“…I would like to believe in reincarnation. I would like to believe that there is another life. I think that sometimes your consciousness can happen on this earth a second time around. For me, I wrote Higher Ground even before the accident. But something must have been telling me that something was going to happen to make me aware of a lot of things and to get myself together. This is like my second chance for life, to do something or to do more, and to value the fact that I am alive.” – Stevie Wonder
When I saw that today’s album was Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, the pianist in me squealed with joy a little. A pianist! Sweet. Boy was I surprised! This was exactly what I was not expecting and it took me back a pace or two. I have always thought of Stevie Wonder in the same category as I would Billy Joel and Ray Charles. He’s a pianist, right? Well, yes and he’s more too. This was not his first foray into the musical world. In fact, this was his 16th album and the quality shows. This is a huge showing for Stevie Wonder. Not only does he perform on like 500 instruments (make sure you take a look at the end of the post for the list), but he wrote, produced, and arranged every single song. He has so much more going for him than being a pianist.
Innervisions, to me, sounds very 1970s-era. There is a lot of synthesizer action, a lot of social commentary, a lot of funky instrumentation, and a feeling of just needing to move to the music.
The songs range in commentary about racism and injustice to drug use to love to an attack on then-US President Richard Nixon. I think one of the songs is even about reincarnation – at least that is how I heard the song. It just wouldn’t be a 70s album, as I’m erroneously (I’m sure) learning, without a majority of the songs being driven by social issues and political angst.
In my notes, I have written under the track, ”Too High,” that “This song is the audio equivalent for what I visualize a 70s drug club to be like.” On a couple of the other songs, “Living for the City” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” I have noted my needing to move to the music. The beats he uses are infectious and you cannot help but feel the music inside.
Stevie Wonder uses moment of silence to add emphasis to the chorus’ at a couple different spots. He uses spoken words to further the story he is trying to tell. His lyrics are sometimes formulaic but it works to add emphasis to his message. I could pinpoint how his words were being shaped by the end of the first verse in many of the songs. In my opinion, there were too few moments featuring the piano. Granted, I am a pianist and so I look forward to hearing these moments. The piano moments were grand (pardon the pun). His playing is fantastic – with scalar, improve sections combined with chordal, rhythmic segments. The piano as both a melodic and percussive instrument was well-used in this album, if used too rarely.
All in all, this is a solid album. I may not listen to this album frequently but it is well worth a second, third, and fourth listen.
Stevie Wonder….not just a pianist.
Innervisions was listed on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time at #23.
- Stevie Wonder: lead vocal, piano, Fender Rhodes, harmonica, drums, Moog bass, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, handclaps, Hohner clavinet, background vocal, congas
- Lani Groves: background vocal
- Tasha Thomas: background vocal
- Jim Gilstrap: background vocal
- Malcolm Cecil: upright bass
- Dean Parks: acoustic guitar
- David T. Walker: electric guitar
- Clarence Bell: Hammond organ
- Ralph Hammer: acoustic guitar
- Larry “Nastyee” Latimer: congas
- Scott Edwards: electric bass
- Yusuf Roahman: shaker
- Sheila Wilkerson: bongos, Latin gourd
- Willie Weeks: electric bass
- Dan Barbiero, Austin Godsey: recordist
- Gary Olazabal: tape operator
- George Marino: mastering
- John Harris, Ira Tucker Jr.: recording coordinators
- Robert Margouleff, Malcolm Cecil: synthesizer programming
- Efram Wolff: album art