Category: stevie wonder

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Sepia magazine covers from the 1970s

On this day in music history: November 30, 1977 – “Looking Back” by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, Clarence Paul, Henry Cosby, Berry Gordy, Jr., Sylvia Moy, William “Mickey” Stevenson, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Don Hunter, Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, it is recorded at Motown Studio A & B in Detroit, MI from Mid 1962 – Mid 1971. The forty track three LP set (also issued on two cassettes and two eight track tapes) is a compilation of singles released during the Motown superstars’ first nine years on the label. It also includes the previously unreleased song “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)”, which Wonder records in 1967 but is shelved until this release. He gives the song to Aretha Franklin in 1973 who scores a big hit with it (#1 R&B, #3 Pop). Wonder’s version of “Until You Come Back To Me”, makes its CD debut on the collection “Love Songs” in 1985, then is remastered and issued on the career spanning box set “At The Close Of A Century” in 1999. It is also only Stevie Wonder hits package to include tracks from his 1968 instrumental album “Eivets Rednow”, featuring his cover of “Alfie” and “More Than A Dream”. The “Looking Back” compilation remains in print for only a short time before it is deleted by Motown, though is a staple record store cutout bins for many years afterward. “Until You Come Back To Me” eventually makes its CD debut in 1985 on the compilation “Love Songs” and is remastered and reissued on the box set “At The Close Of The Century” in 1999. “Looking Back” peaks at number fifteen on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number thirty four on the Top 200.

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On this day in music history: November 28, 1987 – “Skeletons” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B single chart for 1 week, also peaking at #19 on the Hot 100 on December 5, 1987. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is the eighteenth chart topping single for the R&B music icon. Known for making strong social commentary through his music with songs like “You Haven’t Done Nothin’”, “Big Brother”, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All”, “Cash In Your Face” and “Front Line”, Stevie Wonder returns to that subject matter while working on his twenty-first album “Characters”. With then recent public scandals in the headlines like the Iran-Contra Affair, illegal insider stock trading on Wall Street and numerous others, inspires Wonder to speak on the topic. The initial idea for what becomes the song “Skeletons” begins with a bass riff that Stevie begins improvising on the keyboard. While playing that insistently funky vamp, he starts singing the lyric “skeletons in the closet…”, and mumbling syllables in the place of the actual lyrics which come to him later. The track is recorded at Wonderland Studios in Los Angeles, CA, with Wonder playing all of the instruments himself, utilizing state of the art keyboards like the Synclavier II and Kurzweil 250 synthesizer. Robert Arbitter assists with the synthesizer and sequencer programming. Keith John, the son of rhythm & blues legend Little Willie John sings background vocals on the song, as well as Shirley Brewer, Kevin Dorsey, Alexis England, Lynne Fiddmont, Dorian Holley, Melody McCully and Darryl Phinnessee. At one point, “Skeletons” actually features sound bites from Colonel Oliver North and then President Ronald Reagan, but are removed from the final mix of the song. Released as the first single from “Characters” in September of 1987, it quickly becomes an R&B radio smash, also cracking the top 20 on the pop chart. The accompanying music video for the song features people in a typical American suburban neighborhood, with many of them found to be hiding scandalous “skeletons in their closets”. Actress Karen Black (“Airport”, “Nashville”, “Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”), portrays a wife and mother who appears to be “perfect” on the outside, but is actually struggling with alcoholism. “Skeletons” is also heard in the action blockbuster “Die Hard” in 1988, when limo driver Argyle (De’voreaux White) is playing the song on the car’s sound system.

