Best Of The Quadrilumverate

Stevie Wonder Innervisions – music doesn’t get a whole shitload better than this folks!*

It really doesn’t.  Having overcome Berry Gordy’s musical conservatism at the end of the 60’s Tamla Motown reluctantly embraced the swirling winds of social and musical change, allowing several of their artists to truly give wing to their vision.  Stevie Wonder flew further, faster and far-outer than anyone else and in a mere 28 months cut four incredible LPs: Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale**.  Of all the quadrilumverate Innervisions is by far the best album^. 

Mr Wonder either sending out beams of cosmic enlightenment, or death rays.

From the freaky deaky cover art, by Efram Wolff, on in Innervisions is like nothing else I’ve ever heard.  Warm and wonky in equal measure, ‘Too High’ rises into view like a very fragrant cloud of smoke.  Anchored by Wonder’s fabulous Moog bass tones and Fender Rhodes playing I love the way the utterly off the wall vocals dictate the tempo of the song, rather than vice versa.  It carries a firm anti drug message, but to my warped ears sounds instead like a great advert for them …

… ‘Visions’, segueing seamlessly^^ on from the opener.  It is a really beautiful song too, musically and lyrically delicate – a yearning for the heaven we should have created on Earth.  The addition of Malcolm Cecil, Dean Parks and David ‘T’ Walker (on bass, acoustic and electric guitars) really paying dividends on this number.  I also really like the way Wonder riffs on visions and seeing throughout, the overall effect being far more potent than poignant. 

Tonight my favourite Stevie Wonder song ever is ‘Living For The City’, source of one of my all-time ever favourite Public Enemy samples.  Wonder’s vocals are amazing here; strong and righteous in equal amounts.  Good job that we have reduced the song’s tale of hardscrabble endurance and systemic racism to nothing but a historic curio in the intervening 46 years, eh readers? the entry into New York, along with street sounds and vocal impressions is quite genuinely one of my favourite few minutes of music ever.  How can something so jaunty be simultaneously so damned heavy?

Side closer ‘Golden Lady’ is possibly the most conventional offering on show here, tipping slightly towards Marvin Gaye’s turf.  I am won over, yet again by the sheer warmth of the sound, a kick ass tune and some glorious instrumental flourishes; Stevie only plays Moog bass, Fender Rhodes piano and drums (whilst singing) on this one – lazy bones!

Then as though everything that preceded it was just a warm up, Innervisions hits us with ‘Higher Ground’ to open side 2.  That’s just not playing fair! I may just have changed tonight’s favourite ever  Stevie Wonder song too.  You simply can’t beat a bit of spiritual questing set to a stomping Hohner clavinet, can you? The song took on whole new meanings for Wonder after his car accident three days post Innervisions release, when he was almost terminally logged out. 

I like how rough around the edges and ‘Green Onions’-y this version is.

‘Jesus Chidren Of America’ was a far better song than I remember it ever being before.  Wonder coming on like a cold turkeying John Lennon at first before all manner of sustained funkiness breaks out all over the place.  I used to skip the gorgeous, swelling lushness of ‘All In Love Is Fair’^*, but I am a moron.  True story.  It’s a gorgeous swoonsome 50’s throwback, the vocals are stunning too.

Mrs 1537’s favourite (a very hard-won accolade that!) is the funky, funny, in-your-face Latino beat ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing’ which sounds like nothing else in the whole wide world.  The incandescent inventiveness spilling out of the grooves here just lights up the sky like fireworks.  The sweetly cutting political polemic of ‘He’s Misstra Know-It-All’ being the icing on the cake. 

The term ‘genius’ gets banded around far too easily but as one myself, I whole-heartedly recognise similar levels of artistry in Mr Wonder.  The scope and breadth of his invention and execution has only been equalled a handful of times before or since in popular music*** and at times Innervisions is simply breath-taking. 

What I love, truly love, about Stevie Wonder is how warm his music is in tone and in concept; this is music designed to be as inclusive as possible, no dry exercise in skill for the cognoscenti, the melodies are all-conquering and all-welcoming.  There’s a real inner beauty in that.

The man saw everything. 

951 Down. 

*dear record company moguls, my integrity is very easily bought, please get in touch to negotiate putting this quote on a sticker on the shrink wrap of the LP. 

**a sequence that beats anyone else I can think of, Sabbath and the Stones excepted. 

^I say that definitively, despite never having heard Fulfillingness’ First Finale.  I have decided to adopt a confident ignorance in all matters. 

^^although maybe not as smoothly as I did there, Stevie. 

^*lazy boy only plays piano, Fender Rhodes piano and drums whilst singing on this one.

***peak Beatles, Prince (briefly), Faster Pussycat. 

30 thoughts on “Best Of The Quadrilumverate

  1. Innervision was the first Stevie album I bought..Stuck for an hour in Manhattan I ventured to a store bought it popped on my walkman..hopped into a chequered taxi and Livin In the City came on..Well I couldn’t have picked a better place to listen..Man I wore that album out..It’s great to have a moment of discovery like that..I never new songs could sound so amazing..genius.

  2. I don’t reach for any of Stevie’s records cause I don’t have any. If I did, I’d reach for this one to give it a spin. I guess I need to buy it. Long list of records ahead of it, right enough. But man, I know so many of the tunes here without actually owning or knowing the album… Living in the City is a jam and a half. My kinda jam. Anyhoo, the fact I know so much of this says an awfy lot about this one.

    Unrelatedly related: have you heard the Common Wonder boot? That’s very good.

    1. Again, it’s always a cheap one – HMV here are flogging it for £12, genuinely worth every penny. I know you know tunes but the whole of it together is just amazing in its breadth.

      Nope, what is it?

      1. £12? That’s pretty good – the HMV here tends not to have anything cheaper than £16 these days, so it’s good to know the odd LP is going cheap.

        Common Wonder is an Amerigo Gazaway project. Mixing Common and Stevie Wonder. He’s done Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) and Marvin Gaye in the past (Yasiin Gaye, naturally) as well as a Fela Kuti and De La Soul (Fela Soul)… really good, too.

  3. If you added Faster Pussycat to that list to see if anyone was still paying attention… you have won. The artwork in this is amazing. I need to get more classic Stevie in my collection.

  4. This is one I have been wanting to obtain for the collection ever since I did the post on Higher Ground. If one song on an album can be that good, what must the rest sound like…now I know. Great review.

      1. The whole classic period…the car crash in the middle of it remember that?..Amazing guy, talent, story…living legend.

  5. Test of a good review is making me want to pull the LP out and spin it. Job done.
    Oddly, I pulled out Wonder’s odd, beguiling (and beguilingly odd) Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants on the weekend and was going to pen a brief review. But I didn’t and I’m glad because you picked the cream of the crop.

    A classic 1537 review of a classic album. The man heard everything.

    1. Thanks Bruce that’s really kind of you.

      I’ve never ever seen the Plants album in real life. Go on, review it, please.

      Didn’t someone release an LP called The Secret Life Of Pants? Or did I just dream that?

  6. I have a lot of time for Fulfillingness’ First Finale too – along with Innervisions it’s one of the very few impeccable two album punches out there. Up with The Beatles in the mid-1960s, Stones in the early 1970s.

  7. Innervisions is why they invented five stars. I recall my much younger self being hypnotised by the album covers in my parents collection, Sgt. Pepper, Cheap Thrills, The World of Pete Seeger and Innvervisions among the ones I studied and re-studied.

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