Music Review: Stevie Wonder--A Look Back at His Underrated Songs

1/03/2010 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Jess Bender

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of Stevie Wonder. Perhaps I have grown tired or weary of his Greatest Hits CDs that my father used to play on a weekly basis while growing up, but I can’t listen to any of his singles without slightly cringing. “Superstition” and “Higher Ground” have lost their charm years ago when each were covered by Disney starlet Raven Symone and modern rock legends Red Hot Chili Peppers, respectively.  Meanwhile, “Isn’t She Lovely” and “My Cherie Amore” have been butchered too many times on American Idol for me to enjoy them much anymore.

That being said, it’s always a pleasant feeling when I stumble upon one of his lesser-known songs. To recoup after a hardcore Saturday morning gym session, I turned on a modern John Cusack classic, "High Fidelity." Right when the movie faded to the end credits, a song of Wonder’s that I never heard came on before. The song was called “I Believe (When I Fall In Love),” and I felt a very strong emotional connection to it upon immediate contact. What begins with a simple piano-guitar combination builds up to a smooth-but-powerful ballad about falling head over heels and begging for a lover to feel the same. I can appreciate the musical stylings, and I can really relate to the lyrical content. Stevie, I approve.

In lieu of my recent discovery, I compiled a tiny list of underrated Stevie Wonder songs. Hopefully, I can convince others (along with myself) that Wonder really is worthy of the hype that continues to surround him. Because really, “A Ribbon In The Sky” hasn’t convinced me of his talents after all of these years.

1. "Do I Do"  Released in 1982, this is one of Wonder’s more well-known songs, due in part to Ja Rule sampling it in his 2001 song “Livin’ It Up.” However, the song only reached #13 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Despite its 10.5-minute length, the song highlights three cool things--Stevie’s gift of rap, a great Dizzy Gillespie trumpet solo, and a rare usage of cowbell in an R&B song.

2. "I Don’t Know Why I Love You"   Telling a story of a cheating girlfriend who takes advantage, Wonder sings with raw emotion--he slowly sounds as if he’s breaking down due to the pain she causes him. He brilliantly ends it with a crescendo, then a falsetto scream of agony. His maturity with the content is surprising, especially since he recorded it at age 18. Released as a single in February 1969, the song was unfortunately overshadowed by the more popular B-side, “My Cherie Amour.” The song didn’t die in obscurity, as the Rolling Stones and the Jackson 5 recorded covers of it later on.

3. "Skeletons"  This song has a typical '80s feel to it, which might be why it has been forgotten by many, despite winning two Grammys in 1988. Replacing his usual baby grand for a synthesizer spices up the song, which sounds like it could be in "Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo." However, it was featured in a scene in Bruce Willis’ classic "Die Hard"

4. "Summer Soft"  Starting off with a simple piano tune, chirping birds and a soft-spoken voice, Wonder is a powerhouse on this one. On the critically acclaimed "Songs In The Key of Life," the song was buried underneath the success of “Sir Duke,” “I Wish” and “As.” However, hardcore Stevie heads consider “Summer Soft” as being one of their favorites off of the album.

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  1. Anonymous said...

    Nice read! I've been blind to Stevie's music for a while myself. Maybe I'll have to give some credit where it's due. Sadly, I think I know exactly where to find his song in Die Hard too.