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Vintage R&B Concert Posters

Memorial Auditorium (Chattanooga, Tennessee) – November 6, 1956

W.C. Taylor High School (Warrenton, Virginia) – March 8, 1962

Toldeo Sports Arena (Toledo, Ohio) – November 5, 1963

Memorial Auditorium (Chattanooga, Tennessee) – June 21, 1965

Cinnamon Cider (Long Beach, California) – August 18, 1965

Memorial Auditorium (Chattanooga, Tennessee) – September 20, 1965

Apollo Theatre (Harlem, New York) – February 11, 1967

Civic Auditorium (Knoxville, Tennessee) – November 25, 1967

Greensboro Coliseum (Greensboro, North Carolina) – June 9, 1968

On this day in music history: November 6, 1987 – “Characters”, the twenty first album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, it is recorded at Wonderland Studios and the 1 DER 1 Mobile Unit in Los Angeles, CA, Westside Studios in London, and CBS/Sony Studios in Tokyo, Japan from Early 1986 – Mid 1987. Issued as the follow up to “In Square Circle”, it sees Wonder returning to his “one man band” concept of recording, heavily utilizing the most state of the art instruments (of the time) and drum programming. It is the Stevie Wonder album since “Music Of My Mind” fifteen years earlier, to miss the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 200, with the critical and commercial response being largely mixed upon its release. In spite of it not including a major pop crossover hit, it is successful on the R&B charts spinning off three top five singles including “Skeletons” (#1 R&B, #19 Pop) (also featured in the film “Die Hard” in 1988 and in the video game “Grand Theft Auto V”), “Get It” (featuring Michael Jackson) (#4 R&B, #80 Pop, #11 AC) and “You Will Know” (#1 R&B, #77 Pop, #16 AC). The track “Come Let Me Make Your Love Come Down” features guest appearances by B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The album earns three Grammy nominations in 1989. The original vinyl LP release is packaged in a gatefold sleeve, matte finished with embossed graphics on the front and back. The vinyl release of the album contains only ten songs, with the CD and cassette configurations adding the tracks “Free” and “My Eyes Don’t Cry” (#6 R&B), the latter of which is released as a single in the US in 1988, and the former in some foreign territories in 1989. “Characters” spends seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number seventeen on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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Vintage R&B Concert Posters

1. Memorial Auditorium (Chattanooga, Tennessee) – November 16, 1954

2. Memorial Auditorium (Chattanooga, Tennessee) – June 10, 1959

3. Oakland Auditorium (Oakland, California) – February 8, 1963

4. Exhibition Garden (Vancouver, B.C., Canada) – June 26, 1964

5. Wilmer’s Park (Brandywine, Maryland) – July 25, 1965

6. Veterans Memorial Auditorium (Columbus, Ohio) – October 25, 1965

7. Carr’s Beach (Annapolis, Maryland) – June 26, 1966

8. Civic Auditorium (Knoxville, Tennessee) – March 31, 1967

9. Shelby County Fairgrounds (Shelbina, Missouri) – July 27, 1968

10. Norfolk Arena (Norfolk, Virginia) – November 22, 1969

On this day in music history: October 19, 1985 – “Part Time Lover” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 3 weeks on October 26, 1985, topping the Hot 100 for 1 week on November 2, 1985, and also topping the Club Play chart for 1 week on November 16, 1985. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is the sixteenth R&B and ninth pop chart topper for the Motown icon. Issued as the first single from “In Square Circle” in August of 1985, it is an instant smash. “Part Time Lover” makes chart history as the first record to hit the top of the Pop, R&B, Dance and Adult Contemporary charts. The track also features background vocals from Luther Vandross, Philip Bailey and Syreeta Wright. Wonder publicly debuts “Part Time Lover” on May 19, 1985 three months before its release, when he performs the song on the television special “Motown Returns To The Apollo” with Boy George of Culture Club. At the time that the single reaches the top of the pop singles chart, it puts Wonder in a tie for fourth place with the Bee Gees and Paul McCartney among the artists with the most number ones. In late 1985, the only other artists ahead of them were The Beatles (20), Elvis Presley (17), and The Supremes (12). The success of “Part Time Lover” propels “In Square Circle” to 2x Platinum status in the US.

