When considering any string of musical hits – especially from a Motown Records alumnus – it’s impossible not to recall Michael Jackson’s string of brilliants with ‘Off the Wall’, ‘Thriller’ and “bad”.
Indeed, other artists have had their journey of greatness, but none surpassed the genius of Stevie Wonder, who redefined the way cultural critics viewed popular music.
About 50 years ago, the Motown legend began releasing perhaps the most incredible and spectacular music compilation ever recorded.
Over five years – from 1972 to 1976, Wonder released five albums that all other recordings in history will forever be measured against.
Released on March 3, 1972, and featuring hits like “Superwoman” and “Keep on Running,” Music of My Mind proved to be an appetizer to a delicious meal of records.
A few months later, on October 28, Wonder released “Talking Book,” an album that ranks 59th on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The album quickly rose to number one on Billboard’s R&B charts, boosted by the hit “Superstition.”
Less than a year later, on August 3, 1973, the peerless musician revealed “Innervisions”, another timeless classic that included the hits “Living for the City”, “Don’t You Worry about a Thing” and “Un higher ground.”
On July 22, 1974, Wonder released the fourth in the masterpiece series, “Fulfillingness’ First Finale”, which featured backing vocals by Minnie Riperton and the Jackson Five.
The singles “You Have Done Nothing” and “Boogie on Reggae Woman” took No. 1 on the Billboard Music Charts. Wonder took about two years to complete the fifth gem in its brilliant run.
It came on September 28, 1976, with “Songs in the Key of Life”, which many have called the artist’s signature recording.
No one could deny the greatness of the album with songs like “Isn’t She Lovely”, “Sir Duke”, “I Wish” and “Love’s in Need of Love Today”.
It sold over 11 million copies and earned Wonder the Grammy for “Best Album” – one of 25 during his illustrious career.
“The years 1972 to 1976 were not only Stevie Wonder’s greatest creative years, they were the greatest creative years in music history,” Own The Grill CEO James Watts said. . “It was the last great hurray for rock ‘n’ roll, blues and soul music before the advent of punk rock, and then the new wave changed everything. And Stevie Wonder was at the forefront of this last great creative tsunami that swept away everything before, and probably after.
Watts felt that only the 1971 to 1974 peaks of Sly and the Family Stone could arguably be compared.
“But that’s about it,” insisted Watts.
According to neo-funk and multi-instrumentalist producer Farees, Wonder felt limited and constricted in 1972 by the music formats of the time.
“He continued to struggle against the limitations of the industry and then to achieve creative freedom. Free to produce his own records and explore new formulas beyond the usual Motown radio formats, he released a series of huge albums,” noted Farees, whose new album, “Blindsight,” counts as a political call to action attached to his patented patent. “wall of groove” production style, featuring Leo Nocentelli of legendary funk pioneers, The Meters.
The album comes out in June.
Farees noted that Wonder gained creative freedom after negotiating a new deal when his contract with Motown Records expired.
“I think creative freedom was crucial for him at that time to reach that level of musical greatness. These records will last forever. No doubt about it,” insisted Farees.
He added that the level of “wonder and visionary creativity” is unlikely to happen again.
“Innovation takes too long and doesn’t make money quickly,” he said. “There was a time when music was important and people fought for it. That’s really the lesson that Stevie taught us with these records. Times have changed now, but not for the better. We are always going in the wrong direction.