13. What Key, What Key?
to work on his new album. By the spring of 1976 he had decided to
call it Songs in
the Key of Life.
He had also tentatively decided to release it in May. But May came
and went, and still no album. By July Motown printed tee-shirts with
the message, Stevie's almost ready.
By the summer of 1976 the public and the
record stores were clamouring for
Songs in the Key of
Life, but Stevie
was still not satisfied with the album. As hard as he tried, he
could not get all the material he wanted to include in the album on
four record sides. In the end it would be a double album plus a
single, 33-rpm disc containing four songs.
At last, in September 1976, it was ready.
Reporters and music critics, everyone who had worked on the album,
all of Stevie's publicity people and close friends, and Stevie,
Yolanda, and Aisha traveled to a farm in Connecticut for a press
preview of the album. While Aisha played with the farm animals and
romped in the grass under the watchful eye of her mother, Stevie
autographed copies of the album and gave interviews. He hoped the
reporters and critics like the album, he said, but it really didn't
matter, because he knew he had given it everything he had and that
it was the best he could do.
He need not have been concerned about others' reaction to the album.
Not only did almost everyone like it, but most people were awed by
it. "Brilliant," "Exciting," "Bursting," "the album of the decade,"
were words and phrases used over and over to describe
Songs in the Key of Life. It was
like a guided tour through the whole range of musical styles as well
as through the life and feelings of Stevie Wonder. It included
recollections of childhood, of first love and lost love. It
contained songs about faith and love among all peoples and songs
about social justice for the poor and downtrodden. It featured
Stevie playing a host of instruments and manipulating his voice like
only he could.
It took no time at all for
Songs in the Key of
Life to reach
the No. 1 spot on the record charts where it entered on it first
week of release.
Songs kicks off with the evocative
need of Love Today.
Have a Talk with God co-written with brother
Calvin suggests using God in time of need - He's the only free
psychiatrist in town.
Village Ghetto Land with its string synthesisers
provides a haunting feel while describing the life of those living
in the ghetto.
instrumental, written and performed live about 3 years prior, was
named after the injury he sustained in the car accident. The first
side closes with
a tribute to Duke Ellington and other jazz greats. Side 2 of the
vinyl record opens with the happy reminiscing
with its famous bass intro. The first love song on the record,
Knocks Me Off My
Feet, has Stevie
extolling his love but not trying to bore his loved one. The use of
the drums to emulate being knocked off his feet is ingenious.
condemns those that live in the past harping on all the negatives
that are now considered evil and praises those who look to future
with the positives that make life better. To add a touch of
universality to the record Stevie has the Los Angeles Church Choir
and the Hare Krishna devotees chant during the culmination of the
Soft plays on
the theme of the changing seasons in relation to the ups and downs
closes side 2 with Stevie singing about the pain suffered as a
result of a lost love, and then cleverly switches to the other side
of the coin from where Kimberly Brewer provides her story.
Side 3 opens with the cries of a baby, though
not Aisha, on the song
Isn't She Lovely written about the joys of
his baby girl. Joy Inside My tears is a very emotional track
praising the joy that the love of someone has brought into a sad
life. 1976 saw grand celebrations for the US bicentennial
Black Man played on that theme by
announcing all the great things achieved by Americans, though of all colour, throughout the years.
Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing
leads off Side 4 with Stevie singing in Zulu, Spanish and English
about what his music is all about, and that is love from the heart.
If Its Magic is a witty song about love, though the word love is
As features jazz keyboardist Herbie
Hancock on electric piano. Its a song with some of the most
beautiful lyrics that Stevie has so graced the world with. An
open-ended expression of infinite love.
is a high spirited though sad love song featuring George Benson on
guitar and Bobbi Humphreys on flute. At eight minutes long its a
wonderful sing-a-long to bring to an end side 4 of the album.
The original album came with a Something's
Extra bonus EP containing 4 songs. Ebony Eyes extols the beauty of
the woman even though she may be from ghetto streets.
co-written with Michael Sembello places Stevie in the role of a
being from the planet Saturn looking on at the chaos humans are
creating for themselves and comparing it with his peaceful life back
home. All Day Sucker is about as funky as anything you will ever
hear and to close of the masterpiece Stevie provides the ideal
Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call), that
would contrast with the beauty of the setting of the sun.
Shortly after the album's release, Stevie went
on a national tour to promote it, and early in 1977 the record
industry also did some promoting of the album and its artist. Stevie
and his work were nominated for a total of seven Grammy awards, and
on the February evening when the awards were presented he actually
won four: Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Per former, Best Male
Rhythm and Blues Performer, and Best Producer.
Stevie was not present at the awards ceremonies
as he, off late had an interest in visiting Africa and that February
he went to Nigeria for two weeks, primarily to explore his musical
heritage, as he put it. He did give a few concerts, however, one of
which was scheduled at the exact time of the Grammy awards ceremony
back in the United States. A satellite hook-up was arranged so that
Stevie could be awarded his Grammies from across the sea. However
the video signal was poor and the audio inaudible. Andy Williams
went on to make a public blunder at the US end when he asked,
"Stevie can you see us?"
Taking a break from the recording studio he
became a father for the second time. In April 1977 Yolanda gave
birth to an eight-pound, seven-ounce baby boy. They named him Keita
Sawandi, meaning "worshiper" and "founder."