The other night, I had a pleasant surprise. Up popped a commercial for some Apple product or whatever, and I saw – good Lord, it’s Stevie Wonder!
Wow. Stevie Wonder still sounds great. And since his first hit, “Fingertips (Part 2)” was #1 on the pop charts the moment I popped ONTO the hospital chart, I’ve always had a kinship and affinity and appreciation and enjoyment of Stevie Wonder’s music.
So I thought about all the albums he’s recorded over the years – and if I had to take one Stevie Wonder LP with me to the other world, which one would I take?
Songs in the Key of Life? Maybe.
Fulfillingness’ First Finale? Possible.
Talking Book? It’s a thought.
The Secret Life of Plants? Maybe not that one.
And it occurred to me. My favorite Stevie Wonder album of all time… the one in which every single song is a masterpiece…
Hotter Than July.
Come on, right off the top this LP has three amazing tracks – the debut single “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” the soulful and wistful ballad “Lately,” and the bouncy and joyful ode to Martin Luther King Jr., “Happy Birthday.”
Don’t believe me? Here’s a memory refresher course.
Yeah, that warms you up, doesn’t it?
Now follow that with this beautiful song, “Lately” –
Just for the heck of it, I’ll toss in his country-R&B track “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” here –
Along with the song “Cash In Your Face,” where Stevie sings (using two different inflections of his voice) about housing discrimination.
And his amazing tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., “Happy Birthday.”
Actually, that last track got me in a bit of trouble in college. Let me explain.
It was January 1983, and I was finishing up my college radio shift. I knew that my shift coincided with Martin Luther King’s birthday, so I went through the WHCL archives and I found an old 1963 LP of King reciting his “I Have a Dream” speech. I played the track, then I followed it up with Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.”
Nice touch. I turned on the microphone, read a public service announcement, and went to the next song.
About two minutes later, I received a phone call from Mark Pisani, who – like me – figuratively lived at the radio station inbetween classes. “Chuck, that wasn’t funny,” he said.
“What are you talking about?”
“That little thing you just did.”
“Okay, now I’m confused. I played Stevie Wonder with Martin Luther King’s speech. What’s the problem?”
“You could have picked a different PSA. Very tacky on your part.”
And it was at that moment – I realized I had read a public service announcement about checking for health risks, including diabetes – which could cause blindness. And some people might have taken that PSA as me joking about Stevie Wonder’s blindness, which was a million miles away from my original intent.
Yeah. My bad. Trust me, when I wrote this blog post, I originally wrote after Stevie’s Apple commercial, “Stevie Wonder still looks good.” And I crossed that out and rewrote that sentence – just because of my faux pas at WHCL 30+ years ago.
Be that as it may, though… I’m adding Hotter Than July to the afterlife playlist. It’s a fantastic album and you would do well to hear it for yourself.