Top 100 Album Review: #56 – Songs in the Key of Life (1976)

Stevie’s Magnus Opus

While a bit self-indulgent, this double-LP contains so much good material it’s impossible to listen to it all in one sitting. 

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #56/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

I had a three hour drive ahead of me, and I thought I would be able to get through all of “Songs in the Key of Life,” but halfway through the album I was exhausted. It is a pit of endless material.

If I had to register a minor compliant — some of these songs are just too long, which contributes to the exhaustion level. But hey, if I put together a 21 track album, some of which would live on forever as a quintessential-American soundtrack, I might do whatever I want, too.

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Stevie Wonder. 

[overview.]

Having received the biggest contract for an artist up until that point (in today’s money: $167 MILLION, 7 album deal), there was much anticipation and pressure on him to deliver. The album was full of delays, which Motown used to their advantage via a marketing campaign with the slogan “We’re Almost Finished.”

The album did not disappoint — Stevie once again ruled the Grammy’s, winning Best Album, Male Pop Vocal Performance, Producer, and Male R&B Vocal Performance for ‘1976. It stayed as the number one album for 13 straight weeks. It is considered one of the best albums of all time by many contemporary artists including MJ, Prince, Elton John, and more.

[track listing.]

CD 1

1.Love’s In Need Of Love Today 7:05
2. Have A Talk With God 2:42
3. Village Ghetto Land 3:25
4. Contusion 3:45
5. Sir Duke 3:52
6. I Wish 4:12
7. Knocks Me Off My Feet 3:35
8. Pastime Paradise 3:20
9. Summer Soft 4:16
10. Ordinary Pain 6:22

CD 2

1. Isn’t She Lovely 6:33
2. Joy Inside My Tears 6:29
3. Black Man 8:29
4. Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing 3:48
5. If It’s Magic 3:11
6. As 7:07
7. Another Star 8:19
8. Saturn 4:54
9. Ebony Eyes 4:10
10. All Day Sucker 5:06
11. Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call) 3:58

[best track.] Isn’t She Lovely

This song gets me every time. I don’t think there has been another that captures the essence of life so flawlessly. Celebrating his daughter’s birth, Stevie did not want it to be monetized, so it was never officially released as a packaged single. This didn’t stop people from putting the song on the radio though, and it became one of his most memorable hits.

I never thought through love we’d be
Making one as lovely as she
But isn’t she lovely made from love

[best track – runner up.] I Wish

Check out that baseline. The song’s subject matter is lamenting about days long gone, hanging out with your friends and getting into petty mischief. The only “rocking” song on the album, it instantly recalls your own memories and how we all long to return back to simpler days.

Sneaking out the back door
To hang out with those hoodlum friends of mine
Greeted at the back door
But thought I told you not to go outside

[best hidden gem.] As

Buried deeper on CD 2, “As” is a beauty of a song. While there is a moment in the middle where Stevie sings as if possessed by a poltergeist, the song is so good that I forget the 7 minute length.

As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early may
Just as hate knows love’s the cure
You can rest your mind assure
That I’ll be loving you always

[conclusion.]

I can see why the project was called Songs in the Key of Life. It tries to capture the varied moments of life and does so successfully. Whether down-trodden, energized, sad, ecstatic, in love, or heart broken, you’ll find something that resonates with your soul within.

Other People’s Takes: 

  • Dead Tree Hugger: I believe that this masterpiece deserves to have every last minute discussed, praised, criticized, and immortalized”
  • Discographication“Thankfully, Stevie’s perfectionism was warranted, as Songs in the Key of Life is another masterful collection of songs.”
  • All Things Music Plus+: “Four decades have failed to dull the album’s power and awe-inspiring scope.”

 

Author: Casual But Smart

I review the top 100 books, movies, albums, and games of all time.

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