TLG's Finest: Stevie Wonder Gems
We are big on Stevie over at Trouve la Groove, but we wanted to explore some tracks from his back catalogue that you might not know, or don't get played as much as the hits. From his Northern Soul beginnings to his funk-laden 70s phase, these are all so good they'll entice you to delve into the rest of this champion songwriter's work.
Update 27/09/17: Now available on Apple Music too.
You Haven't Done Nothin' (Fulfillingness' First Finale, 1974)
This track starts in a similar vein to the style of 'Superstition', it shows Stevie in his more funky stage. The horns on this are so damn good, and the backing vocals are performed by The Jackson 5. It's one of Stevie's earlier uses of the clavinet for a funk number, which is now an instrument immediately associated with the legend.
If You Really Love Me (Where I'm Coming From, 1971)
What a song! How this isn't quite as well known as his most famous tracks is beyond us, it's an absolute classic Stevie track. The backing vocals in this are really nice, with Stevie also showing off his talents on lead, and this is one of the last performances from The Funk Brothers on a Motown album. The breakdowns in the song go into the chorus with such a crescendo that it's hard not to want to join in.
Love Having You Around (Music of my Mind, 1972)
From this seemingly forgotten album, Music of my Mind, comes this funky jam-like song with some really cool early vocoder work. Stevie always has so many layers, and this is no exception, there's so much cool stuff going on in this seven minute song that it's easy to get lost in it (the keys and horns are tasty).
All I Do (Hotter Than July, 1980)
Another song from Stevie that is known by some fans, but not seen as quite the classic it should be. Originally recorded by Tammi Terrell in 1966, but unreleased during her lifetime, this is updated for an 80s audience but has some really nice keys and a wicked bass line. Stevie's singing on this is some of his finest, the saxophone solo is sexy as fuck, and the song goes places.
Sugar (Signed, Sealed & Delivered, 1970)
This track, written with Don Hunter, has a classic Motown vibes with the band sounding incredible. The guitarist is killing it here, and the horns feel so upbeat and cheerful that the welcomed key change (love a key change) will easily bring your mood up. This one is a lesser known number, and is definitely a forgotten gem.
Black Man (Songs in the Key of Life, 1976)
This song has that immediately recognisable Stevie Wonder sound, with every instrument getting the chance to do its own thing. Proper funky groove, with a serious political message in its lyrics; Stevie Wonder wanted peace between all races and to rebuke racist attitudes of the time. The musicians appear to be jamming out, this is both a cracking song and an important historical commentary.
At Last (My Cherie Amour, 1969)
An unexpected cover from Stevie Wonder, originally sang in a slower and romantic style by Etta James, he Motown-izes it restructuring it in a style that follows the usual Tamla Motown formula. It's a really good cover and makes the song far more danceable, there's some great harmonica solos from Stevie, which are always a welcomed part of Wonder's style. This is definitely one of our favourites on the list.
The Party at the Beach House (Stevie at the Beach, 1964)
Some classic harmonica, upbeat northern soul with a fairly young stevie, his voice sounds so much higher. The guitar intro is cool, and feels somewhat Rock 'n' Roll era but then the Motown influences and style kick in. This comes from Motown's earlier days, it is on an album clearly trying to be the soundtrack for summer, and you can hear how much the music of Motown changed over the years.
It Ain't No Use (Fulfillingness' First Finale, 1974)
The melodies and harmonies in this are so damn nice, it's Stevie in smooth mode with some soft jazz keys and drums. This shows off some of the best vocal performances in a Stevie track and features on an album that is full of gems, it's nice to hear a more soulful song from Wonder with this.
Ain't That Asking For Trouble (Up Tight, 1966)
When people think Motown this is most likely the style they think of, it has the Motown formula spot on. With an upbeat and danceable drum beat, with a catchy hook and female backing vocals it ticks all of the labels boxes. There's a reason they adhere to this formula, this song proves that it works.
Come Back Baby (Tribute to Uncle Ray, 1962)
Little Stevie here, when he was just a nipper, covering Ray Charles track 'Come Back Baby'. He sounds really cute on this, like a young Michael Jackson on 'Who's Lovin' You'. This is a classic blues song from one of Stevie Wonder's first albums, worth a listen to hear how good he was at such a young age.
Light My Fire (My Cherie Amour, 1969)
Another great cover, this time Stevie Wonder tackles The Doors and absolutely smashes it. There's some filmic strings and a naughty harmonica solo, the man makes it his own and (as per usual) he makes it way more fun. Having gone through a lot of his back catalogue recently, we forgot how good Stevie Wonder is at covers (there's some great Stevie versions of The Beatles songs).
Please Don't Go (Fulfillingness' First Finale, 1974)
One of Stevie's romantic numbers, but he still makes it interesting with some solid instrumentation that feels live and some strong gospel like backing vocals. There's a lot of emotion and heartbreak in the mans voice and harmonica playing, and you can't help but admire how he can make nearly any song sound good.
Maybe Your Baby (Talking Book, 1972)
This is off of the same album as 'Superstition', and you can really hear that style echoing through the music written for this song, although this is a more blues funk vibe. The man has a sassy soul singer's voice, trilling and riffing both vocally and instrumentally with such talent throughout both this song and the rest of the playlist.
Do I Do (Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I, 1982)
This full album version (released on a compilation album and as a single only, not on any studio albums) features Dizzy Gillespie as a special guest performing a jazzy trumpet solo, the breakdowns are extended with some wicked moments for the bass to shine, and Stevie Wonder actually raps on this (which he never really does). An essential Stevie track that will always be groovy.