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Song in the key of life full album

“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision,” Stevie Wonder once said, a warning to any who doubted the potency of his imagination. In the first half of the Seventies, he had visualized an untried musical path, one that took him far from the assembly line pop of his “Little Stevie, the Boy Genius” era during the early days of Motown. This road ultimately led to 1976’s majestic Songs in the Key of Life, a multi-disc 21-song collection that would be the 26-year-old’s crowning achievement. It’s the sound of a creatively emancipated young artist coming into his own, surrendering himself to his ambition and harnessing his power and potential. The high watermark of Wonder’s so-called “classic period” – an unparalleled streak also encompassing Music of my Mind (1972), Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), and Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) – it was the culmination of all that came before. “He took his life experience and put them all into Songs in the Key of Life,” Motown founder Berry Gordy reflected in a 1997 documentary. “And it worked.” Wonder had been under contract to Gordy’s label since he was just 11 years old. Now a self-assured adult with a steady string of hits stretching back a decade, a “quarter life crisis” malaise began to take hold. The superstar began to openly discuss quitting the music industry altogether and moving to Ghana, where he believed his ancestral lineage could be traced. There, he planned to devote his considerable energy to assisting handicapped children and other humanitarian causes. Brightly colored dashiki tunics replaced his standard Motown-issue mod suits, an outward expression of the changes he felt within. Wonder briefly touched on his fascination with the African nation in a 1973 interview with Rolling Stone, and soon these abstract notions began to solidify into something more concrete. During a press conference in Los Angeles the following March, he tentatively announced a final concert tour slated for the end of 1975 – when his recording contract was set to expire – with all proceeds earmarked for Ghanaian charities. You can sing about things and talk about things, but if your actions don’t speak louder than your words, you’re nothing.” The words were admirable, but some took the cynical view that this dramatic farewell tour was merely a ploy to put pressure on Motown when renegotiating his new contract. Gordy’s empire had taken a beating in first half of the decade due to changing musical tastes and economic depression. “I’ve heard of great needs in that part of the world, the African countries,” he told the Associated Press. Knowing that he stood to lose his most consistent seller to a life of philanthropy – or lucrative offers from rivals at Epic and Arista Records – the label chief was prepared to move mountains of cash. Wonder sent high-powered lawyer Johanan Vigoda to discuss his lengthy list of stipulations with new Motown president Ewart Abner, and board chairman Gordy, who described the negotiations in his memoirs as “the most grueling and nerve-racking we ever had.” When the dust cleared and the papers were signed, Wonder had a seven-year contract that promised him a million advance (with the opportunity to net up to million if he delivered more than his album-per-year minimum), 20 percent royalties, and control of his publishing. At the time, it was the biggest deal that had ever been done in the music industry. Time magazine noted that it was more than Elton John and Neil Diamond’s contracts combined. “In those days million was a lot of money,” Gordy wailed in the 1997 Classic Albums: Songs in the Key of Life documentary. “I’d heard that was an unprecedented deal, the most that had ever been paid. ” In addition to the financial windfall, the contract also offered Wonder the creative freedom to work anywhere he wanted, with any artist he desired, and veto power over any potential singles. But I had to do it, because there was no way I was going to lose Stevie. A forthcoming triple-disc greatest hits package was canceled at the artist’s insistence, with all 200,000 copies sent to the incinerator. Most remarkably, Wonder’s permission was now required if Motown was ever to be sold in the future. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra: None of them wielded that much influence on their own label. The deal was the ultimate testament to Wonder’s status as Motown’s supreme talent. “He broke tradition with the deal – legally, professionally – in terms of how he could cut his records and where he could cut,” Vigoda told Rolling Stone‘s Ben Fong-Torres. “And in breaking tradition he opened up a future for Motown. They had single records, they managed to create a name in certain areas, but they never came through with a major, major artist.” The contract did a lot for Wonder, but Motown had done a lot for him. The imprint was a shining African-American success story. “I’m staying at Motown, because it is the only viable surviving black-owned company in the record industry,” he said in a statement announcing the deal. “Motown represents hopes and opportunity for new as well as established black performers and producers. If it were not for Motown, any of us just wouldn’t have had the shot we’ve had at success and fulfillment. It is vital that people in our business – particularly the black creative community, including artists, writers and producers – make sure that Motown stays emotionally stable, spiritually strong and economically healthy.” Three decades later in the Classic Albums documentary, Wonder remained appreciative of Gordy’s trust. “He was brave enough to take the chance – to take that challenge to say, ‘You know what? I believe in the gamble.’ And he was a smart man.” With the technicalities in place, Wonder immersed himself in a new project – his 18th album since 1962. He had momentum from his previous record, 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale. It was a comparatively somber assortment brimming with self-reflection and even traces of anger (see the Nixon blasting “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”). The disc was originally slated to be his first double album, and when those plans failed to materialize he announced that the excess tracks would be issued on a sequel, Fulfillingness’ First Finale Part II (or, naturally, Fulfillingness’ Second Finale). Wonder previewed the work-in-progress to writers from Crawdaddy and Melody Maker in late 1974, playing a track called “The Future,” which included the cautionary line: “Don’t look at the world like a stranger, cause you know we are living in danger.” The gloomy song was “fantastically influenced” by the televised police ambush of the Symbionese Liberation Army – a far left revolutionary group then on the run with kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst – in which many members were killed. “Livin’ Off the Love of the Land” is hardly any sunnier, containing lyrics like “Seems the wisdom of man hasn’t got much wiser,” and “Seems to me that fools are even more foolish.” By the fall of 1976, Wonder was ready. He had completed a double LP and bonus EP bursting at the seams with musical innovation. Songs in the Key of Life was a groundbreaking blend of funk, soul, pop and jazz, seasoned with cutting-edge technology. Amazingly, this bumper crop of forward-looking musical brilliance had its grand debut in the pastoral paradise of Long View Farm in rural North Brookfield, Massachusetts. But that was just the final step in a long journey. The world press met in the lobby of Manhattan’s elegant Essex House on September 7th, 1976, at a.m. There they gulped down a quick complimentary breakfast before being ushered onto three buses that drove them to Kennedy International Airport – but not before passing through Times Square for a peak at the ,000, 60-by-400-foot billboard that had trumpeted the album for the past four months. Soon they were airborne in a chartered DC-9, well stocked with champagne and appetizers. Once the plane touched down at a small airport in Worcester, Massachusetts, the journalists were loaded onto a fleet of school buses for a short ride to the listening party. Long View Farm was a 143-acre equestrian ground that had recently been renovated to include a world-class studio (used by the Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, Aerosmith and the J. Guests were treated to hearty meals of roast beef, pie and more champagne while waiting for Wonder to make his entrance. He arrived resplendent in a gaudy cowboy get-up, complete with 10-gallon hat, leather fringe and a gun holster emblazoned with the words “Number One With A Bullet.” The whole gala cost Motown upwards of ,000. “Let’s pop what’s poppin’,” he announced as he hit play on the reel-to-reel tape machine, unleashing the music that had been gestating in the studio – and his soul – for so long. Wonder’s opus popped immediately to the top of the charts. It became the third album in history to debut at Number One, remaining there for 14 weeks. It also earned him four Grammys, which he accepted via satellite while he was visiting Nigeria to explore his musical heritage. The experience was only slightly marred by a poor connection signal, prompting presenter Andy Williams to clumsily inquire, “Stevie, can you see us? ” Four decades have failed to dull the album’s power and awe-inspiring scope. It’s been cited as a favorite by figures like Prince, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey – and Wonder himself. “Of all the albums, Songs in the Key of Life I’m most happy about,” he told Q magazine in 1995. “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision,” Stevie Wonder once said, a warning to any who doubted the potency of his imagination. In the first half of the Seventies, he had visualized an untried musical path, one that took him far from the assembly line pop of his “Little Stevie, the Boy Genius” era during the early days of Motown. This road ultimately led to 1976’s majestic Songs in the Key of Life, a multi-disc 21-song collection that would be the 26-year-old’s crowning achievement. It’s the sound of a creatively emancipated young artist coming into his own, surrendering himself to his ambition and harnessing his power and potential. The high watermark of Wonder’s so-called “classic period” – an unparalleled streak also encompassing Music of my Mind (1972), Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), and Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) – it was the culmination of all that came before. “He took his life experience and put them all into Songs in the Key of Life,” Motown founder Berry Gordy reflected in a 1997 documentary. “And it worked.” Wonder had been under contract to Gordy’s label since he was just 11 years old. Now a self-assured adult with a steady string of hits stretching back a decade, a “quarter life crisis” malaise began to take hold. The superstar began to openly discuss quitting the music industry altogether and moving to Ghana, where he believed his ancestral lineage could be traced. There, he planned to devote his considerable energy to assisting handicapped children and other humanitarian causes. Brightly colored dashiki tunics replaced his standard Motown-issue mod suits, an outward expression of the changes he felt within. Wonder briefly touched on his fascination with the African nation in a 1973 interview with Rolling Stone, and soon these abstract notions began to solidify into something more concrete. During a press conference in Los Angeles the following March, he tentatively announced a final concert tour slated for the end of 1975 – when his recording contract was set to expire – with all proceeds earmarked for Ghanaian charities. You can sing about things and talk about things, but if your actions don’t speak louder than your words, you’re nothing.” The words were admirable, but some took the cynical view that this dramatic farewell tour was merely a ploy to put pressure on Motown when renegotiating his new contract. Gordy’s empire had taken a beating in first half of the decade due to changing musical tastes and economic depression. “I’ve heard of great needs in that part of the world, the African countries,” he told the Associated Press. Knowing that he stood to lose his most consistent seller to a life of philanthropy – or lucrative offers from rivals at Epic and Arista Records – the label chief was prepared to move mountains of cash. Wonder sent high-powered lawyer Johanan Vigoda to discuss his lengthy list of stipulations with new Motown president Ewart Abner, and board chairman Gordy, who described the negotiations in his memoirs as “the most grueling and nerve-racking we ever had.” When the dust cleared and the papers were signed, Wonder had a seven-year contract that promised him a million