STEVIE WONDER-MUSIC OF MY MIND.

STEVIE WONDER-MUSIC OF MY MIND.

When Stevie Wonder was recording Music of My Mind, he neither knew nor realized that this was the first album in a series of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. Between 1972, when Music of My Mind was released, until Songs In the Key In Life in 1976. These two albums bookmarked a run of albums that included his second album of 1972 Talking Book, 1973s Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale in 1974. This made it five classic albums in the space of five years. However, the album that started it all of for Stevie, was Music of My Mind.

Music of My Mind released in March 1973, was Stevie Wonder’s fourteenth studio album. This was impressive feat for a man that was only twenty-one years old. After all, many artists or groups never reach album number fourteen in a career, never mind by aged twenty-one. On Music of My Mind there’s a change in Stevie’s music. Not only is it very different to his previous albums, but it’s his first album to feature synthesizers on it. The change in his music saw him fuse a variety of genres of music during songs that were much longer than his previous songs. For his long-standing fans, this must have been quite a shock, but the music found much wider appeal than his previous albums. 

Recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York and Crystal Industries in Los Angeles. A total of nine songs were recorded, with six written by Stevie himself, while he cowrote two with Yvonne Wright and one with Syreeta Wright. Music of My Mind was co-produced by Stevie, with Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. Once Music of My Mind was recorded, it was ready for release. How would Stevie Wonder’s new sound appeal to fans when Music of My Mind was released?

On the release of Music of My Mind in March 1972, the album reached number twenty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. This was an improvement on his previous album, 1971s Where I’m Coming From, which only reached number seven in the US R&B Charts, but failed to chart in the US Billboard 200. However, after Music of My Mind, his next four albums reached number one in the US R&B Charts, while both Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs In the key In Life reached number one in the US Billboard 200. Two singles were released from Music of My Mind. The first was Keep On Running, which only reached number ninety in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-six in the US R&B Charts. When Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You) was released as a single, it fared slightly better, reaching number thirty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number thirteen US R&B Charts. So, overall, Music of My Mind had been both critically acclaimed and a commercial success, but what does Stevie Wonder’s the album sound like?

Music of My Mind opens with Love Having You Around, co-written by Stevie and Syreeta Wright. The track opens with a Moog bass, drums and synth accompanying Stevie’s vocal, while a vocoder is used sparingly when his vocal is multi-tracked. His vocal is joyous, yet powerful, the tempo quick and the drums punchy. Meanwhile a combination of Fender Rhodes and backing vocalists augment the uplifting arrangement. The addition of backing vocalists really adds to the joyful sound of the track. Towards the end of the track, Stevie throws a curve ball, when Art Baron contributes trombone. This is just the latest surprise and innovation in what’s an epic track. Even with a vocoder, Moog bass and trombone solo, Stevie still manages to produce a track, that forty years later still sounds fresh and contemporary. Often, tracks like this haven’t aged well, but this one has, and has a joyous and uplifting sound.

One of two singles released from Music of My Mind was Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You). It’s a track that tells a story, one with two parts. Part one is about Stevie’s relationship with a singer who wants desperately to leave her old life behind to become a movie star. The second part, which is a reworking of Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Sumer from his 1971 album Where I’m Coming From. Here, the narrator, Stevie, wonder why she hadn’t returned when he’d hoped. This song is thought to be about Stevie’s relationship with his first wife Syreeta Wright, who was originally a singer, but become a successful soul singer. Again, it’s a lengthy track, eight minutes long, but with a lovely floaty sound and feel. On this track, Stevie plays every track, apart from electric guitar. As the track opens, it has a hesitant and floaty sound, before the Fender Rhodes accompanies Stevie as his voice is tender, but thoughtful. Drums, Moog Bass and T.O.N.T.O. synthesiser feature on the track, while subtle yet beautiful, backing vocals accompany Stevie. When he joins the backing vocalists, their subtlety and beauty is augmented by his power, and possibly frustration. As part one segues into part two the floaty, ambient sound continues, with the T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, Fender Rhodes and Moog bass, contributing towards a beautiful arrangement. By now, Stevie’s vocal is laden with sadness, regret and disappointment as it grows in power. While his vocal grows in strength, the tempo quickens, and some stunning guitar playing from Buzz Feiten enters. It combines well with the the rest of the arrangement, and of course Stevie’s vocal. Although very different in musical form, the track works well, helped along by a strong, yet personal narrative from Stevie, a beautiful floaty arrangement and a vocal full of sadness, regret and frustration. 

A very different sounding track is I Love Every Little Thing About You, a gorgeous love song that provides a contrast to the previous track. With a Fender Rhodes, Moog bass and bongos accompanying Stevie’s tender and heartfelt vocal, the track reveals its beauty. Bursts of breathy vocals can be heard throughout the track, while joyous backing vocals match the emotion and happiness in Stevie’s vocal. As the track progresses, Stevie’s vocal grows in power and joy, made all the better by the addition of the backing vocalists. This is an absolutely gorgeous love song, one filled with emotion, joy and happiness.

