8:29
04 4Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing 3:48
05 If It's Magic 3:11
06 As 7:07
07 Another Star 8:19
A Something's Extra Bonus
08 Saturn 4:54
09 Ebony Eyes 4:10
10 All Day Sucker 5:06
11 Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call) 3:58
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