Stevie Wonder's "Talking Book" at 50

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tags: pop music, music, popular culture, Stevie Wonder

In 1972 — half a century ago — Stevie Wonder reinvented the sound of pop by embracing all he could accomplish on his own.

He released two albums that year: “Music of My Mind” in March and then, less than eight months later, on Oct. 27, the even more confident and far-reaching “Talking Book.”

“Talking Book” was a breakthrough on multiple fronts. It demonstrated, with the international smash “Superstition,” that Wonder didn’t need Motown’s “hit factory” methods — songwriters and producers providing material that singers would dutifully execute — to have a No. 1 pop blockbuster.

Wonder had given signs on earlier albums, particularly his self-produced “Where I’m Coming From” (1971), that he would not just be writing love songs. “Talking Book” reaffirmed that, and also extended his sonic and technological ambitions, as he used state-of-the-art synthesizers and an arsenal of studio effects to orchestrate his songs with startlingly novel sounds. And its album cover — which showed Wonder wearing African-style robes and braided hair in a quasi-Biblical desert landscape (actually Los Angeles) — made clear that Wonder’s futurism was unmistakably Afrofuturism.

Although Wonder had just reached voting age, he was no novice when he made “Music of My Mind” and “Talking Book.” They were his 14th and 15th albums in a decade-long career that stretched back to his days as Little Stevie Wonder, who was just 13 when he had his first No. 1 song with an irresistibly exuberant live recording: “Fingertips, Pt. 2.”

During his teens, Wonder proved himself onstage and in the studio as a singer, keyboardist, harmonica player, drummer and, with hits like “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” as a songwriter. He revealed musicianship that was both richly and widely grounded — in gospel, R&B, jazz, show tunes, folk, pop, country, classical music and more — and playfully but determinedly recombinant. Even when he was a teenager, his music meshed and reconfigured genres.


Read entire article at New York Times

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