Closing Side One of Music of My Mind is Sweet Little Girl, one of six tracks written by Stevie himself. A Moog bass, drums and keyboard combine with a harmonica solo from Stevie, before his gentle vocal enters. Quickly, it grows in strength and passion, before the tracks slows down and Stevie half speaks the vocal, backed by the harmonica. Then as the track quickens up, Stevie plays some jazz tinged piano, while the harmonica still adds to the sound. From there on, the track slows down and speeding up again, with his half-spoken vocal a regular feature. This you can argue either adds to the track or spoils it’s flow. To me, it spoils the flow of the track. Apart from that, there’s so much that’s good about the track, with great harmonica and piano playing from Stevie. It’s one of these tracks that divides opinions, and sadly, I only like parts of it.

Opening Side Two is a much better track, the beautiful Happier Than The Morning Sun written by Stevie. A Hohner clavinet and Moog bass accompany Stevie’s tender and beautiful vocal as the track opens. On this track, Stevie plays all the instruments and sings all the vocal parts. It’s a beautiful song about love with some of the best lyrics on the album. The arrangement is quite simple, just the Hohner clavinet and Moog bass, with Stevie’s vocal multi-tracked, so that he sings lead and backing vocals. This simplicity is hugely effective, resulting in one of Music of My Mind’s highlights.

Girl Blue is a track Stevie cowrote with Yvonne Wright. Again, Stevie is like a one man band, playing every instrument. This means he’s playing Hohner clavinet, Moog bass, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, harmonica and percussion. When the track opens, his vocal is sung through a vocoder,  with percussion, Hohner clavinet and drums accompanying him. The vocoder is used subtly, while percussion augments an arrangement where there’s plenty space. Later, the T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer joins the Hohner clavinet, while Stevie contributes a harmonica solo to the arrangement. What I love about this track is the sense of space, and how there’s always space left that’s unfilled. Add to that, Stevie’s vocal and a masterclass in multi-instrumentalism and it’s a very satisfying track from one of the most talented musicians of the past fifty years.

Seems So Long is another track with a slightly hesitant start, but soon reveals its hidden charms. Keyboards, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, Moog bass and drums accompany Stevie’s desperately sad vocal on this slow, moody sounding track. Above his vocal, synths float, adding to Stevie’s sense of sadness caused by his girlfriend leaving him. As the sadness and emotion in his voice grows, so does the arrangement, to an impressive and dramatic climax. By then, Stevie’s sadness and mistrust is gone, having found someone new, someone who he can trust and love. Not only does this song have lovely lyrics and an emotive, heartfelt vocal, but it has an arrangement where synths are heavily used to augment the arrangement, adding to emotion and drama. Although synths were to some extent in their infancy, their sound has aged well and add to, rather than detract from the song’s sound and impact.  

Keep On Running opens with a piano reverberating, while a Moog bass, drums and Hohner clavinet drive the track along quickly with Stevie’s vocal sitting atop the arrangement. Gospel tinged backing vocalists and handclaps accompany Stevie’s powerful vocal. It’s is a track that mixes funk with soul, with the the Moog bass, drums and Hohner clavinet combining to create a funk laden backdrop. Meanwhile Stevie and the backing vocalists contribute the soulful side of the track. The tempo is fast, the arrangement funky and Stevie’s vocal full of emotion, joy and passion, on a track that allows Stevie to demonstrate a new and very different side to his music.

Closing Music of My Mind is Evil, co-written by Stevie and Yvonne Wright. It’s a slightly foreboding and dark sound that opens the track, but gives way to the T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer and piano, before a confused and questioning Stevie sings about the subject of evil. Drums and Moog bass join the arrangement, while a choir provide grand, sweeping and beautiful backing vocals. They combine with Stevie’s vocal which grows in strength, emotion and frustration, as he questions why so many evil things happen. It’s a thoughtful and powerful track to close the track, one that poses a number of question but sadly, provides no answers. This seems a fitting way to close Music of My Mind, the album that started Stevie Wonder’s classic period.

Music of My Mind was just the first in a long line of commercially successful and critically acclaimed albums Stevie Wonder would release during the seventies. This was Stevie’s most creative and successful period. It seemed he could do no wrong, with four US R&B number one albums between 1972 and 1976. After his classic period, he continued to release some great music, with Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants released in 1979 and Hotter Than July in 1980. In truth, between 1972 and 1980, Stevie Wonder didn’t release a bad album. He seemed to be at his creative peak then. This started with Music of My Mind, an album that saw his music move in a very different direction. Although this may have alienated some fans, it introduced more people to his music. Like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder’s most critically acclaimed music was released during the early to mid seventies. Granted Stevie and Marvin both released plenty of great music during the sixties, but they were mostly singles and the odd album. Both found real commercial success and critical acclaim when they moved their music in a very un-Motown direction. After Music of My Mind, came 1972s Talking Book, 1973s Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale in 1974 and 1976s Songs In the Key In Life. Add to that 1979a Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants and Hotter Than July released in 1980, and you’ve just about every great album Stevie Wonder ever recorded. Little did Stevie know when he recorded Music of My Mind that he was about to enter such a creative period, a period that started when he was twenty-one in 1972 and thirty by the time he’d released Hotter Than July, his twentieth album in 1980. If you’ve never heard Music of My Mind, it’s an album that deserves to find its way into your music collection, as do the rest of Stevie Wonder’s albums from his classic period. However, Music of My Mind was the album that started this creative period, where Stevie Wonder’s music was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful throughout the best part of the seventies. Standout Tracks: Love Having You Around, Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You), Love Every Little Thing About You and Happier Than The Morning. 

STEVIE WONDER-MUSIC OF MY MIND.

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