When considering any run of music success – particularly from an alumnus of Motown Records – it’s impossible not to reminisce about Michael Jackson’s streak of brilliance with “Off the Wall,” “Thriller,” and “Bad.”
Indeed, other artists have had their run of greatness, but none have topped the genius of Stevie Wonder, who redefined how cultural critics viewed popular music.
Some 50 years ago, the Motown legend began to unleash perhaps the most incredible and spectacular compilation of music ever recorded.
Over five years – from 1972 to 1976, Wonder released five albums that every other recording in history will forever be measured.
Released on March 3, 1972, and with hits like “Superwoman” and “Keep on Running,” Music of My Mind proved an appetizer to an exquisite meal of records.
Just months later, on October 28, Wonder put forward “Talking Book,” an album that ranks No. 59 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The album quickly rose to the top spot on Billboard’s R&B charts, pushed by the smash hit “Superstition.”
Less than a year later, on August 3, 1973, the peerless musician revealed “Innervisions,” another timeless classic that included the chart-topping hits “Living for the City,” “Don’t You Worry about a Thing,” and “Higher Ground.”
On July 22, 1974, Wonder released the fourth in the series of masterpieces, “Fulfillingness’ First Finale,” which included Minnie Riperton’s backing vocals and the Jackson Five.
The singles “You Have Done Nothing” and “Boogie on Reggae Woman” grabbed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard music charts. Wonder took about two years to complete the fifth gem in his brilliant run.
That arrived on September 28, 1976, with “Songs in the Key of Life,” which many have called the artist’s signature recording.
No one could deny the album’s greatness with songs like “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” and “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”
It sold over 11 million copies and landed Wonder the “Best Album” Grammy – one of 25 over his illustrious career.
“1972 to 1976 weren’t just Stevie Wonder’s greatest creative years, they were the greatest creative years in music history,” asserted James Watts, the CEO of Own The Grill. “They were Rock’ n’ Roll, blues, and soul music’s last great hurrah before the advent of punk rock, and then the new wave changed everything. And Stevie Wonder was right at the forefront of that last great creative tsunami that washed everything before, and arguably after it, away.”
Watts opined that only Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 to 1974 peak could arguably compare.
“But that’s about it,” Watts insisted.
According to neo-funk producer and multi-instrumentalist Farees, Wonder felt limited and constricted in 1972 by the music formats of the era.
“He proceeded to fight against the limitations of the industry and then to achieve creative freedom. Free to produce his own records and to explore new formulas beyond the usual radio formats of Motown, he released a series of immense albums,” noted Farees, whose new album, “Blindsight,” counts as a political call to action set to his patented “wall of groove” production style, featuring Leo Nocentelli of legendary funk pioneers, The Meters.
The album debuts in June.
Farees noted that Wonder gained creative freedom after negotiating a new deal when his contract expired with Motown Records.
“I think creative freedom was crucial for him at that time to obtain this level of musical greatness. Those records will last forever. No doubt about it,” Farees insisted.
He added that the level of “awesomeness and visionary creativity” likely won’t occur again.
“Innovation takes too much time and doesn’t produce quick bucks,” he stated. “There was a time when music was important, and people fought for it. That’s really the lesson Stevie gave us with those records. Times have changed now, but not for the better. We’re always moving in the wrong direction.”