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On this day in music history: October 16, 1976 – “Songs In The Key Of Life” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 14 weeks (non-consecutive), also topping the R&B album chart for 20 weeks (non-consecutive) on the same date. Produced by Stevie Wonder , it is recorded at Crystal Sound Studios, The Record Plant in Hollywood, CA, The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA, and The Hit Factory in New York City from Spring 1975 – Fall 1976. Recorded over a period of nearly two years, “Songs” becomes only the third album in US chart history to debut at #1 (Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” and “Rock Of The Westies” are the first two.). It spins off four singles including “I Wish” (#1 Pop, #1 R&B), “Sir Duke” (#1 Pop, #1 R&B), “As” (#36 Pop and R&B) and “Another Star” (#32 Pop, #18 R&B). “Songs” wins four Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year, making Stevie Wonder one of only three artists in history to win the Album Of The Year prize three times (Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon are the others). The album is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002, and is also added to the National Recording Registry by the Library Of Congress in 2005, for its ongoing historic and cultural significance. “Songs In The Key Of Life” is certified 10x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, earning a Diamond Certification.

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On this day in music history: October 15, 1968 – “For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder is released. Written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden, it is the seventh pop and twelfth R&B top ten hit for the Motown superstar. Written in 1965 by Motown staff songwriters Miller and Murden, it is originally composed as a ballad. The song is first recorded by singer Barbara McNair, and also by Jean DuShon whose version is released as a single by Chess Records in 1966, though neither makes any significant impact. The first male artist who cuts the song is actor Jack Soo ( Detective Nick Yemana of “Barney Miller”), signed to Motown in 1965. Soo records the song in a slow pop ballad style. His version is not released, and remains in the Motown tape archives to this day. The Temptations record “For Once In My Life” in 1967 for their “The Temptations In A Mellow Mood” album with Paul Williams on lead vocals. Around this time, singer Tony Bennett records it, becoming a part of his live performance repertoire for the next forty years. Having heard previous versions of “Life”, Stevie Wonder asks Miller if he can record it in a dramatically different and uptempo style, to which he agrees. The basic track for Wonder’s version is recorded at Motown’s Studio B (the former Golden World Studios located in the Donovan Building in downtown Detroit) on January 18, 1968 with members of The Funk Brothers providing musical backing. He overdubs his initial lead vocal the next day on January 19, 1968 at Studio A, with the horns and strings added on January 25, 1968. Wonder’s initial version is rejected by Motown boss Berry Gordy, Jr., and the master is shelved. When work begins on a new Stevie Wonder album later in 1968, it’s pulled from the vault, with background vocals by The Originals and the Andantes added on August 28, 1968. Wonder overdubs the signature harmonica break on September 8, 1968, also re-recording his lead vocal. When these changes are made, Billie Jean Brown, the head of Motown’s Quality Control department plays the revamped version for Gordy, who then finally gives it his approval for release. Stevie Wonder’s version of “For Once In My Life” peaks at #2 on both the Billboard R&B singles chart and the Hot 100 on December 28, 1968. It peaks behind Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, which ironically had also been shelved before finally being released. Published through Motown’s Stein & Van Stock Music (sister to the company’s Jobete Music publishing arm), “For Once In My Life” becomes one of Motown’s most recorded songs with versions by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Wilson, Andy Williams, Cilla Black, and Gladys Knight & The Pips. Stevie Wonder’s recording of “For Once in My Life” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2009.

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On this day in music history: October 13, 1984 – “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart and the Adult Contemporary chart for 3 weeks on the same date. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is the eighth pop and sixteenth R&B chart topper for the Motown superstar. Included on the soundtrack to the Gene Wilder directed comedy “The Woman In Red”, Wonder composed the music for the song in 1977 but writes the lyrics during the recording sessions in mid 1984. Released as the first single from the soundtrack on August 1, 1984, it is an immediate across the board smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #58 on August 18, 1984, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. Wonder’s long time friend and sometime songwriting collaborator Lee Garrett (“Signed, Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours”, “It’s A Shame”, “Let’s Get Serious”) and Lloyd Chiate claim to have helped co-write the song and file a lawsuit. The suit is settled in Wonder’s favor, with the jury finding that the other two alleged writers did not provide adequate proof that they had co-written the pop and R&B smash. Stevie Wonder wins a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” for “I Just Called To Say I Love You” in 1985. When Wonder accepts his Oscar, he dedicates the award to then still imprisoned South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela. With South Africa still under apartheid rule at the time, Stevie Wonder’s music is banned from radio airplay and television broadcast. The ban is lifted with the end of the segregationist system in 1994. “I Just Called To Say I Love You” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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