advance (with the opportunity to net up to million if he delivered more than his album-per-year minimum), 20 percent royalties, and control of his publishing. At the time, it was the biggest deal that had ever been done in the music industry. Time magazine noted that it was more than Elton John and Neil Diamond’s contracts combined. “In those days million was a lot of money,” Gordy wailed in the 1997 Classic Albums: Songs in the Key of Life documentary. “I’d heard that was an unprecedented deal, the most that had ever been paid. ” In addition to the financial windfall, the contract also offered Wonder the creative freedom to work anywhere he wanted, with any artist he desired, and veto power over any potential singles. But I had to do it, because there was no way I was going to lose Stevie. A forthcoming triple-disc greatest hits package was canceled at the artist’s insistence, with all 200,000 copies sent to the incinerator. Most remarkably, Wonder’s permission was now required if Motown was ever to be sold in the future. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra: None of them wielded that much influence on their own label. The deal was the ultimate testament to Wonder’s status as Motown’s supreme talent. “He broke tradition with the deal – legally, professionally – in terms of how he could cut his records and where he could cut,” Vigoda told Rolling Stone‘s Ben Fong-Torres. “And in breaking tradition he opened up a future for Motown. They had single records, they managed to create a name in certain areas, but they never came through with a major, major artist.” The contract did a lot for Wonder, but Motown had done a lot for him. The imprint was a shining African-American success story. “I’m staying at Motown, because it is the only viable surviving black-owned company in the record industry,” he said in a statement announcing the deal. “Motown represents hopes and opportunity for new as well as established black performers and producers. If it were not for Motown, any of us just wouldn’t have had the shot we’ve had at success and fulfillment. It is vital that people in our business – particularly the black creative community, including artists, writers and producers – make sure that Motown stays emotionally stable, spiritually strong and economically healthy.” Three decades later in the Classic Albums documentary, Wonder remained appreciative of Gordy’s trust. “He was brave enough to take the chance – to take that challenge to say, ‘You know what? I believe in the gamble.’ And he was a smart man.” With the technicalities in place, Wonder immersed himself in a new project – his 18th album since 1962. He had momentum from his previous record, 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale. It was a comparatively somber assortment brimming with self-reflection and even traces of anger (see the Nixon blasting “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”). The disc was originally slated to be his first double album, and when those plans failed to materialize he announced that the excess tracks would be issued on a sequel, Fulfillingness’ First Finale Part II (or, naturally, Fulfillingness’ Second Finale). Wonder previewed the work-in-progress to writers from Crawdaddy and Melody Maker in late 1974, playing a track called “The Future,” which included the cautionary line: “Don’t look at the world like a stranger, cause you know we are living in danger.” The gloomy song was “fantastically influenced” by the televised police ambush of the Symbionese Liberation Army – a far left revolutionary group then on the run with kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst – in which many members were killed. “Livin’ Off the Love of the Land” is hardly any sunnier, containing lyrics like “Seems the wisdom of man hasn’t got much wiser,” and “Seems to me that fools are even more foolish.” By the fall of 1976, Wonder was ready. He had completed a double LP and bonus EP bursting at the seams with musical innovation. Songs in the Key of Life was a groundbreaking blend of funk, soul, pop and jazz, seasoned with cutting-edge technology. Amazingly, this bumper crop of forward-looking musical brilliance had its grand debut in the pastoral paradise of Long View Farm in rural North Brookfield, Massachusetts. But that was just the final step in a long journey. The world press met in the lobby of Manhattan’s elegant Essex House on September 7th, 1976, at a.m. There they gulped down a quick complimentary breakfast before being ushered onto three buses that drove them to Kennedy International Airport – but not before passing through Times Square for a peak at the ,000, 60-by-400-foot billboard that had trumpeted the album for the past four months. Soon they were airborne in a chartered DC-9, well stocked with champagne and appetizers. Once the plane touched down at a small airport in Worcester, Massachusetts, the journalists were loaded onto a fleet of school buses for a short ride to the listening party. Long View Farm was a 143-acre equestrian ground that had recently been renovated to include a world-class studio (used by the Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, Aerosmith and the J. Guests were treated to hearty meals of roast beef, pie and more champagne while waiting for Wonder to make his entrance. He arrived resplendent in a gaudy cowboy get-up, complete with 10-gallon hat, leather fringe and a gun holster emblazoned with the words “Number One With A Bullet.” The whole gala cost Motown upwards of ,000. “Let’s pop what’s poppin’,” he announced as he hit play on the reel-to-reel tape machine, unleashing the music that had been gestating in the studio – and his soul – for so long. Wonder’s opus popped immediately to the top of the charts. It became the third album in history to debut at Number One, remaining there for 14 weeks. It also earned him four Grammys, which he accepted via satellite while he was visiting Nigeria to explore his musical heritage. The experience was only slightly marred by a poor connection signal, prompting presenter Andy Williams to clumsily inquire, “Stevie, can you see us? ” Four decades have failed to dull the album’s power and awe-inspiring scope. It’s been cited as a favorite by figures like Prince, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey – and Wonder himself. “Of all the albums, Songs in the Key of Life I’m most happy about,” he told Q magazine in 1995.

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