May 2005
By Steven M. Housman

So What The Fuss?

Stevie Wonder Delivers His First Album In A Decade!

I’ll tell you exactly what the fuss is all about. On May 3rd, Stevie Wonder released his first studio album, A Time 2 Love, in over ten years. That’s what the fuss is about! “So What The Fuss” is also the title of the first single off the new CD that’s burning up the charts all over the globe. And what a single it is! It’s easily one of Wonder’s funkiest tracks, especially for an artist that’s been recording since 1963. This track and CD effortlessly glide Wonder into the 21st century. “Fuss” is highly reminiscent of his 1974 Number 1 smash single “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.” And Stevie’s in great company on the track. He’s got Prince playing on guitar and En Vogue (remember them?) vocalizing their silky smooth back-up harmonies.

All in all, there are 14 tracks, including “How Will I Know,” a duet with his 30 year-old daughter, Aisha, another gem in this jewel of a CD. You might recall the last time you heard Aisha on one of Stevie’s albums. It was the baby’s cry at the introduction of the classic track “Isn’t She Lovely” from his 1976 opus, Songs In The Key Of Life. Her name even got a mention, “Isn’t She Lovely/Isn’t She Wonderful/ Life Is Aisha/Less Than One Minute Old…” From her wail in ’76 to her vocals on this track, it’s easy to hear that she inherited her daddy’s DNA . I would like to mention other highlights on this CD, but in doing so, I’d have to list all of the disc’s 14 tracks. That’s how good this album is!

Another landmark, besides the album’s release on May 3rd, is that 10 days later, May 13th, also marks Stevie Wonder’s 55th Birthday. There are only a handful of artists that are still releasing top-notch albums since the early 60’s, and Stevie Wonder is one of them.

He was born Steveland Morris in Saginaw, Michigan. He was blind since infancy due to being placed in an incubator immediately after his birth and given too much oxygen. Stevie began playing the piano at the age of 4 and was a proficient singer and instrumentalist by the age of 12, when his first hit, “Fingertips Part 2” (1963), was released by Motown, at which time he was given his professional name. He was actually first signed to Motown in 1960, at age 10, and became a studio back-up musician before his first album was recorded, appropriately titled, Little Stevie Wonder: The 12 Year Old Genius. The title was hardly an underestimation. The album hit Number One, as did his first single, “Fingertips – Pt. 2” giving Wonder the honor of being the youngest solo artist to have a simultaneous Number One album and Single in the summer of 1963. And that was just the beginning.

Wonder went on to chart an additional 65 singles in the next thirty years, including “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” “I Was Made To Love Her,” “For Once In My Life,” “My Cherie Amour,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” and “If You Really Love Me,” a total of 25 hit singles all before he hit the age of twenty!

In 1970, he began to produce his own albums, Signed, Sealed and Delivered and Where I'm Coming From (1971), the latter written entirely by Wonder and his first wife, Syreeta Wright. (Wright lost her battle to cancer a few months ago, but they remained close after their divorce over thirty years ago up until her death). On the album Music of My Mind (1972) he used modern recording technology to allow him to play most of the instrumental accompaniments.

In 1972 at age 22, Wonder really began to hit his stride, delivering singles such as “Superstition” and “You Are The Sunshine of My Life.” The singles and albums that followed in the 70’s were unprecedented, such as the politically charged “Higher Ground” and “Living For The City,” and melody driven tracks as “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” “I Wish,” “Sir Duke” which is a celebratory tribute to American jazz composer Duke Ellington, “Send One Your Love,” “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” “That Girl,” “Part-Time Lover” and a historic duet with Paul McCartney, “Ebony & Ivory.” Wonder also joined Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Elton John on the first single to address and benefit the AIDS crisis, “That’s What Friends Are For,” which won the 1986 Grammy for Record of the Year.

In ‘72, Wonder began recording albums that had the rare combination of being socially relevant and carrying the worldwide appeal of hit-making melodies. He experimented with synthesizers and was one of the first musicians to make extensive use of electronic music in R&B. Talking Book (1972), an album on which he played all the instruments and sang all the vocal parts, won several Grammy Awards. In 1973, the same year as his landmark album Innervisions, he survived a near-fatal automobile accident. Just one year later, he released 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and in 1976 he released the double classic disc-set Songs In The Key Of Life. All won the Grammy Album of the Year Award; A record (pardon the pun) that has yet to be broken. Nine years later, Stevie won another Album of the Year Grammy in 1985 for In Square Circle. Besides a boatful of Grammy’s, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, at the age of 35. In addition to those prestigious honors, Stevie Wonder was also presented with an Academy Award in 1985, for the worldwide smash single “I Just Called To Say I Love You” from the film The Woman In Red.

Some of Wonder's other landmark albums include Looking Back (1977); Hotter than July (1980); Characters (1987); Jungle Fever: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1991), and Conversation Peace (1995) for which he won two more Grammy Awards: Best Male R&B Vocalist and Best Song.

With honors and awards aside, Stevie Wonder is the man that every musician-singer-songwriter-producer-arranger, and every other hyphenate possible, looks up to. He personifies the word “genius” in every way imaginable. Every musician wants to work with him, and most of them have; from the Motown greats of Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight, to world-renowned superstars such as the late Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Julio Iglesias, Elton John, Luther Vandross, Dionne Warwick, Babyface and Barbra Streisand.

Stevie has also written hits specifically for artists that include Aretha Franklin (“Until You Come Back To Me”), Chaka Khan (“Tell Me Something Good”) Minnie Riperton’s indelible take on “Loving You,” which made bird-calling melodies fashionable long before Mariah Carey whistled her first note, and Whitney Houston’s “We Didn’t Know” which he also dueted with the embattled superstar. Besides his own material, he’s drifted into uncharted territory and recorded material as far off the R&B map as he could go, by the likes of Bob Dylan (“Blowin’ In The Wind”) and The Beatles (“We Can Work It Out”). Is there anything this man can’t do? My answer is a simple “no.”

I implore you to pick up Stevie Wonder’s new CD, A Time 2 Love - it’s as momentous as his first thirty albums. This is “Stevie Wonder, the 55 year old genius.” Happy Birthday and thank you for 42 years (so far) full of excitement, full of amazing accomplishments and, of course, full of Wonder. The entire album is a remarkable return from a remarkable musician.

Key Stevie Wonder Albums:

Talking Book (1972); Innervisions (1973); Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)
If you prefer to buy one set – I highly recommend: At The Close Of The Century (4-Disc Box Set) (1999)

© 2005 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.