An Album Where Every Track Is Good.
Hits, b-sides, upbeat, slow tempo — this album has it all.
Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #90/100
Ten years ago, I tried to do this same blog where I reviewed the top 100 albums, books, and movies of all time. I didn’t get very far, maybe only posting three times (versus the 143 posts I’m currently sitting at 😇). One of those posts were Talking Book. I gave it five stars then, and I’m giving it five stars now.
My favorite moment was the end of track nine where I thought it was the end of the album. “I couldn’t ask for anymore,” thinking to myself. Then, I was rewarded with one more beautiful love ballads in I Believe, a complete surprise to cap off what I thought was already the limit.
This is considered the start of Stevie’s classical period (though some consider Music of My Mind the starting point). Berry Gordon at Motown was pretty tight-fisted with what his musicians released. Marvin Gaye was the first to break away with his critically acclaimed (and also top 100 album) What’s Going On? Wonder followed suit with having more artistic control on the albums Where I’m Coming From and Music of My Mind. While those albums were okay hits, it coalesced into a run of albums that might only be paralleled by The Beatles.
Talking Book follows the lead of his previous works: you get a little bit of everything. This album also has guest musicians of note: Jeff Beck the former member of The Yardbirds; Ray Parker Jr. from future Ghostbusters fame; David Sanborn a renowned saxophonist. It would go on to have two #1 Singles (You are the Sunshine of My Life and Superstition) winning grammys for both.
Original releases had an inscription in braille with the following message:
Here is my music. It is all I have to tell you how I feel. Know that your love keeps my love strong.
- You Are the Sunshine of My Life
- Maybe Your Baby
- You and I
- Tuesday Heartbreak
- You’ve Got It Bad Girl
- Big Brother
- Blame It on the Sun
- Lookin’ for Another Pure Love
- I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)
[BEST TRACK: Superstition]
I remember hearing my mom play this song when cleaning the house when I was 13 or 14. My mind couldn’t even process it — what are these sounds? why are my feet moving on their own? why does this make me feel so cool?
Very superstitious, writing on the wall
Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin’ glass
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past
When you believe in things that you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way
[BEST TRACK RUNNER-UP: You are the Sunshine of My Life]
There are two versions of this song, and I’m not sure why. One has a sax backing which adds more complexity and another that leaves it out going for simplicity. Either one is especially good.
Though I’ve loved you for a million years
And if I thought our love was ending
I’d find myself drowning in my own tears
[BEST HIDDEN FUNK GEM: Tuesday Heartbreak]
With funk keyboard and distorted sax, this is the second funkiest song on the album behind Superstition.
Tuesday heartbreak seem to be unfair,
Cause you say that you found another man,
Tuesday break heart, guess you just don’t care,
Cause you found you another man
[BEST HIDDEN R&B GEM: I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)]
When I heard this, I thought it similar to 1990s Cheryl Crow — I’m not sure why. Regardless, it’s an anthem that slowly builds into a funky ending and a perfect coda to this album.
The many sounds that meet our ears
The sights our eyes behold
Will open up our merging hearts
And feed our empty souls
A deservedly top 100 album.
Other People’s Takes:
- Among Friends: “It was also in this time of conversation and engagement that I reached the position that the greatest album Stevie Wonder ever produced – and possibly the greatest album I’ve ever heard is Talking Book.”
- Stacks of Vinyl: “I’m so glad I lived thru those years, as some of the best albums ever were produced. “Talking Book” is right there at the top.”
- Discographication: “The second album of Wonder’s “Classic Period,” Talking Book was a major critical success as well as a major commercial hit, spawning two #1 singles. Not bad for an album that’s considerably more bummed out than its predecessor.”