There’s no denying the timeless body of music of Stevie Wonder. The lone male with the most Grammys to his name has definitely secured himself as a foundational icon of R&B music, and has plenty of records (musically and monumentally) to back it up. His smooth and sultry voice pulled together the second of five classic Stevie Wonder records, each one not entirely different but not far from the next. These first albums gradually proved Wonder to be an undeniably talented combination of R&B and pop music. Despite the obstacles he faced as a child, dealing with blindness and a difficult family life, he established himself as an icon quite early in the game.
Rated at 90 in Rolling Stone’s top 500 greatest albums of all time, Talking Book served as an iconic staple for soul music in the early ’70s. It still holds a place in the hearts of many baby boomers, as well as great musicians today who chose to take inspiration from their forefathers, so to speak. Having been described as “more relaxed, dreamy at times,” with a “deliciously liquid instrumental track like a body on a waterbed,” this groovy noise produced one of the greatest hits of the decade, “Superstition,” which was not only recognized as a funky dance tune but also critically embraced. Wonder found himself with a handful of Grammy awards in 1973 for “Superstition” alone, when he had his first of many R&B Vocal Performance awards along with best R&B Song. Even “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” picked up an award. The hit single earned both critical success and commercial success as “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” and “Superstition” made their way to the top of the singles charts. These two songs alone paved the way for many similar hits to come later in the decade, among them “Let’s Get It On” (Marvin Gaye) and “You Make Me Feel Brand New” (The Stylistics).
Talking Book still holds a place in the hearts of many baby boomers, as well as great musicians today who chose to take inspiration from their forefathers, so to speak.
Many attribute the success of Talking Book to the fact that Stevie was on tour with The Rolling Stones at the time of its release, but others believe it stands on its own. Given that, it also wasn’t an easy time for such an independent musician and producer to gain great success. In the ’70s, many artists did simply what they were told, and left their successes to their producers without personal input. Acts like the Jackson 5 and Diana Ross often sacrificed creative freedom for commercial success. The early Stevie Wonder, though 22-years-old, wasn’t like that: he produced the album, with permission from Motown Records, proving himself as a sound designer and a musician. He integrated new distinctive noise that had never been produced before, using the Hohner Clavinet keyboard, especially in songs like “Superstition” and “Maybe Your Baby.” It’s also recognizable that the backing vocals in “Maybe Your Baby” hint at later Michael Jackson scats. The memorable “You & I” also proved the record to be diverse, with both uptempo beats and heart-melting, slower romantic tunes.
The album remained successful as inspiration for other artists, in film, and socially. The messages Wonder sent out were both political and motivational: “You’ve killed all our leaders/I don’t even have to do nothin’ to you/You’ll cause your own country to fall.” The movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off portrays him as an icon of handsomeness and male power: “I heard that if Ferris dies, he’s giving his eyes to Stevie Wonder.” Because Wonder’s successful work had him more widely recieved, he was starting to be seen as a handsome household name. Even the top hits on the record have been covered by such names as Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, George Michael and Alicia Keys. Not to mention that in Predisent Obama’s early campaign, Wonder was named the leader’s own hero. To know that even the president has grooved to the sounds of Stevie proves sufficiently comforting. Thanks to the wonder that came from Talking Book, we know we’re in good hands.