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Groove and Flow

Six Analytical Essays on the Music of Stevie Wonder

Timothy S. Hughes

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy University of Washington (2003)

This dissertation is a collection of analytical essays on songs made by Stevie Wonder between 1972 and 1974. The essays focus on two interwoven aspects of soul and funk music, as they are employed by Wonder: the use of repeated musical figures, particularly grooves, to generate a sense of forward motion, or flow; and the use of flow in a variety of ways and on many levels to give songs both shape and life.

I begin by introducing the primarily African-American musical paradox of collective individuality and the musical concepts of groove and flow that are central to soul and funk.

Chapter 1 is a general analysis of “Living for the City” that is primarily concerned with form—the shape of the song over time—and the way in which that form interacts with the text and generates meaning(s). It also demonstrates for the first time how Wonder uses repetition of musical elements to create a sense of flow—simultaneously on several different structural levels and in many different ways—and then manipulates that flow throughout the course of the song.

Chapter 2 is an analysis of “Golden Lady” that demonstrates groove and flow operating in areas other than rhythm and meter, in scales beyond the merely local, and in a compound, multidimensional manner.

Chapters 3 through 6 constitute a single, in-depth discussion of Wonder’s distinctive brand of clavinet-based funk music, divided into four parts. Chapter 3 outlines the primary musical characteristics of funk and how Wonder’s style grew out the specific approach to funk developed by the house band and producers at Motown Records. I then analyze “Superstition,” “Higher Ground,” and “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” focusing on the interactions of rhythm and meter.

Each song is analyzed separately but in a similar fashion, allowing for depth of analysis without sacrificing detail. Based on the concepts of groove and flow established earlier, this four-chapter discussion explores Wonder’s particular version of the “robustly collective” grooves that are essential to funk, demonstrating vital musical processes and accounting for some of the unusual power and life of this music.

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© Copyright 2003 Timothy S. Hughes